Seneca directly takes on the Peripatetics, followers of Aristotle, and criticizes their notion that virtue always lies in the middle. Some things, like insanity, or anger, are not good even in small quantities. Planning is more important than worrying about outcomes. Epictetus wonders why people pay attention to outcomes, which are outside of their control, and not so much to planning, which very much is under their control. The orchestra of your mind. Seneca draws a beautiful analogy between the harmonious sounds of an orchestra and the harmonious thinking of a well structured mind.
If you want to understand things, write them down. Seneca suggests that we should alternate between reading and writing in order to truly understand and internalize new concepts. Which, of course, is yet another way to achieve a major goal of Stoic training: arrive at better and better judgments. Read books, it's good for you. Seneca gives this most sensical of advices: read books by others, especially if they disagree with you. Turns out, it's a good way to improve our judgments of things, a major goal of Stoic training.
Pay attention to the past in order to tackle the future. Seneca reminds us that -- although we live in the here and now -- we profit from reflecting on our mistakes, so long as we do not indulge emotionally on them. Regret is not a Stoic value. Learning is. Life is more like wrestling than dancing. We take a look at one of the most famous metaphors in Stoicism, the notion put forth by Marcus Aurelius that life is a bit like wrestling: we need to be prepared and alert, because the next move may be unexpected. Too much logic is not good for your health.
Seneca reminds us that logic is crucial in order to figure out how to live a good life. But logic chopping is actually deleterious to it. Not all indifferents are created equal. Seneca reminds us that there is a difference among the so-called indifferents. Life, health, and education, for instance, are a bit more highly ranked than your favorite gelato flavor.
The difference between Stoicism and stoicism. In our th episode we look at how Seneca very clearly separates Stoicism the philosophy from stoicism the attitude of going through life with a stiff upper lip. Be magnanimous toward others. Seneca reminds us that we should interpret other people's actions and words in a generous manner, instead of conjuring the worst possible scenario.
It is, after all, the way we would like to be treated. Do you still need somebody to wipe your nose? Epictetus, with his sarcastic sense of humor, reminds a student that he doesn't need to pray to deal with a bad situation. He already has all the tools he needs: courage, fortitude, and endurance. Virtue is its own reward. If the Pope or the Dalai Lama say that being good is its own reward, usually people take it at face value.
But if a Stoic says it, they demand logical proof. Let's discuss this. How much are you worth? Seneca gets to the bottom line of Stoic philosophy: If you wish to set a value on yourself, put away your money, your estates, your honors, and look into your own character. Get rid of fear of death and poverty. Seneca agrees with Epicurus: fear of death and poverty is crippling, and we need to work toward overcoming it. Three simple steps to live a good life. Seneca reminds us that the tools for becoming a better person are simple and inexpensive.
In this episode we discuss the three basic tools of the Stoic practitioner. Why we need to focus on our own improvement. A quote from Marcus Aurelius sounds a lot like what Ayn Rand would say. But it couldn't be further from it. Fortuna is your sparring partner. Seneca reminds us that it may be just as difficult to deal with good fortune as with the bad variety. Regardless, everything life throws at us is an opportunity to exercise our virtue. Practical exercises in self-deprivation. Seneca says that doing without things for a while renews our appreciation for them.
In this episode we examine five exercises in mild self-deprivation guaranteed to reset your hedonic treadmill. Are you sick? You can be brave about it. Seneca reminds us that courage is not just for the battlefield, but for the everyday difficulties of life, like being sick.
Pay attention to the good parts of your life. A contemporary theory of consciousness, proposed by philosopher Jesse Prinz, recalls Seneca's treatment of the emotions, and teaches us how to avert painful thoughts by focusing on the good things that happen to us. Your "happiness" is up to you, really. Epictetus reminds us that the only things that are truly good or bad for us are our judgments, which are under our control. It follows that "happiness," in the sense of a life worth living, is also under our control.
What's a good reason to endure hardship? Seneca reminds us that athletes willingly subject themselves to harsh regimes in order to succeed. But when it comes to becoming a better person most of us think it's just too difficult. Turn regrets into learning opportunities. Seneca reminds us that to indulge in regret is irrational, as the past is outside of our control. That doesn't mean we can't learn from it, though.
Everything depends on opinion. Seneca tells us that our happiness, or lack thereof, is a matter of our own opinion. No, he's not making a relativist or post-modernist argument on the nature of knowledge.
