How to Be a Stoic | Massimo Pigliucci

Summary of: How to Be a Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living
By: Massimo Pigliucci


Embark on a journey to discover the practical yet powerful wisdom of the ancient Stoic philosophers with Massimo Pigliucci’s ‘How to Be a Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living’. Stoicism, often misunderstood as being emotionless and passive, actually provides insightful guidelines on leading a good life through the disciplines of desire, action, and assent. In this book summary, explore the key principles of Stoicism such as the dichotomy of control – accepting what is beyond our power while maximizing our own influence. Delve into the significance of moral virtue over material wealth and learn about the importance of temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom in leading a virtuous life. Draw inspiration from the lives of influential role models like Marcus Cato and Malala Yousafzai who embody Stoic virtues.

The Practicality of Stoicism

Stoicism, a philosophy that emerged in Athens around 300 BCE, focuses on leading a good life through three disciplines: desire, action, and assent. Despite its common misconception of being passive and emotionless, it is a practical philosophy that emphasizes self-improvement. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote his famous work, Meditations, as a personal guide for self-improvement. Epictetus, another influential Stoic philosopher, emphasized practical considerations for day-to-day living in his work, Enchiridion. Stoicism offers insights on how to deal with life’s problems, treat others, react to adversity, and prepare for death.

The Stoic Way

Stoicism provides guidance on how to focus on things we can control and accept the rest. The author uses his experiences with weight loss and promotion anxiety to exemplify Stoic principles. People should waste no energy on things beyond their control and accept outcomes with equanimity.

Pursuing Moral Virtue

The Stoics believed in pursuing moral virtue over material benefits such as wealth and comfort. This philosophy is exemplified in Socrates, who chose to accept his death rather than compromise his moral duty. Stoics recognize that preferred indifferents, such as wealth and health, are not essential to a virtuous life. To apply moral virtue in our lives, we must acknowledge the moral element in everything we do. By prioritizing moral virtue, we can make decisions that align with our values and support ethical behavior.

The Four Virtues of Stoicism

The Stoics identified four virtues that lead to a virtuous life: temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom. Although these concepts of virtue have been present in many philosophical and religious traditions, the Stoic approach seems to have refined them. These virtues can be observed in today’s exemplars such as Malala Yousafzai. She demonstrated temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom by advocating for girls’ education even after surviving a shooting by the Taliban. The Stoics believed that role models have the power to inspire and guide individuals towards leading a virtuous life.

The Stoic Ideal

Stoics believed in learning from the role models to illustrate moral behavior and the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca held up Marcus Cato as the prime example. Cato was an Athenian senator and a military commander who marched along with his men and was known for his moral principles. When Julius Caesar declared war on the Roman Republic, Cato fought him to defend the Republic and eventually killed himself rather than be captured, which would have given Caesar a propaganda victory. For Stoics, Cato’s sacrifice demonstrated the ultimate virtue, and we can learn from him to develop our own courage in life.

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