Lessons in Stoicism

Lessons in Stoicism
John Sellars

Stoicism has always had a broad popularity, both for being grounded in an ethics of self-help and personal improvement and for its simple, direct statements of how to go about being a better person. It’s a practical and universal philosophy that also gets points for its tough-minded manliness.

My own feeling is that it’s based on a number of principles that sound good at first blush but don’t stand up to close examination. What does it mean to live one’s life in accordance with nature? How can we evaluate if we’ve done our best, or all that we could have done, in any past situation? What if one’s duty to one’s self is in conflict with a social duty? Is everything (anything?) in our life either under our control or incidental? To what extent are reason and emotion separable?

John Sellars has written a quick introduction to questions like these but doesn’t clear any of them up. But I don’t think they can be. This isn’t to say Stoic philosophy is without value. It can provide comfort and be the basis for a constructive kind of personal therapy. It might even change your life. But you have to go into it aware of its limitations.

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