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Marcus says that once we have observed human affairs for 40 years, it's the same as having observed them for 10, years. Surely he is wrong? Not necessarily On the importance of friendship. The Stoics, the Epicureans, and Aristotle all agreed on one thing: friends are important. In this episode we talk about why, and how the Stoics differ from the other two schools on this topic. Life's a play, act well. Seneca uses a metaphor that later became famous with Shakespeare: life is like a play, so what counts is not its length, but how well we act our parts.
The asymmetry of being dead. Seneca points out that people regret not being alive a thousand years from now, and yet are not bothered by the thought of not having been alive for the past thousand years. Distribute your wealth like after a banquet. Seneca recalls an ancient Roman custom according to which the host of a banquet would distribute gifts to his friends at the end. Consider doing the same after your life has ended. A little philosophy is a dangerous thing. Epictetus warn us that a little knowledge of philosophy, without proper guidance, can actually turn us onto even more stubborn fools than we were before.
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Every good life is complete. Seneca argues that life is not like a journey. Whenever it is interrupted it is a whole life, if we have been living it virtuously. A prepared mind tackles adversity better. Today's quote from Seneca is the root of the modern Stoic technique of premeditatio malorum, a meditation in which we try to get mentally prepared to tackle adversity. The real stature of people. Seneca uses a beautiful analogy to argue that some people may look impressive while they aren't, and other people truly are impressive and yet remain overlooked. Navigating between good and bad fortune.
Seneca tells us that virtue is useful not just in order to handle bad fortune, but also, counter intuitively, to deal with good fortune. We are all going to die, but until then? Marcus Aurelius takes for granted that death is a natural and unavoidable end. The real question is what you are going to do between now and then. Would you buy a car based on its color? Seneca explains that there are certain attributes of things and people that are important, and others that are irrelevant.
Somehow, we keep focusing on the irrelevant ones. Why virtue is the only good. In this episode we explore a quote from Seneca presenting the Stoic argument for why virtue is the only true good. And if it is, then shouldn't you pursue it above all else? Virtue will not fall upon you by chance. Seneca already understood two millennia ago that there is no such thing as a self-made man, because luck is needed for externals.
But not in order to be virtuous. Bad judgment is a disease, Stoic practice is the cure.
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Seneca says that people arrive at wrong judgments about what is valuable or desirable, and a major goal of Stoic training is, accordingly, to make us less unwise about values and desires. Change your mind, if reason prompts you. Epictetus chastises one of his students for wanting to stick with a decision just because he said he would. Which leads us to a discussion of the roles of reason and emotion.
Practice, practice, practice. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, but how does that work, exactly? Not very differently from the practice of religions like Christianity and Buddhism. Find out in this episode! Here and now. Seneca reminds us that the past is not under our control, and neither is the future. Our only locus of action is the present, and that's where our attention should be.
How to behave during a storm at sea. Seneca reminds us that those who study philosophy are human beings, subject to the physiological responses and emotions of the case. The difference is in how they reflect on and react to circumstances. Retreat into your Inner Citadel. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that, when we need to regain serenity, we may retreat into ourselves and recharge our batteries. In this episode, learn about the ruling faculty and its neural correlates. Virtue, virtue, everywhere!
Seneca tells us that virtue can be present at all levels, from nations to individuals, and in all circumstances, from wealth to poverty. Let's find out what, precisely, the Stoics meant by virtue and why it's so important. The length of a virtuous life does not matter. Seneca reminds us that a life can be virtuous regardless of its length. And since we have no idea how long we are going to live, the question is: what are you going to do between now and then? Love reason! Seneca warmly invites us to love reason, which will arm us against the greatest hardships.
These days, though, reason doesn't have a great reputation. Find out why we should go back to it. Don't be proud of things you didn't accomplish. Seneca gives a splendidly clear and cogent description of the Stoic concept of preferred "indifferents," external things that are not under our complete control, and which Fortuna can take away at any moment. And off they go, alleging slander! Epictetus notes that nobody tells a doctor that they are rude if the doctor says they are sick and need medicine. But if the philosopher does that with one's moral health What are you going to do with your luck?
Seneca conjures a vivid image of the goddess Fortuna showering mortals with gifts, which are ruined by the eager crowd, or badly used, and that at any rate do not produce happiness. That's because people lack wisdom, necessary to truly enjoy Fortuna's gifts.
