Suggested readings, #20

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

“And the prize for speculation goes to…” How physics went down a post-empirical dead end. Theoretical physicists who devised a theory for which there is no evidence have received a $3m award. Why is this not surprising? (Prospect Magazine)

Why Philosophers Shouldn’t Sign Petitions. Our job – says the author – is to persuade by argument, not by wielding influence. But I think she doesn’t know what petitions are for. They are not arguments meant at persuading. (New York Times)

How quantitative thinking shaped our worldview. (OUP Blog)

Debunking debunked. Secular modernity requires the weeding out of all the baloney. Yet it’s not clear that we are any less credulous than before. (Aeon)

Mocking Nature. Whereby the author brings a Green perspective to discussions of religious insult. Not sure I buy it, but here it is. (Philosophy Now)

Epictetus: 263 selected quotes

New e-booklet! Epictetus: 263 Selected Quotes. I began to practice Stoicism in 2014, and my first encounter with the philosophy was through the reading of Epictetus. It simply blew my mind. Or rather, the way Epictetus comes across through the writings of his student Arrian of Nicomedia, blew my mind, since Epictetus himself never wrote anything. And moreover, we have apparently lost half of Arrian’s Discourses, having been left with only four of the original eight volumes.

Epictetus was born a slave in Hierapolis (modern day Pamukkale, western Turkey) in the year 55 CE, and died in Nicopolis (western Greece) in 135 CE, having become the most famous teacher of practical philosophy of his time. His influence has reverberated through the millennia, as his Enchiridion (the Manual) was used as a training handbook of spiritual exercises by Christian monks during the middle ages, and has he influenced Renaissance scholars and philosophers, as well as generals and statesmen (including both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson).

Epictetus is blunt, his presentation of philosophy accompanied by a sharp sense of humor that borders on sarcasm (and sometimes clearly and willfully crosses that border!). He speaks frankly to his students, and to us, telling us all that if we don’t practice what we learn we are just wasting our time — and his. And remember, this is the only time allotted to us by the cosmic web of cause-effect that the ancient Stoics called “god.”

This booklet is not a commentary, but simply a selection of what I personally find to be Epictetus’ most powerful quotes, each sourced so that the interested reader can trace it back to its broader context. Use this booklet as a continuous source of inspiration, as life in the 21st century isn’t that different, in many respects, from that of 1st century Rome. Enjoy and reflect.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Discourses, volume I
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Discourses, volume II
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Discourses, volume III
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Discourses, volume IV
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Enchiridion
  • Epictetus, selected quotes: Fragments

Stoa Nova event: How to practice Stoicism in 9 easy exercises

Stoicism is a practical philosophy, so let’s practice! At this meeting we’ll explore nine simple exercises to make you a better Stoic. Some of them are to be done daily, some weekly, some occasionally. All of them will help you on your way to become a sage. Well, hopefully.

Suggested reading here.

When: Monday, 26 August 26 2019, at 6pm.

RSVP here.

24 Stoic Spiritual Exercises

New e-booklet: 24 Stoic Spiritual Exercises, culled from the writings of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism is a practical philosophy of life, and while I enjoy writing about its history and theory, it is the practice that has so far had a significant impact in my life. I assume it is the same for most readers too. That’s why in this booklet I collect a number of passages from the ancient Stoics where they explicitly advise certain practices or exercises. (Thanks to my friend Greg Lopez for helping curating the collection, on the occasion of Stoic Camp-New York). The first list is distilled from Epictetus’ Enchiridion (the aptly titled “Manual”), while the second list is derived from Marcus’ Meditations (again aptly, a diary that the emperor wrote for his own personal use).

