Philosophy as a Way of Life


Stoicism, of course, may not appeal to or work for everyone. It is a rather demanding philosophy of life, where your moral character is pretty much stipulated to be the only truly worthy thing to cultivate in life (though health, education, and even wealth are considered to be “preferred indifferents”). Then again, it does have a lot of points of contact with other philosophies, as well as religions: Buddhism, Christianity, and — I think — even modern secular movements such as secular humanism or ethical culture. There is something very appealing for me as a non religious person in the idea of an ecumenical philosophy, one that can share goals and at the least some general attitudes with other major ethical traditions across the world.

Massimo Pigliucci (City College) has “recently become a Stoic.” In a column in The New York Times, he describes some of the reasons why, along with what it means for his day-to-day living:

I begin the day by retreating in a quiet corner of my apartment to meditate. Stoic meditation consists in rehearsing the challenges of the day ahead, thinking about which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom) one may be called on to employ and how.

I also engage in an exercise called Hierocles’ circle, imagining myself as part of a growing circle of concern that includes my family and friends, my neighbors, my fellow citizens, humanity as a whole, all the way up to Nature itself.

I then pass to the “premeditatio malorum,” a type of visualization in which one imagines some sort of catastrophe happening to oneself (such as losing one’s job), and learns to see it as a “dispreferred indifferent,” meaning that it would be better if it didn’t happen, but that it would nonetheless not affect one’s worth and moral value. This one is not for everybody: novices may find this last exercise emotionally disturbing, especially if it involves visualizing one’s own death, as sometimes it does…

Finally, I pick a Stoic saying from my growing collection (saved on a spreadsheet on DropBox and available to share), read it to myself a few times and absorb it as best as I can. The whole routine takes about ten minutes or so.

A fascinating read, the article made me wonder which other philosophers nowadays could be said to be “living a philosophy.”

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