Try inward happiness. Seneca explains that if our happiness depends on externals, like fame or money, we are in the hands of Fortuna, who could take those things away at any moment. But if we are happy because we are good, then Fortuna is powerless. Don't judge a pilot by the size of her ship. Seneca states very clearly that wealth is an indifferent, in Stoic terms. It can be pursued if it allows us to do good, but it should be avoided if it corrupts our moral fiber, making us greedy toward luxury and power.
It is either extinction or change. Marcus Aurelius contemplates whether death is a resolution of atoms or a final annihilation. He doesn't seem bothered by either possibility. Ambition is not a Stoic value. Seneca warns us against ambition, understood not as the will to accomplish things, but as the pursuit of fame, money, and power. Modern politicians should be like Cato the Younger, not Alcibiades. Avoid busyness. Seneca advises us to be careful how we spend our time, and especially how we respond to other people's demands for it.
Life is short, surely you won't regret, on your deathbed, not having attended one more useless office meeting Don't be like a dog waiting for another morsel of meat. Seneca says that people are like dogs who eagerly await the next tasty morsel from Fortuna, swallow it quickly, then eagerly await the next one. Don't be like a dog, that way lies perennial dissatisfaction with life. Of sickness and wisdom. Seneca says that lacking wisdom is like being sick. Although we can imagine what it would be like to be perfectly healthy, in reality we can be happy if we manage to be less sick than before.
That's progress, folks! Theory is easy, practice requires effort. Epictetus reminds us that one does not become a good carpenter, or pilot, by simply studying the theory of carpentry or piloting. Mindful, repeated effort is needed to see results. The same goes with one's philosophy of life. Philosophy is a lifelong commitment. Seneca makes the startling claim that philosophy is a lifelong commitment that cannot be indulged only in our spare time.
He doesn't mean academic studies, but rather practice, just like a Christian or Buddhist would do it. Instead of conquering the world, conquer yourself. Seneca says that he hasn't conquered any enemy but his own greed, ambition, and fear of death. If more people, especially the leaders of the world, were to take that attitude, perhaps there would be no need to conquer enemies. In order to make progress you have to desire progress.
The goal of Stoic training is to become a better person, not a perfect one. But the first step, as always in life, is to want to make progress. If you wish to better yourself, the game is afoot, you need to start now. In a few words: virtue is the only good. Seneca provides us with a very short and to the point summary of Stoic philosophy: virtue is the only good, it depends on our ability to reason correctly, and it leads to good judgment.
Be grateful for what you have, but don't get too attached to it. Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to be grateful for the things he has, which he would long for if he didn't have them. At the same time, everything is impermanent, so we should be prepared for our losses. Sagehood is rare, but progress is up to us. Seneca tells Lucilius that he himself is far from being a wise person, which is as rare as the mythical phoenix. Nevertheless, we can all be "proficientes," those who make progress. Which is the whole point of Stoic training. Stoicism is not a "manly" philosophy.
We hear a lot of nonsense about Stoicism being tough and therefore only for men. But Seneca clearly explains that virtue doesn't make us invulnerable to pain and suffering, and that women are just as capable as men to become virtuous. Go figure. Dining with a tyrant, are you? Seneca gives us another Stoic "paradox": it may be better to be tortured than to sit at the dinner table. Well, not normally, but surely if you are being tortured to protect innocent lives, or sit at dinner with a tyrant.
It all depends on context. No need to be anxious even in front of a king. Epictetus explains why king Antigonus was anxious to meet Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, and not vice versa. The king had not yet internalized the fundamental principle of the dichotomy of control: making a good impression on others is not up to us. Take the view from above.
A quote from Seneca leads us into a discussion of the difference between Stoicism and modern philosophies of despair. For the Stoic, knowledge of the vastness of time and space is no excuse for nihilism, but simply a way to put things in perspective and get back to the task of living well. Not just endurance, but tranquillity of mind. Seneca tells Lucilius how Cato, after losing an election, went out to play; and how, before taking his own life, he retired to his room to read a book.
Stoicism isn't just about enduring things, it's about achieving serenity in the face of ill fortune. Philosophy is serious business. Seneca invites his friend Lucilius to consider that philosophy is too serious a business to be left only to professional philosophers, especially those who engage in clever wordplay and logic chopping just to show how smart they are.
translation and definition "virtue is its own reward", Dictionary English-English online
Decide on the big picture, the details come later. Seneca makes an argument for why we should adopt a philosophy of life be it Stoicism or something else. It provides us a framework to make decisions and prioritize things. The rest is details. Seneca on suicide. Seneca elaborates on how the Stoics see suicide: nature gave us one entrance into life, but many exits.
