Lessons in Stoicism

Fantastic book. It is a very short and approachable introduction to Stoicism.

2 min read


Preferred Indifference

A notable feature of the Stoic school of philosophy is 'preferred indifference'. You see, the only thing that is truly good is a virtuous character (I.e., a good character). So this may lead you to think that nothing else matters, but the Stoics beg to differ. There are preferences you can have, such as wealth, health, and the likes. For some virtues are more achievable given some wealth, for example through charity, generosity, and such. It's just that you shouldn't worry if you don't have them. Hence the indifference.

Control

There is quite a lot that is not within our control. Having our feeling of wellbeing depend on any of these is effectively to hand over our happiness to the whims of someone, or something, else.

Epictetus believes that the only thing we truly control is our judgment. There are many internal things we don't control: like our sensations, emotions, and memories. And we don't control anything external. But we do control our judgment, through which we can steer things in another direction.

Antipater, a Stoic writing some time before Epictetus, drew an analogy with archery: even an expert archer will sometimes miss the target because the wind might blow his arrow off course. There’s absolutely nothing the archer can do about this. The same goes for medicine: no matter how good doctors are, sometimes factors out of their control mean they are unable to save a patient. The Stoics think that all of life is like this. We can strive to act as best as we can, but we can never completely control the outcome. If we tie our happiness to achieving the outcome, we run the risk of being frequently disappointed, but if we make our goal simply doing the best we can, then nothing can get in our way.

Adversity

Adversity allows you to show your mettle. Test your skills.

It is an opportunity, not a loss.

How will you behave when you are tested? Do you act in accordance with your philosophy, or do you fold?

"I didn't think it would happen to me" But it could, and it did. Don't go expecting things to never happen to you, for they can, and will.

Our power

We are not entirely powerless. We can contribute to fate. Push it in our preferred direction. It it doesn't give the outcome we wanted, however, it's no good to wish otherwise: there are simply too many forces at play. We cannot always get our way, but we should try to work for it.

No matter what happens, we should always respond the same: accept what happened and act in response as best we can.

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