How to Be a Stoic - Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life


How much do I want to read more? 7/10

Maybe not the best introduction or book about stoicism I read so far. But still, it's good to read about it from a different perspective.


CHAPTER 1 - THE UNSTRAIGHTFORWARD PATH

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
—DANTE, THE DIVINE COMEDY: INFERNO, CANTO I

IN EVERY CULTURE WE KNOW OF, WHETHER IT BE SECULAR or religious, ethnically diverse or not, the question of how to live is central. How should we handle life’s challenges and vicissitudes? How should we conduct ourselves in the world and treat others? And the ultimate question: how do we best prepare for the final test of our character, the moment when we die?

If philosophy, rather than religion, is your cup of tea, then you can turn to existentialism, secular humanism, secular Buddhism, ethical culture, and so forth. Or you can arrive instead at the conclusion that there is no meaning—indeed, the very search for it is meaningless—and embrace a “happy” sort of nihilism (yes, there is such a thing).

rankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. His moving and inspiring story of resilience can be read as a contemporary example of Stoicism in practice.

The difference is crucial: a therapy is intended to be a short-term approach to helping people overcome specific problems of a psychological nature; it doesn’t necessarily provide a general picture, or philosophy, of life. A philosophy of life is something we all need, however, and something we all develop, consciously or not.

Stoicism is eminently democratic, cutting across social classes: whether you are rich or poor, healthy or sick, educated or ignorant, it makes no difference to your ability to live a moral life and thus achieve what the Stoics called ataraxia, or tranquillity of mind.

When Dante Alighieri went on his own spiritual journey—which resulted in the writing of the beautiful Divine Comedy—he imagined himself suddenly lost in the middle of a dark forest, with his way forward uncertain. It turned out that he was at the (imaginary) entrance to Hell, about to descend into its depths. Lucky for him, he had a sure mentor to guide him on his journey, the Roman poet Virgil.

How ought we to live our lives?

CHAPTER 2 - A ROAD MAP FOR THE JOURNEY

What is the goal of virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly?

—- EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, I.4

The Stoics used several metaphors to get their point across. One of the most incisive is that of a garden, introduced by Chrysippus, who said that the fruits of the garden represent the ethics. To get good fruits we must nurture the plants with fine nutrients: the soil of the garden, then, is the physics, providing our understanding of the world in which we live. Moreover, our “garden” needs to be fenced off from unwanted and destructive influences, or it will be taken over by weeds and nothing good will grow in it: the fence is the logic, keeping bad reasoning out of the way.

people don’t really do evil but simply have misguided views of the world that sometimes lead them to do awful things;

PART I - THE DISCIPLINE OF DESIRE: WHAT IT IS PROPER TO WANT OR NOT TO WANT

CHAPTER 3 - SOME THINGS ARE IN OUR POWER, OTHERS ARE NOT

We must make the best of those things that are in our power, and take the rest as nature gives it.

—- EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, I.1