And it is the existence of these exits that guarantees our freedom. The Stoic argument for the right to suicide. Seneca continues his discussion of suicide with his friend Lucilius, arguing that maintaining agency and exercising our judgments are fundamental ingredients of a good life. It follows that we should be in charge of when and how to quit. Life: it isn't about length, it's about quality. Seneca makes a point that is still controversial two millennia later. The important thing about life is not its length, but its quality. And it is up to the individual to judge the quality of her own life.
How to avoid temptation and practice virtue. Seneca gives some very commonsensical advice, backed up by modern psychological research, on how to best avoid temptation. Which leads us to a discussion of what we should avoid, and what, by contrast, we should seek out in order to act virtuously. We are all sick, but we can help each other. Seneca says to his friend Lucilius that he is no wise man or doctor, but rather an unwise and sick person.
Which brings us to a discussion of Stoic humility and how it is that we can all make progress toward wisdom. The difference between tranquillity and flat calm. Seneca argues that tranquillity of mind is the result of an active, but realistic, engagement with the problems posed by life. By contrast, refusing to rise up to challenges simply leads to a flat and meaningless calm.
Racism and Stoic compassion. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that people do and say things not because they are evil, but because they are mistaken. The proper response, then, is education and pity, not hatred. Gelato and the Cynic wing of Stoicism. Musonius Rufus advises us to follow a minimalist life style, closer to the so-called "Cynic" wing of the Stoic movement.
Why is that? Because reducing temptations helps us practicing virtue, as we'll see by way of an example featuring gelato.
Seven Studies Show That Virtue Truly Is Its Own Reward | Psychology Today
The most important mental trick of your life. Epictetus says that a lyre player plays beautifully when he practices on his own. But gets very nervous in front of an audience. That's because he wants something that is not under his control. Learn and internalize this lesson and your life will be happy and serene.
The unity of virtue thesis. Seneca argues that the four cardinal virtues are a tightly coordinated council, which makes the best possible decisions for us. In this episode we explore the Stoic concept of the unity of virtue, and make sense of it by analogy with going to the gym to improve our health. Tackle illness with virtue. Illness is not something to look forward to, as Stoics are not mad.
But it is a fact of life, and so it becomes a question of how we deal with it: by kicking and screming, or as a test of our virtue of temperance? Be prepared to endure prosperity. Seneca argues that, strange as it may seem, prosperity is to be endured, just as bad times are. It's yet another Stoic "paradox," of which we make sense in this episode. Epictetus gets punched on the nose. Epictetus tells the story of when he first started preaching, instead of teaching, philosophy. It did not go well, and he got punched on the nose. He quickly learned the difference between preaching and teaching.
The last day of Epicurus. Seneca recounts the last, painful day, of the life of the rival philosopher Epicurus, who claimed that even that day he was happy. Which leads us into a discussion of what the Stoics and Epicureans meant by happiness. All good people are equally worthy. Seneca states the fundamental Stoic principle that the measure of a person has nothing to do with externals like wealth, health or good looks. It depends on one thing and one thing only: goodness of character.
Virtue is nothing but right reason. Seneca gives a straightforward, simple, yet rich definition of virtue to his friend Lucilius. It has huge consequences for every one of us, every day. Be charitable toward others. Marcus Aurelius says that other people do wrong out of lack of wisdom, and so do we, which means we should be forgiving toward others. Besides, life is short, and others can't harm the most important thing: our faculty of judgment. Do like Socrates, have a dialogue instead of a dispute.
Epictetus reminds us that Socrates made an effort to talk to people while avoiding rudeness and invectives. Imagine if we did the same today, instead of indulging in the current climate of acrimony about social and political issues. Love requires virtue, not externals. Seneca says that one shouldn't love a person because they are rich, or strong, but because they are virtuous. Which gets us into a discussion of the meaning of the word "axia," referring to things that have value but are not crucial. Rich vs poor. Seneca says that being rich does not make you a good person, nor does being poor make you a bad one.
We then use this quote to explore the relationship between externals and virtue. Joy vs pain. Seneca says that it is natural to seek joy and avoid pain. But the virtue involved in both cases is the same. In the quote we examine today, then, there are a lot of crucial Stoic concepts to be parsed out. What is virtue, anyway? Seneca tells us that virtue lies in how you handle things, both good and bad.
