Recent essays, #30

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Book review: The Stoic Life, by Tad Brennan

In a sense, Tad Brennan is a modern Cicero. Just like Cicero wrote sympathetically and yet critically about Stoicism (e.g., Paradoxa Stoicorum, Tusculan Disputations, and De Finibus), so Brennan does in his The Stoic Life. Brennan doesn’t have either the style or the philosophical insight of Cicero, but then again, that’s setting the bar way high! The book is enjoyable, carefully written, and has a lot to offer both to the person who is just approaching Stoicism and to the seasoned practitioner of the philosophy. The first kind of reader may get some insight into whether Stoicism is really for them, the second one should welcome the challenges that Brennan puts forth, especially in part IV of his book.

The Stoic Life is organized into five sections: an “introduction” that includes chapters on why be a Stoic, the sources we have about ancient Stoicism, the philosophical background to Stoicism, and an overview of Stoic ethics. Part II focuses on Stoic psychology, talking about impressions and assent, the difference between belief and knowledge, and the relationship between impulses (to action) and emotions. Part III delves more deeply into the ethics, covering the chief good (i.e., virtue) and the so-called preferred and dispreffered indifferents, the concept of oikeiosis (moral development), and the nature of “befitting” actions. Part IV gets to the complex Stoic concept of fate, with a discussion of “god” (i.e., nature), the relationship between necessity and responsibility, the (in)famous “lazy argument,” and, of course, “free” will.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Book Club: The Art of Living, 3, The hidden structure of the Enchiridion

[Previous installments of this series can be found here: 1, The Skeptics didn’t believe in the art of living; 2, The concept of spiritual philosophical exercises.]

The Art of Living, by John Sellars, is one of those must read books for the serious student of Stoicism. Despite the distracting (for the layperson) use of Greek terms, and the fact that it is not aimed at practitioners of Stoicism, it’s full of interesting observations about the philosophy. In this third installment of my commentary I will focus on chapter 6 of the book, “Exercises in the Handbook of Epictetus.”

The Handbook, or Enchiridion, is of course one of the fundamental texts of ancient Stoicism. It was compiled, just like the Discourses, by one of Epictetus’ best students, Arrian of Nicomedia. It is often presented as an introduction to Stoicism, or as a summary of the Discourses, but it is neither, really. It’s a highly condensed set of Stoic precepts to be used by the advanced student (because they come with no explanation) as ideas to keep “at hand” (enchiridion) for day to day living.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

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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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