The Practicing Stoic - A Philosophical User’s Manual


How much do I want to read more? 9/10

So much wisdom. I wish everyone is reminded about this each moment of his life.


PREFACE

This is a book about human nature and its management.
The original Stoics were philosophers and psychologists of the most ingenious kind.
they offered solutions to the problems of everyday life.

Chapter One - JUDGMENT

The first principle of practical Stoicism is this: we don’t react to events; we react to our judgments about them, and the judgments are up to us.

If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgment about it. And this you have the power to eliminate now.

-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.47

The Stoic claim, in other words, is that our pleasures, griefs, desires and fears all involve three stages rather than two: not just an event and a reaction, but an event, then a judgment or opinion about it, and then a reaction.
Our task is to notice the middle step, to understand its frequent irrationality, and to control it through the patient use of reason.

it all begins with the idea that we construct our experience of the world through our beliefs, opinions, and thinking about it – in a word, through our judgments – and that they are up to us.

Our reactions to whatever happens usually feel direct and spontaneous. They don’t seem to involve judgment at all, or at least no judgment that could ever be otherwise.
Stoicism means to help us think better about our thinking, to teach the mind to understand the mind, to make the fish more aware of the water.

Suppose someone insults you. The insult is meaningless apart from what you make of it. If you are bothered, it must be because you care: a judgment.
Instead you could decide not to care, and that would be the end of the insult for you.
the noisy neighbor, the bad weather, the traffic jam. If you are riled up by these things, you are riled up by the judgments you make about them: that they are bad, that they are important.
The events don’t force you to think any of this; only you can do it.

We always feel as though we react to things in the world; in fact we react to things in ourselves. And sometimes changing ourselves will be more effective and sensible than trying to change the world.

Pains and pleasures seem like immovable facts that owe nothing to our thinking. But even then the Stoics insist that our judgments about those feelings produce our experience of them. Yes, pain is pain: a sensation that exists no matter what we think about it. But how much bother it causes, how much attention we pay to it, what it means to us – these are judgments, and all ours to determine.
Pains and pleasures are made bigger or smaller by the way we talk to ourselves about them, or by judgments that are too deep to articulate but are nevertheless our own. We underrate the power of these judgments because we barely notice them.

some judgments are just things we say to ourselves, and those are the easier ones to fix. Others are ingrained and nonverbal.
Some reactions may belong to us and yet not quite be up to us. Or they are up to us in theory but we don’t have the psychological strength to change them.

We may consider it the Stoic goal, in any event, to become conscious of our judgments and take control of them as far as we can.

1. The general principle.

Stoicism starts with the idea that our experience of the world – our reactions, fears, desires, all of it – is not produced by the world. It is produced by what the Stoics call our judgments, or opinions.

Everything depends on opinion. Ambition, luxury, greed, all look back to opinion; it is according to opinion that we suffer. Each man is as wretched as he has convinced himself he is.

-- Seneca, Epistles 78.13


Grief, then, is a recent opinion of some present evil, about which it seems right to feel downcast and in low spirits. Joy is a recent opinion of a present good, in response to which it seems right to be elated. Fear is an opinion of an impending evil that seems unbearable. Lust is an opinion about a good to come – that it would be better if it were already here.

-- Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 4.7


For what is weeping and wailing? Opinion. What is misfortune? Opinion. What is discord, disagreement, blame, accusation, impiety, foolishness? All these are opinions and nothing else.

-- Epictetus, Discourses 3.3.18–19


Men are disturbed not by the things that happen but by their opinions about those things. For example, death is nothing terrible; for if it were, it would have seemed so even to Socrates. Rather, the opinion that death is terrible – that is the terrible thing. So when we are impeded or upset or aggrieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves – that is, our opinions.

-- Epictetus, Enchiridion 5


An ancient Greek saying holds that we are tormented not by things themselves but by the opinions that we have of them. It would be a great victory for the relief of our miserable human condition if that claim could be proven always and everywhere true. For if evils have no means of entering us except through the judgments we make of them, it would then seem to be in our power to dismiss them or turn them to good.

-- Montaigne, That the Taste of Good and Evil Things Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them (1580)


Things in themselves may have their own weights, measures, and qualities; but once we take them into us, the soul forms them as she sees fit. Death is terrifying to Cicero, coveted by Cato, indifferent to Socrates. Health, conscience, authority, knowledge, riches, beauty, and their opposites all strip themselves bare when they enter us and receive a new robe, of a new color, from the soul…. Let us therefore find no excuses in the external qualities of things; what we make of them is up to us. Our good or bad depends on no one but ourselves.

-- Montaigne, On Democritus and Heraclitusi (1580)


Comfort and poverty depend on the opinions we have of them; and riches, glory, and health have only as much beauty and pleasure as is attributed to them by their possessor. Each of us is as well or badly off as we believe. The happy are those who think they are, not those who are thought to be so by others; and in this way alone, belief makes itself real and true.

-- Montaigne, That the Taste of Good and Evil Things Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them (1580)


“That which gives value to a diamond is our having purchased it; to virtue, the difficulty of it; to devotion, our suffering; and to medicine, its bitterness.”

-- Montaigne


There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

-- Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2, 2


It is not what things are objectively and in themselves, but what they are for us, in our way of looking at them, that makes us happy or the reverse.

-- Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life (1851)


2. Stoic practice.