If you are sick, be gentle with those who are taking care of you. If you get a promotion, don't brag to your colleagues. It's the virtuous thing to do. Talk to people like Socrates would. Epictetus reminds us that it is senseless to talk to others just in order to score points. That way we don't learn, understand, or persuade; we just puff ourselves up and waste opportunities.
All virtues are related. Seneca states the classic Stoic view that all virtues are aspects of a single underlying one: wisdom. In this episode we explore what that means in practice, every day. What matters is how you handle things. Seneca tells us of one of the well known Stoic paradoxes i. How can we make sense of this? Find out in this episode. Death is change and not to be feared. Seneca is at peace with the notion of death, and in this episode we talk about why the Stoic attitude toward this natural process of cosmic recycling makes a lot of sense.
Let us celebrate those truly worth celebrating. Seneca suggests that we should remember and honor the people that have made positive contributions to humanity, and I add that perhaps, conversely, we should get away from modern "celebrity" culture. I want something on which I may test my endurance. Seneca is asking for trouble. Well, not exactly.
But he reminds us that Stoicism is about constant practice, so we shouldn't just be prepared to meet a challenge, but positively welcome it. Whatever can happen at any time can happen today. Seneca says that we have no idea when Fortuna will take friends and loved ones away from us, so the sensible way to live our lives is to take full advantage of every moment we spend with them. Make friends, oppose Fortuna.
Seneca says that making friends is one way to counter the doings of Fortuna, because having friends is one of the great consolations in life, no matter what happens to us. Nothing good comes out of a static universe. Marcus Aurelius reflects on the famous concept the Stoics inherited from the pre-Socratic Heraclitus: panta rhei, everything changes.
What would happen if we took this seriously, in our everyday life? Don't make fun of others, be helpful. Epictetus says that if we encounter someone who is lost we don't make fun of him, but give him directions. Why, then, do we engage in sarcasm against people who disagree with us? Practice self control to become more virtuous. Musonius Rufus reminds us that self control is a crucial component of the cardinal virtue of temperance.
This doesn't mean we cannot enjoy pleasures, only that we need to do it in proper measure. Enjoy your friends and loved ones, now. Seneca says that we should greedily enjoy our loved ones, right now. Because we have no idea how long we will enjoy the privilege of their company and affection. Pay attention to the here and now.
The Stoic approach to grief. Stoicism is often accused of counseling to suppress emotions. This quote from Seneca clearly shows it doesn't. Then again, we don't want to wallow in grief and let it paralyze us, because we have duties toward the living. Converse with the best minds, read a book. Seneca reminds us that one of the simplest and cheapest of pleasures is to engage in a continuous conversation with the best minds humanity has ever produced. By reading a good book. Are you really that busy? Seneca suggests that we should change our attitude toward being busy: don't surrender yourself to your affairs, but loan yourself to them and you will live a happier life.
Greed leads to unhappiness. Seneca says that for many people the furnishings of their lives are more than enough, but they keep wanting more, thus dooming themselves to unhappiness and turmoil. How to think about life and death. Seneca clarifies one of the famous Stoic paradoxes: no, you shouldn't live every day as if it were your last. But you should live every day to the fullest because you don't know which one will be your last. Are you dead before the time, by your own choice? Seneca reminds Lucilius that a full human life is about being useful, and particularly about helping others.
Sure, you can withdraw from the world and live in peace, but then you are arguably already dead. No matter what, keep your emerald color. Marcus tells us that, regardless of how people around us behave, we should keep following our moral compass, just like an emerald keeps its color regardless of what others are doing. Epictetus asks a student a trick question Epictetus engages in a short dialogue with one of his students, asking him a trick question. How would you answer the question of whether pleasure is a good thing, something to be proud of?
The right thing to do is often painful. Musonius Rufus articulates the Stoic equivalent of "no pain, no gain," in part as a rebuke to the Epicureans. Engaging in social and political life is painful, but it's the right thing to do. On exotic food consumption. Seneca is critical of the fact that many ships are required to convey the requisites for a single meal, bringing them from no single sea. Still today so many people indulge in pleasures that cost a lot and cause much environmental damage.
