On the three Stoic disciplines: desire, action, ascent…

— From How to Be a Stoic – Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life P.23

The Stoics used several metaphors to get their points 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.

Our friend Epictetus developed his own highly original take on why the three stoic areas of study are important:

There are three departments in which a man who is to be good and noble must be trained. The first concerns the will to get and will to avoid; he must be trained not to fail to get what he wills to get nor fall into what he wills to avoid. The second is concerned with impulse to act and not to act, and, in a word, the sphere of what is fitting: that we should act in order, with due consideration, and with proper care. The object of the third is that we may not be deceived, and may not judge at random, and generally it is concerned with ascent.

These are often referred to as the three Stoic disciplines: desire, action, ascent.”

Epictetus on “frankness in speech”

— Epictetus

If I say what I have in mind, I shall hurt your feelings and you will leave, perhaps never to return; but if I do not say it, consider the sort of thing I shall be doing. Here you are coming to me to get some benefit, and I shall be bestowing no benefit at all; and you are coming to me as a philosopher, and I shall be saying nothing to you as a philosopher. Besides, it is anything but cruel for me to leave you unreformed? If some time in the future, you come to your senses, you will have good reason to blame me.”

People, Marcus Aurelius reminds us, do not choose to have the faults they do…

— From A Guide to the Good Life – The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by WILLIAM B. IRVINE

We should remind ourselves that “this mortal life endures but a moment,” meaning that we soon will be dead.” Putting annoying incidents into their cosmic context, he thinks, will make their triviality apparent and will therefore alleviate our annoyance.

One of their sting-elimination strategies is to pause, when insulted, to consider whether what the insulter said is true. If it is, there is little reason to be upset.

Another sting-elimination strategy, suggested by Epictetus, is to pause to consider how well-informed the insulter is. He might be saying something bad about us not because he wants to hurt our feelings but because he sincerely believes what he is saying, or, at any rate, he might simply be reporting how things seem to him. Rather than getting angry at this person for his honesty, we should calmly set him straight.

One particularly powerful sting-elimination strategy is to consider the source of an insult. If I respect the source, if I value his opinions, then his critical remarks shouldn’t upset me.

Suppose, however, that I don’t respect the source of an insult; indeed, suppose that I take him to be a thoroughly contemptible individual. Under such circumstances, rather than feeling hurt by his insults, I should feel relieved: If he disapproves of what I am doing, then what I am doing is doubtless the right thing to do. What should worry me is if this contemptible person approved of what I am doing. If I say anything at all in response to his insults, the most appropriate comment would be, “I’m relieved that you feel that way about me.”

When we consider the sources of insults, says Seneca, we will often find that those who insult us can best be described as overgrown children.’ In the same way that a mother would be foolish to let the “insults” of her toddler upset her, we would be foolish to let the insults of these childish adults upset us.

In other cases, we will find that those insulting us have deeply flawed characters. Such people, says Marcus, rather than deserving our anger, deserve our pity’

keep in mind, when insulted, that we ourselves are the source of any sting that accompanies the insult. “Remember,” says Epictetus, “that what is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but the judgment about them that they are insulting.” As a result, he says, “another person will not do you harm unless you wish it; you will be harmed at just that time at which you take yourself to be harmed.”‘ From this it follows that if we can convince ourselves that a person has done us no harm by insulting us, his insult will carry no sting.

as Epictetus puts it, “what upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about these things.”

in his consolation to Polybius, who was grieving the death of his brother, Seneca writes, “Nature requires from us some sorrow, while more than this is the result of vanity. But never will I demand of you that you should not grieve at all.”

“let your tears flow, but let them also cease, let deepest sighs be drawn from your breast, but let them also find an end.”

Anger, says Seneca, is “brief insanity,” and the damage done by anger is enormous: “No plague has cost the human race more.”

anger can destroy us individually.

Being angry, Seneca concludes, is a waste of precious time.

Reason,” he cautions, “will never enlist the aid of reckless unbridled impulses over which it has no authority.”

We should, he says, fight our tendency to believe the worst about others and our tendency to jump to conclusions about their motivations.

By allowing ourselves to get angry over little things, we take what might have been a barely noticeable disruption of our day and transform it into a tranquility-shattering state of agitation.

This is the problem with anger: It feels good to vent it and feels bad to suppress it.

many of the things we think are important in fact aren’t, at least not in the grand scheme of things.

“We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us-we must agree to go easy on one another.”


How to be a Stoic

From ‘The New Yorker’

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons.

The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest.

For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration.

Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own

— Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .”