Tag Archives: Indifferents

Epictetus: A Short Review

If you’ve poked around on my blog before, you’ll know that Seneca is my favorite Stoic author. He’s eloquent, and I just feel like I “get” him. However, these past several years as my life situation has taken a turn for the better, it’s been easy to put Stoicism on the back burner and just ride life out. There are a couple of problems with this, however.


At no time should Fortune be less trusted than when it is best.

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The second reason has to do with impressions and Virtue. I’ve held a steady job for the past four years, even obtaining a promotion. Relationships seem to be going well. Life is fine and dandy, but I don’t feel satisfied. I fret more than is logical. I complain more than I should. I get frustrated over common events. There are just some things I do in daily life that I know I shouldn’t, but for some reason I simply can’t stop. Time to get back to the gym.


Not as toned as you’d like to be? Time to get back to the gym.

When I’m feeling too comfortable in life, the last thing I need is a gentle guiding voice telling me to “just keep making progress,” and “All in good time, Kirsten.” No! I need a wake-up call. A “come to Jesus” moment. Someone who has the guts to say, “Just because life is going well, you don’t need to change a thing? FALSE.” Who better than Epictetus to get the ball rolling? Then I discovered that I already had this lovely book Epictetus’ Handbook and the Tablet of Cebes by Keith Seddon! I thoroughly enjoyed Seddon’s book Stoic Serenity and was thrilled at the prospect of him guiding me through a piece of Stoic literature. Let’s see what insights he can add to these amazing, ancient writings.

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Stoic Serenity 5.5.4: Epictetus’ Revolutionary Idea

Yesterday we ended with Marcus’ “Ten Commandments” for dealing with difficult people. In short, he wrote that we should respond to difficult people with kindness, including gently correcting them. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. If we admonish people with hatred or spite in our own hearts, we’re being hypocritical: we’d be telling them to stop acting on their own anger while we ourselves are speaking out of anger.
  2. No one likes to be reproached anyway. Most people won’t even take kindly to constructive criticism. But there’s a much better chance at them accepting constructive criticism if it is presented out of kindness rather than out of spite.

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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 3.2: The Cynics

Yesterday in Seneca’s Letter 5, Seneca desperately tried to get the point across to Lucilius that it’s not our outward appearances and actions that are important; we should focus on our motives. (Quick little comparison to Christianity; consider these two Bible verses in which Jesus is teaching):

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement…”

“…You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

(Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

Jesus also taught about the importance of motives. Before Jesus, people concerned themselves with “following the rules” simply for the sake of “following the rules.” They didn’t understand what was behind it. Seneca is trying to make sure Lucilius doesn’t fall prey to the same type of lesser understanding. 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

Stoic Serenity 1.5: Marcus Aurelius on Misfortune & Indifferent Things

Marcus Aurelius (courtesy of Wikipedia)

If you have Seddon’s book, you already know that he uses Seneca’s Letters and Aurelius’ Meditations as the two texts for the course. It’s my intent to explore other philosophers later on in my studies, but for now we will stick to these two of the three most famous Stoic philosophers (the third is Epictetus).

For a very quick briefing, (for many more details you can visit the Wikipedia page here [very scholastic, I know]), Marcus Aurelius lived from 121-180 AD. He was Roman Emperor for the last 19 years of his life. One of the fascinating things about Stoicism is that the philosophers came from all walks of life, literally from emperors to slaves.

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Stoic Serenity 1.3: The Indifferents

In the previous blog post “What is Good?“, we concluded that there are two groups of goods: conventional goods and Virtues. We saw that conventional goods are not intrinsically good because they can actually be used for evil if they aren’t used under the guidance of Virtue. Virtue alone is the only thing that is intrinsically good, and Virtue must guide our actions to use conventional goods for good.

So these conventional goods are in and of themselves neither good nor bad. Their value depends on whether they are used according to Virtue. For example, society generally considers power to be a “good.” But we know from history that if one uses their power to commit a genocide or to torture entire peoples, well, that is actually producing harm instead of benefit. The only intrinsic goods are those qualities of character, the Virtues: self-control, justice, courage, and wisdom. The “conventional goods” are referred to by Stoics as the indifferents because they do not have any intrinsic value. Their value and effect depends on how they are used with Virtue. In addition, the indifferents are such because they really aren’t necessary at all in order to live a good or “fulfilled” life.

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