Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

The Stoic Solution to Life's Problems

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

The Stoic Solution to Life's Problems

Article excerpt

The Stoic Solution to Life's Problems Epictetus; A. A. Long, translator. How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life: Epictetus: Encheiridion and Selections from Discourses. $16.95. 174pp. ISBN: 978-0-691-17771-7. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Recently folks have started asking me to comment on happiness and other problems common to the human condition. I don't know why anybody would want to ask anybody else alive today for such advice when there are so many respected books from the past that answer these questions better than today's philosophers. I read Plato and Machiavelli back in high school, with a gap between them. I remember mentions of stoicism across my education, so I think Epictetus has come up, even if indirectly. I think his stoicism philosophy is more relevant today than the other two philosophers that stick at the forefront of my mind as they focused on war and political conquest, and we would all be in a better world if we put war aside and instead were a bit more stoic in our characters. Ids have taken over as people run around high and drunk, debauching for the sake of entertainment, and then complaining they lack joy and need to be medicated. Anybody who is experiencing "depression" really should read this book and contemplate Epictetus' biography. He was born as a slave and spent his life, once he was freed, lecturing about not wanting more than what you can have for the sake of being free even when one's body is enslaved. Some of his lessons might be shocking to modern readers, but good philosophy should surprise, or it is not teaching something new. For example, in How to Be Free, he advises that describing something you love frees you from feeling "troubled" if this person dies (9). And if suggests going into a potentially volatile situation with the thought that you want to be "in harmony with nature", so that when people in a bathhouse "splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things", you don't react with anger towards them because you return in your mind to the idea that harmony or peace with your surroundings is more important to you than making rebuttals to this type of harassment (11). This particular comment strikes me because every time I try to go swimming in a public or private pool, I get harassed in just these ways, and I always choose to avoid interacting unless my towel has been stolen or the like and I have to call the police. It's delightful to find a philosopher facing these same problems and teaching the importance of measured and calm replies, something we can all benefit from. There are also plenty of lessons here that I can benefit from adopting: "In company don't go on at length about your own deeds or adventures. …

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