Time to revise our priorities about where our food comes from? That which Fortuna has not given, she cannot take away. Let's talk about the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna, or what the Greeks called Tyche, to whom Seneca often refers in his letters to Lucilius. Why does she play such an important role in Stoic philosophy? We all want lasting joy. Seneca argues that we want joy in life, and we want it to last.
And yet, we insist in seeking it in all the wrong places, from ephemeral pleasures to the fickle praise of others. Beware of flattery, it gets in the way of genuine progress. Seneca claims that flattery is a subtle enemy of our work toward becoming better persons. Too readily we agree with those who tell us that we are good, sensible, holy even. What's a good attitude toward praise, then?
Practicing philosophy is like going to spiritual gym. Seneca reminds Lucilius that we can't relegate our quest for becoming better persons to intervals between indulgences. It's like going to the gym: you have to do it regularly and often, or you won't get the benefits. Adversity is just a gym to exercise your virtue. Seneca says that the wise person and, by extension, the practitioner of Stoicism will deal with poverty, sorrow, disgrace or pain, because she is alert and fortified, ready to treat adversity as a way to improve her character.
Old age, frail and not. Seneca tells Lucilius that old age is natural and to be welcomed. So long as it maintains our mind in working order. If that's not the case, then the Stoics prefer to exit through the open door, as virtue itself becomes impossible to practice. Take care of your body, with temperance. Seneca reminds us that we have some power to make our body last longer, by exercising temperance in our pleasures. Enjoy your next meal, just don't over do it.
And remember, Stoics drink wine, but they don't get drunk. How to excel at being human. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that there is no difference between acting according to nature and according to reason. What did he mean? Where philosophy begins. According to Epictetus philosophy gets started when we are genuinely interested in why people disagree about things. Not in terms of factual matters, which empirical evidence can settle, but about values and how we should think about the world and therefore act in it.
We should study broadly in order to increase understanding. Seneca tells Lucilius that he welcomes knowledge from all fields, not just philosophy. That's why he wrote books on natural questions, including on the nature of comets, earthquakes, thunderstorms, and the causes of the flooding of the Nile. Choose your entertainment virtuously. Seneca tells Lucilius that we need rest and relaxation, but we can exercise virtue even in our choice of how we relax and entertain ourselves.
Consider how you refresh your mind, the next time you pick a movie or organize a vacation! Everything flows, so don't get attached. Seneca quotes the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus to the effect that everything changes all the time, panta rhei.
It follows that it is futile to get attached to things, including our own bodies. Enjoy what you have, but consider it a temporary loan from the cosmos. Always do what is in harmony with the common interest. Marcus Aurelius talks about being helpful to society. And yet he was an emperor who waged war and presided over slavery. How do we reconcile his actions with his Stoicism? At least in three ways, explored in this episode.
Do you think you know the difference between good and bad? A splendid example of Epictetus' sarcasm by way of a bit of dialogue with one of his students. In the course of which we learn about the virtue of practical wisdom, the discipline of desire, and the dichotomy of control. The difference between proto-emotions and fully formed ones. Seneca nicely explains what a proto-emotion is, and we discuss how proto-emotions can then develop into fully formed healthy or unhealthy emotions.
It all comes down to what cognitive judgment we apply to our initial response. How to get a good night's sleep. Seneca reminds us that real tranquillity comes from a relaxed mind with a clear conscience. Which is why Stoics engage in an evening meditation on the major events of the day, learning from their mistakes, and filing them away before going to sleep. Self-sufficiency comes from inside, not from externals. Seneca challenges the common assumption that someone is self-sufficient if he has enough money, a nice place to live, and so forth.
True self-sufficiency requires serenity, which comes from inner strength, not from externals. Death is like pre-birth: there is nothing to be feared. Seneca agrees with Epicurus: death is a state of non-existence, therefore we do not feel anything, and there is nothing to be afraid of. Moreover, it is no different from the aeons before we were born, and we don't regret those, do we? Practice philosophy constantly, life doesn't stop. Seneca tells us that philosophy, understood as a way of life, cannot be relegated to spare moments.
Just like someone can't be a Christian only on Sunday mornings, so a Stoic applies her principles at every opportunity, big or small. Learn from teachers who do, not just talk. Seneca advices his friend Lucilius to pay attention to people who act right, not just talk right. When we pick a role model to improve our character, let's pick someone whose actions we want to imitate, they are a better guidance to virtue.
