Recent essays, #16

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:

Seneca: on tranquillity of mind. One of Seneca’s best essays is on the topic of peace of mind,  which was a major goal especially of Roman Stoicism (as opposed to an  exclusive emphasis on the cultivation of virtues in Greek Stoicism), and which remains something we all aspire in this turbulent 21st century. The essay begins with a letter to Seneca by his friend Serenus,  asking for advice. Serenus feels that he has a good handle on some of  his “vices,” but not other, deeper ones, and he says that as a result of  this his mind is not at peace. He is “neither ill nor well,” and he realizes that his judgment about his own affairs is skewed by personal bias. “I am well aware that these oscillations of mind are not perilous and that they threaten me with no serious disorder: to express what I complain of by an exact simile, I am not suffering from a storm, but from sea-sickness. Take from me, then, this evil, whatever it may be, and help one who is in distress within sight of land.” (continue to read)

The Stoic god is untenable in the light of modern science. Stoicism is a philosophy of life that has been around for 23  centuries, and in the past several years has seen a resurgence of  interest throughout the world. Like any philosophy of life (or, for that matter, religion), it has two  fundamental components: a metaphysics (i.e., an account of how the  world works); and an ethics (i.e., an account of how we should behave in  the world). There is very little disagreement among modern Stoics concerning the  ethics, which is the crucial, most practical part of the philosophy. The fundamental aspects of it can be summarized rather succinctly… (continue to read)

Stoic Q&A: why do Stoics emphasize leading a virtuous life as opposed to answering how to lead a happy life? A follower on Twitter posted this excellent question, which really gets at the core of Stoic philosophy and, for that matter, of any philosophy of life or religion. In order to answer it, though, we need to begin by clarifying what we mean by those two key terms: “virtue” and “happiness.” Starting from the latter, what we definitely don’t mean is a temporary feeling of elation, as in “I’m happy to finally be on vacation.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with that sort of happiness, but it isn’t the kind of thing philosophies of life (or religions) are in the business of fostering. Moreover, psychologically speaking, happiness-as-elation is not sustainable by human beings, it is necessarily temporary. Of course, a Stoic (or a Christian, or a Buddhist) can certainly be “happy” in that sense, but that isn’t the goal of their practice. (continue to read)

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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.

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