I've been interested in stoic philosophy since reading William Irvine's "Guide to the Good Life" in 2016. I've read a lot of books on the subject since then. I find the philosophy useful in daily life, but I wouldn't call myself a practicing stoic.
According to Wikipedia's explanation:
[Stoicism] is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
The Stoics are especially known for teaching thatvirtue is the only goodfor human beings, and that external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves (adiaphora), but have value asmaterial for virtue to act upon. Alongside Aristotelian ethics, the Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches to virtue ethics.
My interest in stoicism sparked my interest in philosophy and ancient history, particularly Greek and Roman history.
This is a transcript of my notes that I find useful to revisit. It's not a guide, but a reminder of stoicism's main principles.
Stoic virtues and stoic disciplines are two different ways to explain and practice stoic philosophy.
For example, Epictetus teaches with a focus on the different disciplines.
- Practical wisdom: In all our dealings
- Justice: In dealing with others
- Courage: In dealing with our aversions
- Temperance (moderation): In dealing with our desires
Stoic disciplines (practice)
- Desire and aversion: So that we don't fail to get what we desire, nor fall for what we want to avoid
- Action and non-action: So that we always engage in appropriate behaviour towards others
- Assent (conferring or withdrawing): So that we avoid error and hasty judgements
- Logic: Defends us from bad reasoning
- Physics: Teaches us how the world works
- Ethics: What it is all about; the study of good living
The primary sources of stoic philosophy are the writings of Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. These authors should be the starting point for anyone interesting in exploring the primary texts
I've marked the must-read writings on stoicism with an asterix*
Aristotle (322 bce)
The Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle, isn't a stoic text, but it does form a good basis of ethical thought.
Early stoic texts have been lost in time. Sections of the lost texts are, however, referred to and quoted in surviving texts.
These early fragments are collected in The Stoics Reader, by Inwood and Gershon.
Cicero (43 bce)
- De officiis* (on duties)
- De natura deorum
- Tusculan disputations* (a summary of stoicism)
- De finibus* (on ends)
- De republica
- De legibus
- Stoic paradoxes
- On old age
- On friendship
- On fate
- On divination
Seneca (65 ce)
All of Seneca's writings on stoicism should be read. However, as a start, Seneca's letters to lucilius are excellent. You can also consider reading Seneca's many plays.
- Letters to lucilius*
- On benefits
- Natural questions
- On anger
- On clemency
- On providence
- On firmness of the wise person
- To Marcia, consolidation
- On the happy life
- On leisure
- On tranquillity of mind
- On shortness of life
- To Polybius, consolidation
- To Helvia, consolidation
Musonius Rufus (101 ce)
Epictetus (135 ce)
Marcus Aurelius (180 ce)
Cleomedes (371 ce)
- On the heavens
Modern stoic websites
I've linked to some interesting stoic philosophy websites in my 2018 daily reading list.