Table of contents:


Epictetus, from the Enchiridion

I. Examine your impressions

II. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things

III. The reserve clause

IV. How can I use virtue here and now?

V. Pause and take a deep breadth

VI. Other-ize

VII. Speak little and well

VIII. Choose your company well

IX. Respond to insults with humor

X. Don’t speak too much about yourself

XI. Speak without judging

Marcus Aurelius, from the Meditations

XII. Morning meditation on others

XIII. Keep at-hand principles

XIV. Why am I doing this?

XV. Renunciation

XVI. Decomposition exercise

XVII. Acknowledging others’ virtues

XVIII. Take another’s perspective

XIX. View from above

XX. How did they (not) sin?

XXI. Keep change and death in mind

XXII. When offended…

XXIII. Rebutting thoughts

XXIV. Morning meditation on the cosmos

Recent Stoic Meditations, #19

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

There are, as you know, vices which are next-door to virtues. Carelessness looks like ease, and rashness like bravery. (listen here)

It’s relatively easy to stay on the right track by following simple methods, but there are countless ways to go wrong if we don’t pay attention. Here are three basic rules from Stoic philosophy to keep your life on the right track. (listen here)

How do we strike a good balance between cultivating externals, like wealth, and focusing on the improvement of our own character? Different philosophical schools gave different answers to this question. (listen here)

Philosophers have debated for millennia the nature of ethics. Is it arbitrary? Or are there universal moral laws that we can apprehend through reason? Neither, say the Stoics. Theirs is a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy. (listen here)

Desires have to be reined in, fear to be suppressed, proper actions to be arranged, debts to be paid; we therefore include self-restraint, bravery, prudence, and justice among the virtues – assigning to each quality its special function. (listen here)

Recent essays, #19

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:

Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 9, Marcus Aurelius — the man himself. Well, it took a while, but we finally got to the end of Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It’s a long and difficult book, but it’s a crucial entry in the modern Stoic literature, which is why I spent so much time — and really put to the test my readers’ patience, I’m afraid — with this series. In this last post I will skip the short chapter 9, on “Virtue and Joy,” and focus on selected passages of the very long chapter 10, “Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations,” where Hadot does his best to glean the character of the man behind the philosophy. However, this isn’t just a biographical chapter, as Marcus’ character, life, and philosophy are deeply intertwined. Which means we are just as likely to learn about the man from his philosophy and life as we are about the philosophy by looking at how this extraordinary man attempted to put it into practice throughout his life. (continue to read)

Here you will find a full list of the essays concerning Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel.

Book Club: The Art of Living, 1, The Skeptics don’t believe in the art of living. Or do they? John Sellars’ The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy is one of the best books I’ve read recently about philosophy understood as a way of life, as distinct from (perhaps even opposed to?) a specialized academic discipline. Here is how the publisher described the book: Ancient philosophy was conceived as a way of life or an art of living, but if ancient philosophers did think that philosophy should transform an individual’s way of life, then what conception of philosophy stands behind this claim? John Sellars explores this question through a detailed account of ancient Stoic ideas about the nature and function of philosophy. He considers the Socratic background to Stoic thinking about philosophy and Skeptical objections raised by Sextus Empiricus, and offers readings of late Stoic texts by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Sellars argues that the conception of philosophy as an “art of living,” inaugurated by Socrates and developed by the Stoics, has persisted since antiquity and remains a living alternative to modern attempts to assimilate philosophy to the natural sciences. (continue to read)

Suggested readings, #19

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Late in life, Thoreau became a serious Darwinist. But he died before he could finish his book on natural history. As Emerson put it, Thoreau “depart[ed] out of Nature before … he has been really shown to his peers for what he is.” (Longreads)

Hell is other people, on the internet. Are we having fun, or are we in a hell where we’re merely communicating, learning too little too quickly, melting our brains into the abyssal portal? (The Baffler)

Quantum supremacy is coming. It won’t change the world. If quantum computers are to help solve humanity’s problems, they will have to improve drastically. (The Guardian)

The 10 ancient classics every student should read. As students we’re buried in reading and assignments. But if you want to increase your knowledge, get out your comfort zone and entertain yourself, the original Classics aren’t a bad place to start. (The Independent)

Why speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser. (Aeon)