The Eight Core Teachings of Roman Stoicism from Breakfast with Seneca by David Fideler
- "Live in agreement with nature" to find happiness. Like many thinkers that came before and after, the Stoics believed that rationality exists in nature. We can see evidence of this in nature’s patterns, processes, and the laws of nature, which allow nature’s forms to work in an excellent way. Because human beings are a part of nature, we are capable of being rational and excellent too. According to Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, if we "live in agreement with nature," our lives will then "flow smoothly."
- Virtue, or excellence of one’s inner character is the only true good. If you lack this kind of inner goodness, you won’t be able to use anything else in a good way, to benefit either yourself or others.… What makes a virtue like justice or fairness truly good is that it is always or consistently good. By contrast, other things can be used well or badly. They are not intrinsically or consistently good.
- Some things are "up to us," or entirely under our control, while other things are not. For the Stoics, the only things fully under our control are our inner powers of judgment, opinion, and decision making, our will, and how we interpret the things we experience. To reduce emotional suffering, a person needs to focus on what is under his or her control, while still trying to create a better life and a better world for others.
- While we can’t control what happens to us in the external world, we can control our inner judgments and how we respond to life’s events. This is highly significant to the Stoics, because extreme, negative emotions originate from faulty judgments or opinions. But if we understand and correct the faulty interpretations by viewing things differently, we can also get rid of the negative emotions.
- When something negative happens, or when we are struck by adversity, we shouldn’t be surprised by it, but see it as an opportunity to create a better situation. For the Stoics, every challenge or adversity we encounter is an opportunity to both test and develop our inner character. Also, to believe that misfortunes will never befall us would be out of touch with reality. Instead, we should actively expect occasional bumps in the road, and sometimes major ones.
- Virtue, or possessing an excellent character, is its own reward. But it also results in eudaimonia or "happiness." This is a state of mental tranquility and inner joy. Eudaimonia has been translated variously as "happiness," "human flourishing," "well-being," and "having the best mindset possible." But for the Stoics, "having a life that is truly worth living" is probably the most accurate translation.… Living the best possible life, or a life truly worth living, might involve some pain.
- Real philosophy involves "making progress." Philosophy involves critical thinking, intellectual analysis, and trying to understand the world scientifically. But ultimately, for the Stoics, the most important dimension of philosophy is ethics, which has a very practical dimension. The Roman Stoics saw real philosophy as a kind of path in which one makes progress toward virtue or developing a better character.
- It’s essential that we, as individuals, should contribute to society. The Stoics were the most prosocial philosophers in the ancient world. They taught that humanity is like a single organism, and that we, as parts of that organism, should contribute to the greater good of society as a whole.… Significantly, the Stoics weren’t just interested in improving their own lives. They were interested in improving the lives of all humanity.
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