Stoic Style Fatalism – Letting Go Of The Past And The Present.

The Stoics recommend we take  a fatalistic attitude towards life. To go against fate is to go against nature and in particular Marcus says if we reject the decrees of fate we are likely to experience tranquility-disrupting grief, anger, or fear. To avoid this, we must learn to adapt ourselves to the environment into which fate has placed us and do our best to love the people with whom fate has surrounded us. We must learn to welcome whatever falls to our lot and persuade ourselves that whatever happens to us is for the best. According to Marcus, a good man will welcome ” every experience the loom of fate may weave for him.”

In modern times this view of fatalism may not be very popular because we like to be in charge and create our own future. Fatalism to us would be “giving up” and not striving for a better future. However, if we look at their view of fatalism closely it doesn’t advocate “giving up” on the future. Some scholars think they advocated fatalism  only with regards to the past and the present. So they are advocating we accept the events that has already come to pass, we  can’t do anything about them anyway.

How can fatalism with regards to past and present help in leading a good life? The Stoics argued that the best way to be satisfied in life is not always to work for whatever desires you may happen to have but to learn to be satisfied with your life as it is, be happy with what you have. We can spend our days wishing our life was different but this will bring us further dissatisfaction. Alternatively we can learn to want whatever we already have. This way  we won’t have to work to satisfy our desires because they would have already been fulfilled.

We only have the present moment, the past is gone and the future is to come. We can spend that moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace that moment. If we habitually choose to wish things were different we will be in a state of dissatisfaction, but if we habitually choose to embrace the moment we will enjoy our life.

The Stoics who recommended and practiced the doctrine of fatalism, would they have been thought to enjoy a good life ? Seneca , Marcus, Musonius and Epictetus did not “give up” on life. They strived to cultivate the best possible life for themselves and for others. Indeed, they would have been considered successful men in their times and maybe for all times.

It is interesting that long before the Stoics, Lord Buddha give similar advice that we should try to live in the moment.


1. A Guide to the Good Life     by  William B. Irvine.


Seneca On Anger

The single most destructive emotion is anger. The great stoic Seneca said it is a ” brief insanity”. In his essay “On Anger” he says ,” No plague has cost the human race more.We see all around us people being killed, poisoned, and sued; we see cities and nations ruined. And besides destroying cities and nations, anger can destroy us individually. We live in a world, after all, in which there is much to be angry about.” He suggest unless we can learn to control anger, we will be perpetually angry.He says being angry is a waste of precious time.”

Some may suggest that anger has its uses, that it gets them motivated. Seneca rejects this claim. He says its true that sometimes anger is useful but it doesn’t follow that we should welcome anger in our lives. Sometimes people benefit from being in a shipwreck and yet who in their right mind would increase their chances of being shipwrecked. Seneca was not keen on employing any impulses over which the reason did not have authority.

Seneca is not suggesting that a person who sees his father killed and his mother raped that he should not feel angry. He says he should punish the wrongdoers and protect his parents but to the extent possible he should remain calm as he does so. He is more likely to do better job of protecting and punishing if he avoids getting angry.

More generally Seneca suggest when someone wrongs us they should be corrected ” by admonition and also by force , gently and also roughly.” Such corrections should not be made in anger; since we are not punishing them as retribution for what they have done but for their own good, so they do not do it again. He is suggesting the punishment should be ” an expression not of anger but caution.”

Seneca offers advice on how to avoid getting angry. He says do not believe the worst about others and their motivations; just because things did not turn out the way we expected then to does not mean others did us injustice. In some cases the person who we are angry at may have helped us, in which case we are angry because he did not do more to help us. He advise against becoming overly sensitive by coddling ourselves. If we corrupt ourselves with pleasure nothing will seem bearable and the reason things will seem unbearable is not because they are hard but because we are soft. Seneca therefore recommends that we never get too comfortable. If we harden ourselves we are less likely to be disturbed and get angry. He says we should also keep in mind that the things that angers us generally don’t do us any real harm; they are instead mere annoyances. By allowing ourselves to get angry over little things, we take what might have been a barely noticeable disruption of our day and transform it into tranquility shattering state of agitation. Furthermore, as Seneca observes, ‘ our anger invariably lasts longer than the damage done to us.”  What fools we are, therefore, when we allow our tranquility to be disrupted by minor things.Seneca also says we should remind ourselves that our behaviour also anger other people: ‘We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us – we must agree to go easy on one another.” He also suggests that when we are angry we should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking. If we do this, our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state, and our anger ,says Seneca, will have dissipated.