Compel Fortuna to play on equal terms. Seneca argues that we can force Fortuna, the goddess of luck, to deal with us on equal terms, by not being slaves to external things we cannot control. Cultivate equanimity, and Fortuna will play fair with you. Pay attention to what others say, inhabit their minds. Marcus Aurelius gives some commonsensical advice on how to interact with other people, which leads us to a brief discussion of what counts as "Stoic" advice in the first place. Revenge is not justice.
Epictetus reminds his students that engaging in a wrong act, even one done in response to an injustice, stains our own character, and therefore hurts us first and foremost. Stoics don't favor retributive justice systems. What's the problem with the passions? Seneca reminds us of the distinction between unhealthy and healthy emotions: being overwhelmed by the first ones tears us apart internally, while cultivating the second ones brings harmony to our psyche. No pain no gain, says Musonius.
Musonius Rufus, in an implicit rebuttal to the Epicureans, reminds us of all the things that is worth experiencing pain to achieve, most importantly being a good, just, and temperate person. You should live neither in a place of torture nor in a cafe. Seneca gives rare advice on one's abode. It should be a place that does not get in the way of practicing virtue, which means neither too uncomfortable if we can avoid it nor too luxurious or distracting. Philosophy may be painful or a pleasure, but it's worth it. Seneca disagrees with Epictetus: the first says that philosophy is a pleasant medicine, the second that it is a painful one.
And yet they agree that it is a remedy that, taken regularly, makes for a wholesome life. Is the problem with the place, or with you? Seneca says that more often than we realize we blame our problems on the time and place we live in, without understanding that the fault may be with us, and that we should work on ourselves, instead of finding excuses.
You want to change the world? Begin by changing yourself. Seneca argues that we are born with the ability to reason and to improve our reasoning. We are also naturally social, and prefer virtue over vice. Hard to believe, right? And yet, he's got a point. A good life depends not on length, but on our use of it. Seneca argues that it is the quality, not the duration, of one's life that is important, and that we often live long when measured in years, and yet too little in terms of what we accomplish.
What's really important in your life? A straightforward quote by Epictetus allows us to reflect on what a philosophy of life is, and why everyone needs one. On the difference between philosophy and logic chopping. Seneca says that he'd prefer to be told how to help people, rather than how many different meanings of the word "people" there may be. Things themselves have no power to form our judgments. Life is hard as it is, says Marcus Aurelius, there is no need to make ourselves more miserable by adding unnecessary opinions that increase our suffering.
Reflect on the roles you play, and play them well. Epictetus introduced a major innovation in Stoic ethics with his theory of roles. We are first and foremost members of the human cosmopolis. But also fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues. How do we balance the conflicting demands of such diverse roles in life? Won't you be my neighbor? Seneca reminds us that we can't live happily if we transform everything into a question of our own utility. We must live for your neighbour in order to live for ourselves. What do you think is truly good for you?
Marcus provides us three options for what sort of thing is truly good for you, and argues that a person of understanding will go for the third one. Have you reflected on what is good for you, and why? On family matters, take the high moral ground. Epictetus advises us to forgo issues of material resources and remember that family relationships in great part define who we are. After all, if we can't practice virtue with our brothers, sisters, and parents, with whom can we practice it?
Everyone who craves externals is a slave to them. Seneca says that if we are going after the satisfaction of lust, greed, ambition, and so forth, we make ourselves slaves to fortune. Not so if we regard what we have as loans from the universe, which the universe can take back at any moment, by any means. Calibrate your desires, achieve serenity. Musonius Rufus reminds us that it is far easier to curb our desire for our neighbor's wife than to pursue it Not to mention that it is the right thing to do. Don't buy a horse on the basis of its saddle. Seneca reminds us that all too often we judge people on the basis of what they wear, or of their social rank, mistakenly assuming that those are good indicators of their character.
Seneca reminds his contemporaries that slaves are human beings like everyone else. In this episode, we talk about slavery in the ancient world, what the Stoics thought about it, and what follows from their philosophy. Beware of the difference between friendship and flattery. Seneca warns us to be careful with people who pretend to be our friends, or simply feed our narcissism. Like, you know, most of the "friends" you likely have on social media Philosophy did not find Plato a nobleman, it made him one. Seneca reminds us that philosophy is open to all, no matter what our background and means.
