Book Summaries Philosophy

Letters From a Stoic Summary (7/10)

Seneca failed to live up to the principles outlined in Letters from a Stoic. But he was still an outstanding figure in history. He is credited with inventing the essay format, and the content of his letters have been useful to many people after his time. In his eight letter to Lucilius, he said that he hoped that he would not be remembered for his public life, power, or wealth – that he wanted his work to be useful for future generations.

Like Nature

Living according to nature best summarizes Stoic philosophy. This means not only questioning convention, and training ourselves to live simply (plain food, basic clothing, shelter) but developing the innate gift of reason, which makes us different to animals. Human beings can only conquer pain, grief, and superstition through reason, the best representation of human nature.

work by up of motos but attractive to young men at the time. Some conventional writers hated Seneca’s work. But the criticism of Seneca is balanced with the universality of his teachings. They applied to all kinds of practical things, according to Emerson.

The Letters

How to be a Philosopher

Do not read many different books of every description. You should read the works of authors who have a genius is unquestionable. But take your time. Reading many different authors is like regurgitating food as soon as it has been eaten. Nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent changes of treatment.

Philosophy is unpopular enough. If philosophers dissociate from the conventions of society, imagine the reactions they would get. Inwardly everything should be different, but our outward face should resemble the crowd. We should not keep silver plate with inlays of solid gold, but at the same
time we should not imagine that doing without gold and silver is proof that we are leading the simple life.

The goal should not be diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall alienate the people who we want to reform. They will not want to imitate us for fear that they may have to imitate us in everything. Philosophy calls for simple living, not for doing penance. The simple life does not need to be crude. Life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular.

Cease to Hope

If you cease to hope, then you will cease to fear. As different as they are, hope and fear march in unison, like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope. Both belong to  a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are projecting thoughts far ahead instead of adapting to the present.

It is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse. Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped, they worry no more. We are tormented by what is past and what is to come. Many of our blessings harm us, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresights brings it on prematurely.


There is a misconception about the wise man. He is not someone who needs to lose contact with the world. The wise man needs many things but lacks nothing, whereas the fool needs nothing, but lacks everything. The wise man needs many tools to live life, but he is content, he does not lack anything. The fool needs no tools for he does not know how to do anything, but he is constantly dissatisfied with life. Yet the wise man needs friends, and as many of them as possible. We are born with a sense of pleasantness from friendship. Natural instincts draw people towards each other.

You should not be lacking the same things that you did years ago. Make sure you faults die before you do. Pleasures of a depraved nature carry feelings of dissatisfaction, in the same way a criminal’s anxiety does not end after committing a crime. Even they don’t do any harm, these pleasures are insubstantial, unreliable, and fleeting. Look around for enduring good instead. A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting happiness. Even if there is an obstacle, its appearance is comparable to clouds which drift in front of the sun without defeating its light.

Even if you have been trying hard, your pace should be increased, if you want to attain this kind of happiness. There is a lot of work remaining, and to be successful, you must devote all your hours and efforts to the task personally. This is not something that you can delegate to others.

Travel Does not Solve Your Problems

Novelty of surroundings or running away from your problems never works because you cannot run away from yourself. Socrates was once approached by someone who complained that traveling abroad never did him any good, and the philosopher replied, ‘What else can you expect, seeing that you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad?’

For some people, it would be a blessing if they could only lose themselves. But if you really want to escape things that harass you, what you need is not to be in different place, but to be a different person. No matter where you are in the world, you will still be possessed by the same ideas. You will still value wealth, and will be tormented by your poverty, while your poverty will be imaginary. No matter how much you possess, someone else will have more.

You will think that you lack the things you need to the exact extent to which you lag behind them. Your ambition will be so feverish, that to see anyone ahead of you in the race, will mean to see yourself as last. And you will think of death as the worst of all bad things, but there is nothing bad about it except the thing that comes before it – the fear of it.

When you abstain from something, you lose cravings for it. And it is impossible to suffer for lack of anything that you no longer crave.

What has philosophy achieved? She is not the manufacturer of equipment for everyday essential purposes.

Why must you make her responsible for such insignificant things? In her you see the mistress of the art of life itself.

Philosophy takes aim at the state of happiness. She shows us what are real and what are only apparent evils. She strips our minds of empty thinking and bestows a greatness that is solid and exposes greatness where it is puffed up and all an empty show.

Keep Good Company  

Keep your cravings within safe limits. Scour every trace of evil from your personality. If you want to enjoy travel, have a healthy travel companion. If you associate with a mean person, you will remain money minded yourself. If you keep arrogant company, conceit will stick to you. You will never lose your cruelty if you share the same roof with a torturer. Familiarity with adulterers will only inflame
your desires. If you wish to be stripped of your vices you must get away from the examples that others set of them. The swindler, the bully, the cheat, the miser, who do you harm by simply being near you, are inside you.

For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to· be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.


Many people think what they can’t do can’t be done, that Stoic philosophy is beyond the capacity of human nature. But who has not noticed how much easier they are in the actual doing? It is not that they are hard that we lose confidence; they are hard because we lack the confidence.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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