If we are unable to control our anger and lash out at someone then we should apologize. This will instantly repair the social damage our outburst may have caused. It will have calming effect on us and it can help us become a better person; by admitting our mistakes, we lessen the chance that we will make the same mistake again in the future.

Everyone occasionally gets angry, but there are some people who are angry pretty much all the time. They are easily provoked to anger with minor or no provocation. Such cases Seneca would tell us are tragic. Not only do they not realize that life is too short to be angry all the time but they torment those around them.  Why not instead, Seneca asks, ” makes yourself a person to be loved by all while you live and missed when you have made your departure?” Why experience anti-joy when you have the power to experience joy?


A Guide to the Good Life  by William B. Irvine

Stoics On Loving Mankind

I love reading the writings of Greco-Roman Moralists or sometimes referred to as Stoics. The best know are Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. They are the ancient masters of practical philosophy. The language they use is not sublime and their theories are not complex, but it is fresh with brilliant insights; so they are worth reading.

Love seems to be everywhere  today, since it’s Valentine’s day. However, there are lots of  people feeling sad as well. Those that don’t have  that special Valentine. I was inspired by the prospect of trying to open up the love for everyone , so I thought I will write about loving mankind instead of Valentines day.

Other people can be the source of the greatest delights life has to offer; with a smile, a touch, a hug, a kiss, full body embrace, as well as with love and friendship. People can also be a source of negative emotions we often experience, a boss may insult us, lover may forget valentine’s card, a friend may forget to invite us to a party. Even when other people don’t do anything to us, we worry that they may not think well of us , so we spend a lot of energy behaving and trying to look good in their eyes. This disrupts our tranquility.

The Stoics valued tranquility and they also appreciated the power people have to disrupt it ; even so they thought that man is by nature a social animal and therefore that we have a duty to form and maintain relationships with other people, despite the trouble they might cause us. Marcus think we should do this because God created us to be rational and if we use our rational ability we will discover that we were designed to live among other people and interact with them in a manner that is mutually advantageous; we will discover, says Musonius, that ” human nature is very much like that of bees. a bee is not able to live alone: it perishes when isolated.”

To fulfill our social duty – to do our duty to our kind – we must feel a concern for all mankind. We must remember that we humans were created for one another, that we were born, says Marcus, to work together the way our hands or eyelids do. Therefore, in all we do , we must have as our goal ” the service and harmony of all.” More precisely, ” I am bound to do good to my fellow creatures and bear with them.” Marcus thought when God created us, he made sure that if we fulfill our duty, we would experience tranquility and have all things to our liking. Indeed, if we do the things we were made for, says Marcus, we will enjoy ” a man’s true delight .” But an important part of our function, as we have seen , is to work with and for our fellow-men. Marcus therefore concludes that doing his social duty will give us the best chance of having a good life. This, for Marcus, is the reward for doing one’s duty: a good life.

We, in the present day are so used to thinking that duty is the enemy of happiness and we should be doing things that we want to do rather than any kind of duty we have to do. But throughout the millennia and across the culture, those who have thought carefully about desire , have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility.

So let’s live to our full potential, let fellowship be our purpose and compassion be our guide. Tranquility will be its reward.


1. A Guide to the Good  Life

by William B. Irvine.

2. Practical Philosophy : The Greco- Roman Moralists

taught by : Prof. Luke Timothy  Johnson

The Teaching Company

%d bloggers like this: