Tag Archives: According to Nature

Stoic Serenity 5.1: Living in Society

I’m not sure if it’s due to the natural progression within the Stoic Serenity book, or if it’s been events from my own life, but lately I’ve been pondering the age-old question: what is the purpose of life? After spending all this time studying about strengthening my mind and character, I think it’s natural to ask this question. Even if I have a strong mind, what good is it if I only live inside myself? It would seem like life is simply something I must endure. But I feel like life is more than something we should just endure. I’ve been trying to search Stoic resources for an answer, but I don’t think the Stoics have what I would consider a “strong answer” for this question.

We know that we are human beings and we’re currently alive, and by seeking out philosophy, we recognized that we seek direction in our lives. But what’s the purpose? Eudaimonia? My purpose in life is to be happy? Hardly seems like a solid answer if you’re like me and consider that if I were to choose another route, the absence of life, I wouldn’t be aware that I was lacking eudaimonia. Is the purpose of life to live according to nature? Maybe. This seems to be a more valid answer, as I remember this quote from Marcus’ Meditations:

017The perfection of the whole suffers an injury if you cut off even the smallest piece from the coherence and continuity of its causes. And you are guilty of this whenever you are discontented; and in a certain sense, you destroy it.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.8)

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Stoic Serenity 4.5: “Woe is Me” Exercise

Over the course of chapter 4 of Stoic Serenity, we’ve examined the Stoic concepts of matter, God, and Fate. An (extremely) quick review:

matter – that which comprises the Universe. The Stoics were monists, believing that only one type of matter existed in the Universe. (God, Fate, myself, are all part of this matter that pervades the Universe).

God – the single matter, intelligence, reason that pervades the entire Universe. Individual people’s minds are simply “fragments of God.” Evident in everything from reason to nature itself.

Fate – one in the same with God, and therefore, with matter. Everything in the Universe is bound up and interrelated. Seen as a complex web that has been in the process of being spun since eternity, resulting in the current moment of who I am and what my life is like. “Prescribed” for me individually by the Universe.

Runaway Slaves

These are pretty abstract ideas, but hopefully you’ve gotten a grasp of what the ancient Stoics believed in. Before we finish chapter 4, we have a couple of exercises to complete regarding the nature of the Universe. Today we read Letter 107 from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. In it, Lucilius’ slaves have apparently run away, and Lucilius is throwing himself a big pity party. Seneca writes him some words of advice, hopefully to knock some sense back into him. Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.4.1: “Live According to Universal Nature”

Now that we’ve covered what it means to live according to human nature, and we accept what is inherently good, we now have a basic understanding of how we should live our daily lives, that is, what it means to “live according to human nature“:

“live according to human nature“: we should pursue the “preferred” indifferents with Virtue

And now that we’ve spent some time learning about the Stoic ideas on God and matter, cause and fate, we’re going to investigate what is entailed in the concept of “living according to universal nature.”

The Nature of the Universe

Constantly think of the Universe as a single living being, comprised of a single substance and a single soul; and how all things issue into the single perception of this being, and how it accomplishes all things through a single impulse; and how all things work together to cause all that comes to be, and how intricate and densely woven is the fabric formed by their interweaving.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.40)

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Stoic Serenity 4.2: God in Nature

If you are persisting in your efforts to understand, even as you are writing me, then you are doing an excellent thing for yourself. You must persist with effort, however. It is foolish to pray for this when you can acquire it from yourself. There’s no need to lift our hands toward the sky, or to beg the temple priest to let us approach the idol’s ear. As if doing these things will make our prayers more likely to be heard! God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a divine spirit lives within us. It marks our good and bad deeds; it is our guardian. This spirit treats us in the same manner that we treat it. Indeed, no person can be good without the help of God. Can anyone rise above Fortune unless God helps him to rise? It is God who gives noble and honorable advice. In each good person

5827299179_1785a8e014_o          “a god dwells, but what kind of god, we do not know.”

Have you ever come across a forest of ancient trees, grown to unusual height, shutting out the view of the sky by a veil of intertwining branches? The loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the place, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade will prove to you that there must be a god. Or have you come across a cave, built by crumbling rocks, holding up a mountain? Such a place was not built by human hands, but it was hollowed out by natural causes. Such a manifestation of the existence of God would deeply move your soul to believe. We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we build altars where great streams burst from hidden sources; we adore hot springs as divine, and we consecrate certain pools because of their unusually dark waters or their immeasurable depth. If you see a person who is fearless and remains calm in the face of danger, who is untouched by desire, who is happy in adversity and peaceful during the storm, who looks down upon people from a higher plane and views the gods on a footing of equality, will you not succumb to a feeling of reverence for this person? Will you not say, “This quality is too great and too lofty to be considered as resembling the petty body in which it dwells. A divine power has descended upon this person.” When a soul rises above other souls, when it is under control, when it endures every experience as if it were a small ordeal, when it smiles at our fears and at our prayers, it must be stirred by a force from heaven. Something like this cannot exist unless it is the work of the divine. Therefore, an even greater part of it abides in the place from where it came down to earth. Just as the sun’s rays do indeed touch the earth but still abide at the source from which they are sent, so does the great and hallowed soul cling to its origin, although it does indeed associate with us and has come down in order that we might have a better knowledge of divinity. For that great and hallowed soul depends on its source. It keeps its gaze on the source, and it is there that it strives to go. It concerns itself with our doings only as being superior to ourselves.

(Seneca, Letters from a Stoic Letter 41 “On the God Within Us” [first half])

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Stoic Serenity 3.6: Mice, Tarzan, & Seneca—Debriefing of Letter 90

After tackling Seneca’s extremely-intriguing Letter 90, we use today’s post to debrief. We’ll cover:

  • A Trip to the Zoo
  • Themes from Seneca’s Letter 90
  • Is Seneca advocating socialism?
  • The Expansion of Luxury
  • Slaves Under Marble & Gold
  • Increase of technological advancement = decrease of wisdom?
  • So what’s the point?
  • Assignment!

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Stoic Serenity 3.5: Luxury, Luxury, Luxury

Today’s post is simply Seneca’s Letter 90 “On the Part Played by Philosophy in the Progress of Man”. As always, I’ve changed some of the wording in places in order to aid comprehension. This one’s quite long, so I’ve tried to break it up with lots of pictures and captions. This letter is quite thought-provoking, quite truthful, perhaps quite controversial. Feel free to share your thoughts on this one! We’ll debrief tomorrow.

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Stoic Serenity 3.3.2: Human Nature

Yesterday we read this:

All things in nature flourish after their own fashion. Different things need different circumstances and conditions in order to flourish. The specific ways in which something grows and behaves constitute its “nature”. This being so, it is usually fairly easy to see whether anything is appropriate or inappropriate for something:

— It’s appropriate to put the cat out for the night, but inappropriate to put the baby out for the night.
— The substances we use to “feed” plants are not appropriate for feeding to animals or humans.
— Polar bears will not survive in the tropics, and elephants will manage poorly on mountain ledges.

Like everything else in the natural world, human beings have been constituted by universal nature to have their own specific and particular nature.61

(Seddon, Stoic Serenity p.58)

So when we’re talking about “human nature,” we’re essentially talking about the concept of something that “came about” as a result of the natural order of the Universe, which requires us to adhere to it in order to fully flourish.

Preferred Indifferents

Based on this, we’re beginning to see how some of the indifferents might be pretty useful to have. Virtue (self-restraint, justice, courage, wisdom) might be the only thing that’s intrinsically good, no matter the context. Yes, theoretically I can emerge from an apocalypse with all my Virtue still with me. But if we’re going to go about our daily lives, well, I’m not going to get very far if I don’t pursue food in order to live another day. So you can see that there is a connection between human nature and the preferred indifferentsRead more of this post

Stoic Serenity 3.3.1: The Stoic Motto

“Live according to Nature.”

“Live according to nature” does NOT mean we need to look like this guy. Don’t get confused. Just don’t.

In Seneca’s Letter 5, which we read the other day, the whole thing was a warning against putting on appearances, against simply switching from a slave of luxury to a slave of poverty, to not follow the Cynics by alienating others in society. Did you notice about halfway through the letter, Seneca just busts out, “You know our motto: “Live according to Nature.” If you are new to Stoicism, your response was probably something like, “Whaaattttt? What the heck does that even mean?

Stoicism often advises us to:

  • live in agreement with Nature
  • live in accordance with Nature
  • live in conformity with Nature

They all mean the exact same thing. But what exactly does the phrase mean?

Living simply, as Seneca advised in our previous lesson, is an important part of living naturally, but it does not mean that we have to dress and act like this guy on the right. Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 3.1: “Live Simply” and “Live According to Nature”

If you’ve been following along with a Stoic Serenity blog post per day, you should be writing Power Log #6 this evening. Tomorrow is the last Power Log for the course. Have you noticed any change? I personally haven’t gotten so far as to think through this stuff before an activity, but I have noticed that my responses have changed, and I’m beginning to identify more subtle emotions inside myself.

Seddon encourages us to remember that we are currently in the first steps of making Stoic progress. Yes, you’ve read all the lessons, you’ve done all the assignments. You know the answers to What is good? What is an indifferent? What is in my power? What is not in my power? How do I protect my equanimity while going about my daily affairs? You’ve read Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. But nothing is actually changing! We still go around pursuing what we know by definition are “indifferents,” yet we continue to treat them as if they were just as desired as the Values. Where’s the “Stoic serenity” that was promised? If we’re going through all this work to perfect our characters and live by the Virtues, what’s in it for us? What’s the benefit of it? Read more of this post

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