The Stoic Emergency Kit

I have just published a new e-booklet that collects nine essays I wrote, covering basic aspects of theoretical and practical Stoicism. As the subtitle puts it, this guide is “for those who need a refresher and those who are just starting out.” You can download a free PDF or ePub version (several other free booklets on Stoicism, philosophy of science and general philosophy can be found here). The Stoic Emergency Kit contains the following:

A very brief history of Stoicism
Meet the Stoics

Stoic theory
Arête: on the nature of human excellence
Prosochē or not prosochē? On Stoic mindfulness
Stoic psychology 101: impressions, assent, and impulses
Stoic epistemology 101: Zeno and the metaphor of the hand movement
Oikeiôsis: how to feel at home in the world

Stoic practice
Stoicism in three simple steps
How I practice Stoicism: 9 easy exercises
How to deal with insults, the Stoic way
Let’s talk about the premeditation of adversity

Book Club summary: The Art of Living

Over at my Patreon and Medium sites I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to the most recently completed series.

The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy, by John Sellars, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. It is a commonplace to say that in antiquity philosophy was conceived as a way of life or an art of living, but precisely what such claims amount to has remained unclear. 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 via 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 Sceptical 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. It also enables us to rethink the relationship between an individual’s philosophy and their biography. The book appears here in paperback for the first time with a new preface by the author.

Here are my commentaries:

I. The Skeptics don’t believe in the art of living. Or do they? (Patreon / Medium)

II. The concept of spiritual philosophical exercises (Patreon / Medium)

III. The hidden structure of the Enchiridion (Patreon / Medium)

IV. How to study practical philosophy: a three-pronged curriculum (Patreon / Medium)

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

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

Book Club summary: The Inner Citadel

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, by Pierre Hadot, Harvard University Press, 2001. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are treasured today–as they have been over the centuries–as an inexhaustible source of wisdom. And as one of the three most important expressions of Stoicism, this is an essential text for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the work’s style are deceptive. Pierre Hadot, eminent historian of ancient thought, uncovers new levels of meaning and expands our understanding of its underlying philosophy.

Here are my commentaries:

1. Marcus Aurelius’ teachers.

2. A first glimpse of the Meditations.

3. The Meditations as spiritual exercises.

4. The philosopher-slave and the emperor-philosopher.

5. The beautifully coherent Stoicism of Epictetus.

6. The discipline of assent.

7. The discipline of desire, or amor fati.

8. The discipline of action, in the service of humanity.

9. Marcus Aurelius — the man himself.

Endure and Renounce

A new e-booklet has just been published by my personal imprint, so to speak, Figs In Winter. The title, “Endure and Renounce,” comes from a well known passage by Epictetus: “There were two vices much blacker and more serious than the rest: lack of persistence and lack of self-control … Endure and Renounce. (Fragments 10)

The e-booklet is a collection from the first year of my (now archived) blog, How To Be A Stoic. The first post came out on 3 March 2015, and ever since I have used that blog (and now Figs In Winter) as a sort of public diary tracking my explorations of Stoicism, both the ancient philosophy and its developing modern descendant, in terms of theory but especially of practice, which is what makes Stoicism so distinctive in the philosophical landscape.

“Endure and Renounce” collects the best 84 of the essays published from the beginning of the blog through December 2015, and features the following table of contents:

Part I: The historical perspective

A brief history of Stoicism
On the decline of (ancient) Stoicism
Ancient vs modern ethics: a comparison

Part II: Epictetus

Beginning the Discourses
On steadfastness
From Epictetus to Naso
How to do philosophy
Against the Academics and the Epicureans
Of love and friendship
On Cynicism
Epictetus, a bit of an anti-intellectual?
The Fragments
The Handbook

Part III: Marcus

Meditations, Book I
Meditations, Book II
Meditations, Book III
Meditations, Book IV
Meditations, Book V
Meditations, Book VI
Meditations, Book VII
Meditations, Book VIII
Meditations, Book IX
Meditations, Book X
Meditations, Book XI
Meditations, Book XII

Part IV: Ancient writings about the Stoics

Cicero’s De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy, part I
Cicero’s De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy, part II
Why Plato’s Euthydemus is relevant to Stoics
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, I: Zeno
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, II: Cleanthes
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, III: Chrysippus

Part V: Stoic theory

The three Stoic disciplines
Stoic epistemology
Stoic logic
Stoic natural philosophy
Stoic theology
Stoic determinism
Stoic cosmopolitanism and the problem of unmet friends
Stoic virtue ethics, part I
Stoic virtue ethics, part II
(more on) Stoic ethics
Stoic moral psychology
Apatheia vs Ataraxia: what’s the difference?

Part VI: Modern Stoicism

Is belief in God necessary to practice Stoicism?
The three pillars of Stoicism
Negative visualization
The dichotomy of control
The Rise of Stoicism
Stoic Psychological Techniques
Stoic self discomfort and control exercises
Stoic practical advice, I: duty and social relations
Stoic practical advice, II: on insults
Stoic practical advice, III: grief
Stoic practical advice, IV: anger
Stoicism and personal values: fame
Stoicism and personal values: on luxurious living
On surviving a change of place
Stoic old age
On becoming a Stoic
Stoicism reconsidered
On the effects of practicing Stoicism
Atoms vs Providence? Both, really
Don’t judge others, but don’t keep bad company
A New Stoicism, part I
A New Stoicism, part II
A New Stoicism, part III
A New Stoicism, part IV
A New Stoicism, part V
Virtue, Forrest Gump, and Wittgenstein
What Would a Stoic Do? Presidential candidates
What Would a Stoic Do? On terrorism
What Would a Stoic Do? I met a sophist, and it didn’t go well
What Would a Stoic Do? The Stoic’s decision making algorithm
The Stoics vs Ayn Rand
Kant vs Cato
Epictetus was right: modern cognitive science supports the Stoics’ conception of emotions

Part VII: Stoicism and other philosophies

Revisiting the similarities among Stoicism, Epicureanism and Buddhism
Neo-Stoicism and the relationship between Stoicism and Christianity

Part VIII: Stoicism and popular culture

Stoic movie review: Amy
Stoic movie review: The Martian
Stoic movie review: Bridge of Spies
Stoic movie review: Trumbo
What Would a Stoic Do? On entertainment
What Would a Stoic Do? Twitter edition

Cicero and Stoicism

I have just published a new e-booklet on the theme of Cicero and Stoicism: Brief Introductions to De Finibus, Stoic Paradoxes, and Tusculan Disputations.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher, who served as consul in the year 63 BCE. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and is considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. He lived in turbulent times, being a contemporary of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Mark Anthony, and the future emperor Octavian Augustus.

The new e-booklet contains 10 essays and runs to about 18,500 words. Here is the table of contents:

De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy (parts I & II)

Cicero’s criticism of Stoicism (parts I & II)

Stoic Paradoxes

Tusculan Disputations: I. On contempt of death

Tusculan Disputations: II. On bearing pain

Tusculan Disputations: III. On grief of mind

Tusculan Disputations: IV. On other perturbations of the mind

Tusculan Disputations: V. Whether virtue alone be sufficient for a happy life