Engage the philosophical life and you will get to converse with noble minds across time and cultures. What does your inner daimon say? Seneca observes our tendency to boast of the good things we do and to keep quiet about the not-so-good ones. As if our own judgment, the judgment of our conscience, didn't matter. How on earth did I get here? Seneca says that Stoic mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening to us. We need to keep charting and re-charting our way forward, as our mind needs to be prepared for the vagaries of Fortune.
Fortune has no jurisdiction over character. Seneca says that Fortune may take just as much, and as suddenly, as she can give. But we can work on improving our character so that we can accept with equanimity both the good and the bad stuff in life. Observe the goodness of those around you.
Marcus Aurelius suggests some simple therapy for our troubled souls: pause and observe some good things done by people around you. Appreciate what they are doing. And use it as an inspiration for becoming better yourself. Whenever you yield to externals, you become their slave. Epictetus warns us that if we let an external take precedence over the integrity of our character we are doomed to become slaves for life. And who wants to be a slave, right? Our predecessors are our guides, not our masters.
Seneca reminds us that Stoicism is a live philosophy, which must evolve over time in order to incorporate new truths and, if needed, reject old ideas that turned out to be wrong. Be forgiving of liars and unjust people. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that Stoicism is both self forgiving and forgiving of others, and that while we should take the path of truth and justice, we should also be tolerant of people who are even further from wisdom and are gooing the wrong way.
But I couldn't do otherwise! Yes, you could Epictetus tells us that nobody can force us to agree to a judgment we think is incorrect. Surprisingly, this has countless applications to everyday life. Make yourself happy through your own efforts. Nothing I write about here contradicts that. We just won't oversell negative screening as a free lunch and we will be clear about how virtue actually creates change in the world by moving costs-of-capital.
Constraints can never help you ex ante and only sometimes ex post through luck. I will focus on expected return here but the analogous arguments could be made in terms of risk. Many commentators do indeed seem to implicitly and sometimes explicitly say that constrained portfolios are ex ante better. The opposite, that judged purely on return and risk constrained is always ex ante less than or equal to unconstrained, is really an important concept and still surprisingly often misunderstood.
Two, similarly some may believe that, for instance, some ESG factors are systemically underpriced so a tilt towards them is a good thing not surprisingly AQR looks for such factors. But, again, no constraint is needed to push you to invest in a good factor judged purely on return and risk. A subtle distinction perhaps but I think an important one.
European Financial Management, Vol. Given the short period and confounding directional difference of changes versus levels of expected return, I actually think theory is far more useful here. But, while important and sometimes misunderstood, the argument that ex ante constrained is less than or equal to unconstrained is actually rather trivial. The more interesting thing is precisely how ESG investing really makes an impact. So, clearly the group without such qualms, call them the sinners, have to own more than they otherwise would of the sin stocks.
How does a market get anyone, perhaps particularly a sinner, to own more of something? Well it pays them! In this case through a higher expected return on the segment in question. This may be unpleasant but it is just math like math could ever be unpleasant. In the absence of extra expected return the sinners would own X of the market segment in question. Now, assuming nothing else changed, how does the market assign this sinful segment a higher expected return?
Well by according it a lower price. This in turn is achieved through a lower than otherwise price. Now for the fun part. How do the virtuous actually make the world a better place? Well to make the world a better place you want the sinning companies to sin less not just to suffer in the stock market. Does the above deliver this desired effect? Imagine a sinful company is considering a new investment project.
How does it analyze this project? Well, as many of us were forced to learn in business school, it forecasts out cash flows, both positive and negative, and discounts those cash flows back to the present. Now I snuck in the assumption that the company knew the forecasted cash flows and the discount rate. We might also expect these actions to slightly raise the required expected return on the whole cap-weighted market as everyone has to be induced to own less diversified portfolios no sin stocks for the virtuous and extra sin for the sinful making investing a slightly riskier proposition.
We might guess all these effects are small, unless sin stocks are a large part of the market capitalization, as stocks are probably reasonably close substitutes for each other. Luckily magnitude is not part of my brief here. For example, an oil company choosing whether to repair a known defect in their offshore oil platform today, versus paying potential damages tomorrow, is more apt to defer maintenance if we successfully raise their cost of capital. A higher cost of capital generally shortens the time horizon of sin companies which in itself is not clearly good or bad.
In reality projects can all have different discount rates and a company can choose to do some and not do others. Again, the real world is complicated. But, I think the general points constraints are never ex ante helpful, and the way negative screening has any impact is to raise the expected return of sin likely hold up.