Recent essays, #17

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 to Lucilius: 42, good people are rare, sages exceedingly so.

The forty-second letter by Seneca to Lucilius begins by referring a common friend, who apparently went around arguing that he was a good man. Seneca is skeptical, as he thinks that it takes time to become, and to be recognized as, good. Then he adds: “You realize what sort of good man I mean in the present context: one of the second rank, for that other one is born perhaps once every five hundred years, like the phoenix.” (XLII.1) First-rank good people are the sages, and Seneca is hinting at the fact that they are exceedingly rare, no more common than the phoenix, the mythological bird that is reborn from its ashes every 500 years. The topic of the Stoic sage, his frequency, and his characteristics, was a hot one during the early Stoa, and René Brouwer devoted a whole book to it. But the sage isn’t the chief topic of this letter, so let’s set him aside for the moment. (continue to read)

Stand up, be a Stoic! “Show me someone untroubled with disturbing thoughts about illness, danger, death, exile or loss of reputation. By all the gods, I want to see a Stoic!” (Epictetus, Discourses II, 19.24) You may have noticed that we are going through what scientists have been predicting for decades now: a worldwide emergency due to climate collapse, in turn the result of human-triggered global warming. If you are still not convinced of this you either live under a rock, or do not understand what is going on. Or you get money from the energy industry, like many of our politicians. (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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