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Lessons in Stoicism by John Sellars




As I have mentioned recently, I am trying to learn more about Stoicism. I would, ideally, also like to understand more of philosophy, but the more I read about it, the more confused I get. I am still trying. At least it is easier to approach the stoics and their ideas. I have already read Epictetus and am reading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I came into Sellars book via Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings and ordered the book.


It is a very good and easy introduction to Stoicism. It is only about 70 pages so you go through it fast. Maybe the best way is to just read a chapter a day and ponder over what you read. John Sellars is a lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London and a member of Wolfson College, Oxford. He has also written The Art of Living. I see in the introduction of him that he is also one of the founder members of Modern Stoicism, the group behind Stoic Week. It seems to be an annual global event where they invite members of the public to 'live like a Stoic for a week' in order to see how it might improve their lives. I wonder ... ? It sounds rather fascinating.


Back to the book. It is divided into seven chapters and an epilogue.


  1. The Philosopher as Doctor - Epictetus says: "The philosopher, is a doctor, and the philosopher's school is a hospital - a hospital for souls."

  2. What Do You Control? - "The things that we can control - the things in our power - include our judgements, impulses and desires. Pretty much everything else is, Epictetus suggests, ultimately out of our control, including our own bodies, our material possessions, our reputation and our worldly success."

  3. The Problem with Emotions - "We cannot control other people's emotions, because they fall into the category of things not up to us. ... But, Epictetus doesn't just leave it there; he shifts attention to what the man can , namely his own reaction to his brother's anger."

  4. Dealing with Adversity - "Whether one believes in a benevolent deity, pantheistic order or atomic chaos, it remains entirely up to us whether we choose to see an event as a disaster or an opportunity."

  5. Our Place in Nature - "One of the central themes that threads itself through the Meditations is fate. This brings us back to Epictetus's concern with control. Marcus had read the Discourses as a young man, and their influence can be seen throughout his own writings. But whereas Epictetus turned his attention inwards, to focus on what we can control, Marcus looked outwards to contemplate the vastness of what we cannot. Again and again Marcus reflects on his own life as but one tiny moment in the vastness of time, and his own body as a mere speck in the vastness of the universe."

  6. Life and Death - "Perhaps surprisingly, he (Seneca) insisted that all of us have more than enough time, no matter how long or short out lives turn out to be; the problem is that we waste most of it." "First of all we should stop worrying about what others think. Don't try to impress others; don't pursue their favour in order to secure some advantage. To many people care about what others think of them, but pay little their own thoughts."

  7. How We Live Together - "Epictetus's division between what we can and cannot control seems to counsel turning our backs on the outside world in order to focus attention on our judgements." "The Stoics would also agree with Aristotle when he said that human beings are by nature social and political animals."

The Stoics mean that much of the suffering you feel in life is more of the way you perceive it, or think about things (not including physical suffering). Things that often are part of our lives like anxiety, frustration, fear, disappointment, anger and general discontent. Stoicism meets these negative emotions by saying that we are looking at the world in a wrong way. The ability to avoid these emotions is within our control, we just have to face them in a different light.


Zeno of Elea (490-430 B.C.) lived in Athens and founded a school that taught what was to become Stoicism. The most famous Stoics were three great Romans; Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, who lived in the first and second centuries AD. "Their works, fundamentally, are about how to live - how to understand one's place in the world, how to cope when things don't go well, how to manage one's emotions, how to behave towards others, how to live a good life worthy of a rational human being."


It seems that the Stoics have a lot to teach us even today. Or, maybe more today, when we live in a world full of stress, social media, fake news and life happening in a higher speed than ever before. I try, when I get agitated or irritated on someone to stop myself, and think of what the Stoics said. I still have to go through the routine of stopping myself, and thinking of my reaction. I hope that one day, my reaction to things upsetting me, will automatically hit my brain, without me having to think further of it. Meaning, not to get irritated or agitated at all.


I continue to read about the Stoics. I have The Daily Stoic, 366 meditations , perseverance, and the art of living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. One good Stoic quote a day, and a thought to be considered, to help you start the day


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3 Comments


Guest
Apr 02

I really loved a lot the Stoics when I studied them way back then in France. Not sure if you will have data on that in this book, but I remember being so impressed that they were so so close to Christian values and beliefs. Emma @ Words And Peace

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I have this book, but I have not read it. I think I need to read it soon. Thank you for this wonderful, thoughtful review.

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Thank you Debbie. It is a quick and easy overview of the views of the Stoics. I find that it helps me in my daily life.

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