The Wisdom of the Stoics (1984) PDF book by Henry Hazlitt

The Wisdom of the Stoics PDF book by Henry Hazlitt 

The Wisdom of the Stoics PDF

Chosen extracts from Stoic philosophers (Seneca, Epitectus, Marcus Aurelius).

Excerpt from the author's introduction:

In comparison with the two others, the wealthy Seneca expounded only a modified Stoicism, with a much greater admixture of worldly wisdom. Yet it was he who reminded his readers: "If what you have seems insufficient to you, then, though you possess the world, you will yet be miserable." And he tells us also that "the sum of human duty" is "patience, where we are to suffer, and prudence in the things we do." When we come to Epictetus, there is no compromise with worldliness: "Let death and exile be daily before your eyes." "Better to die in hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation."

Marcus is not as unfeeling as Epictetus sometimes appears to be, yet such consolation as he offers must be bought at a high price. "Let it make no difference to thee whether thou art cold or warm if thou art doing thy duty." He even tells himself at one point: "Do not then consider life a thing of any value." These quotations, we must add in fairness, give far too grim an impression of the bulk of the writings of the Stoics, most of whose advice on the conduct of life is not widely different from that given to this day by many non-Stoic philosophers. But the quotations do point to an apparent contra- dication in the Stoic system.


 If we are to take literally its contentions that happiness as ordinarily understood is not necessary, and pain no evil, what is the point in morality or in any human striving whatever? For many modern readers, in fact, it may be hard to see what there was in the doctrines of Stoicism to attract adherents. Epicureans were told they could look for pleasure or at least tranquillity in the present life. Rationalists could recognize that if they refrained from overindulgence in their physical appetites they could probably enjoy better health and longer life, and that peaceful cooperation with others would bring great benefits to themselves as well as to their fellow men. Christians were promised at least future rewards for goodness or future punishment for sins. But the Stoic was told only that the reward of virtue was that of being virtuous

. Yet Stoicism did in fact appeal to the noblest among the ancients, and it has held that appeal for more than two thousand years. It is one of the permanent philosophies of life. In fact, it is still an indispensable element in any rational philosophy. For all men must eventually face death; and before that, the loss of loved ones; and nearly all, no matter how prudently or wisely they try to manage their lives, must at some time suffer disappointment, hardship, accident, defeat, ingratitude, rejection, affronts, humiliation, pain, and even periods of agony. There will always be times when men have a need for patience, endurance, and fortitude. These are the great virtues that the Stoic philosophy instils. And when men need these virtues most, they will want to turn to the calm wisdom of Seneca, to the stern admonishments of Epictetus, or to the lofty serenity of the Marcus Meditations, to renew their own courage and strength.

Content of the book
1. Introduction 2. Seneca 3. Epictetus 4. Epictetus: The Enchiridion 5. Marcus Aurelius




Author: Henry Hazlitt
Publication Date:1984
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