The Sunday Stoic


On the Happy Life

“The sun, however, is unimpaired even in the midst of obstacles, and, though an object may intervene and cut off our view thereof, the sun sticks to his work and goes on his course. Whenever he shines forth from amid the clouds, he is no smaller, nor less punctual either, than when he is free from clouds; since it makes a great deal of difference whether there is merely something in the way of his light or something which interferes with his shining. 18 Similarly, obstacles take nothing away from virtue; it is no smaller, but merely shines with less brilliancy. In our eyes, it may perhaps be less visible and less luminous than before; but as regards itself it is the same and, like the sun when he is eclipsed, is still, though in secret, putting forth its strength. Disasters, therefore, and losses, and wrongs, have only the same power over virtue that a cloud has over the sun.”-Seneca

Letter 8: On the Philosopher’s Seclusion


If a Stoic philosopher is supposed to die in the mist of active work, why then is Seneca always shut away at home? He states that he can help a greater number of people by staying in and writing for future generations.  He states that he works/studies even at night and doesn’t schedule sleep. Instead he works until his body makes him sleep.  He “points men to the right path” “Avoid whatever pleases the masses and avoid the gifts of chance”.  The gifts of chance are more like snares that when lost will cause us pain like a sinking ship dashing us against the rocks.  He recommends living a strenuous life to make the body obey the mind. Only to eat to quench hunger, drink to quench thirst etc. A thatch roof keeps the rain off of you just as well as a gold roof does.  This whole reading goes along with the theme that we don’t really own anything we just borrow them and some things should be avoided or we should soften and become weak Stoics.


Thoughts: I don’t think I’ll ever be as extreme in my stoicism as Seneca or Epictetus, but then again, they were preachers of the philosophy not necessarily how the “every day” roman implemented the teachings.  But I should cut back on my desires for things, maybe even get rid of some of what I do have. I should also cut down on excessive drinking/eating.  But set Seneca up as a sage and lean in that direction, I may never be close to a Zeno or a Epictetus,  become more like them over time. I for one am soft and should lead a more strenuous life.  Try to give up the love of the gifts of fortune, wealth, possessions, praise etc. are all things that you may or may not get and only cause greif when lost.


Letter 7: On Crowds

Summary: When mingling with a crowd there is always a danger that some of their morality will rub off on you. You will start to want what they have, think like they think etc.  Watching the violence of the arena can make a man violent, cruel and more inhumane.  One must try not to imitate or loath the world. “Don’t copy the bad simply because they are many, nor should you hate the many because they are unlike you”.  Withdraw into yourself and associate those who will make a better man of you and those that you can improve by teaching. By teaching you will learn more yourself.


Reflection: It rings true that hanging with the “wrong crowed” can lower you while hanging with those better than you can  drive you to be better. I like to think that watching a violent show on tv. does not make me a more violent person, but causally witnessing actual debauchery in the world may cause your perceptions to change (Overton Window effect).  I have always been inclined to retreat into myself maybe a little too much. But then again others can influence me negatively (to drink to excess, stay out too late etc). I like the advice about not doing what the crowd is doing. Just because a  lot of people are doing something in no way makes it right! But we all have to be careful not to dislike something just because others like it. Use reason not emotion to find the right path!

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Letter 6: On Sharing Knowledge

Moral Letters to Lucilus


Summary: One of the first benefits of practicing this philosophy is being able to notice faults in oneself.

Friendship becomes very strong between individuals with similar worldviews and shared problems.  Having wisdom is useless unless you are willing to share (teach). “No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it”.

Reading about a philosophy is not as powerful as hearing it preached. Even this is not as powerful as witnessing it being practiced in the lives of a friend.

Start by first becoming a friend to yourself as such  a person can never be alone, and this person will also be a friend to all mankind.-Hecato


Reflection I’m glad to see the stoics placing such a value on friendship as well as on sharing of information.  I think it is true that the best way to turn people toward a life philosophy is probably not to tell them about it ad naseum but to let them see your example while living it.  Don’t hide your lamp under the bushel basket!   And do as Epictetus also says, don’t go around bragging about your philosophy. Live it!

