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A good character cannot be developed without a proper understanding and implementation of all three Stoic disciplines, which are:
The discipline of desire tells us what is, and is not, proper to want. This, in turn, derives from the fact that some things are in our power and others are not.
Two of the four Stoic virtues are pertinent to regulating desire:
The discipline of action tells us how to behave in the world. It is the result of proper understanding of ethics, the study of how to live our lives, and it draws on the virtue of justice.
The discipline of assent tells us how to react to situations, in the sense of either giving our assent to our initial impressions of a situation or withdrawing it.
This discipline is arrived at via the study of logic – what is and is not reasonable to think – and requires the virtue of practical wisdom.
Naturally, we are rational and social creatures and should apply reason to social living. We should treat other people as if they are our relatives. We are all in the same boat together.
Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with the ensuing conflicts, does not demand perfection, and does not provide specific answer.
Those are for fools (Epictetus’ word) who think the world is black and white, good versus evil, where it is always possible to clearly tell the good guys from the bad guys. That is not the world we live in, and to pretend otherwise is more than a bit dangerous and not at all wise.
For a Stoic, nothing can be traded if the price is the compromising of your character. Virtue is the highest good and should never be compromised. Not even when it comes to friendship or true love. Unlike in Hollywood movies, love does not conquer all in Stoicism. A true Stoic would never put friendship ahead of moral integrity.
People suffer from amathia – the wisdom to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Therefore, we shouldn’t blame but pity the wrongdoer.
The Stoics believed in continually striving to become better human beings. They were highly reflective and critical of their actions in an attempt to recognize aspects of their lives or their character that could be improved.
Another way to improve our characters is by learning from role models. The Stoics imitated the Sage, today we might imitate Jesus or idols we find in sports and other areas of life. We must keep in mind that role models are not perfect human beings, for the simple reason that there is no such thing.
If there is one thing that philosophy ought to be good for, it is to make us better understand the human condition by showing us not only how to live to our best but to accept the fact that death is nothing to be afraid of.
Death itself is not under our control (it will happen one way or another), but how we think about death most definitely is under our control. That’s where we need to work on.
Thinker, procrastinator, and
View all How to Be a Stoic Book Summaries
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Pierre Hadot, Mark Aurel (Römisches Reich, Kaiser), Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius
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