Recent essays, #13

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, my Patreon site devoted to practical philosophy. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription levels at $1, $3, and $5), but the majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

The essence of Stoicism. Despite the title of this essay, I don’t believe in essences. At the least, not in the sense that any complex idea or object can be reduced to an essence. Sure, the “essence” of the element Gold may be thought to be having an atomic number of 79, in the sense that in order for something to be Gold it is both necessary and sufficient that the thing in question is made of atoms with 79 protons. Similarly, the “essence” of a triangle, as a geometric figure, is that the sum of its internal angles is 180 degrees.

But few other things in life or in nature are amenable to concise definitions in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, as Wittgenstein famously demonstrated in the deceptively simple case of “game.” Try to give a small number of conditions that need to be satisfied for an activity to qualify as a game and that separates it from all non-games and you will soon be lost in an ever increasing cluster of similar-yet-not-quite-the-same activities sharing what Wittgenstein referred to as a family resemblance— but not an essence. (continue to read)

Epic battles in practical ethics: Stoicism vs Objectivism. The Ayn Rand Institute is at it again. They are really unhappy about Stoicism and the waves our philosophy has been making recently. I have written about an all-out assault by Leonard Peikoff, described as “Ayn Rand’s foremost student and today’s leading expert on Objectivism.” Now is the turn of an essay authored by Aaron Smith, entitled “The false promise of Stoicism.” Smith has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, where he lectures and develops educational content for the Institute’s intellectual training and outreach programs. He is also — in a somewhat interesting fashion — fundamentally wrong about Stoicism, as I will argue below. (continue to read)


Published by


Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.