Letter 5: On the Philosopher’s Mean

Moral Letters to Lucilius


Summary: When improving yourself through philosophy don’t show off by wearing ratty clothing and living an extremely minimalist life. This will scare away the very people we hope to help. It is better to moderately live in a similar way to those around you but to be a very different person inside. Maintain a higher standard of life not a contrary standard to those around you.  Live  well but don’t seek extravagance, it is the same to treat a earthenware plate like a silver plate as to treat a silver plate as an earthenware plate.   It is impossible to live according to nature by intentionally torturing the body. Philosophy calls for plain living but not for penance.  Guests should admire you more than your possessions.

Fear and hope are ideas that are chained together. They both come together as a package.  Both belong to a mind that is stuck looking far into the future.  Beasts avoid the dangers they see and forget about those they’ve escaped, humans tend to worry about those they’ve escaped, the ones they see and ones they may or may not see…  Endeavor to live. Train the mind to live in the present. The present alone can make no man wretched.


Thoughts: This as a good lesson. Don’t beat yourself up for having a few nice things but on the same note don’t keep seeking out the newest this and newest that… Work on being interesting not on having more interesting objects. Also work to let go of the past and to plan for but not worry about the future. Live now. Carpe Diem.

Letter 4: On the Terrors of Death

Moral Letters to Lucilius


Summary: Set your mind at peace with itself, to remain scared of death is like being a child who is afraid of the dark.  Death should not be as dreaded as it is, as it cannot be with you. It either arrives and you don’t exist or it hasn’t come at all.   If fear can inspire people to gladly die, such as  a slave who kills himself after running away to avoid capture, then why shouldn’t virtue be able to allay the fear of death? A mind that focuses on lengthening life is not at peace.  Rehearse this thought each day so you may depart contently, don’t be like a man carried by the current clutching to briers and sharp rocks.

Most people live between the fear of death and hardships of life, unwilling to live and not knowing how to die.  Banish your worry and live.  No possession can make you happy unless you are at peace with its loss. It makes even less sense to worry about loss of life as once it is lost it cannot be missed.  Everyone around you has the power to bring death to you. If you are led to death today it is of no matter, you were heading to that destination anyway.  Also, remember that to truly be wealthy is to avert hunger, cold and thirst.  It is for superfluous things that men sweat.


Reflection: Good tips but it will take a lot of discipline to follow. But why worry: you can not add a second to your life by worrying. You can however internalize goals to make yourself healthy as possible and to die in the least uncomfortable way as possible.

Letter 3: On True and False Friendship

Moral Letters to Lucilius


Summary: If you don’t trust an acquaintance as much as you trust yourself, then do not call them a “Friend”. Treat them as if they are loyal and they will become so. One must walk a line between not confiding too much to strangers/coworkers and bottling up and not even sharing with friends.  “The love of bustle is not industry, it is the restlessness of a hunted mind” Don’t withdraw too much into darkness, remember good Mother Nature created both day and night.


Reflection: I should be careful not to be too negative when discussing things with coworkers and leave less said. No gossip no whining!  And don’t put yourself down if you take some time off, it is better than the love of bustle with no end goal insight!

Moral Letters #2: On the Discursiveness of Reading

Moral Letters to Lucilius




Summary: It is best to study a few great thinkers and ponder their words than to continuously read new works and clutter your mind with ideas while not acting on any of them.  Work on having intimate relationships with these great minds “A man who travels makes many acquaintances but no friends”. Only possess the books which you can read rather than worrying about trying to read all the books you possess.  Reread you old authors when you need a change.  *To have little but to be content is not poverty, to have a lot but want more is poverty… *=paraphrase.

Reflection:  I think this may be true when dealing with a life philosophy but also has a lot of meaning when applied to other facets of life outside of reading. Dining, hobbies, and travel for example. It will be easier to be happy If you are easily satiated and get to know things in depth rather than have a mile-wide and an inch deep knowledge of many things. Work on being content with what you’ve done, with what you have rather than thinking that happiness rests in some future accomplishment.