Using Rules for A Better Life

Using maxims well

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

As I continue to experiment with this newsletter, I’ll be moving the frequency to once a week. Back where we started.

🏛️ Theory

Stoic maxims are awesome.

Whether they’re seen on instagram, high brow collections, or passed through generations, they can play an important role in our lives.

They encapsulate rules of thumb and advice for what we ought to do or how we ought to see the world. 

The Stoics themselves offered proverb-like with aphorisms such as:

  • We suffer more in imagination than in the present.

  • Confine yourself to the present. Do the right thing. Action by action

  • Persist and resist.

Like anything, proverbs can be used well or poorly. 

They help us learn philosophy. By expressing general rules of the Stoic worldview, the maxims are memorable tools we can use in theory and practice. Moreover, they’re useful for teaching and communicating our philosophy with others.

However, they also have risks. 

While scrolling through instagram we may find a quote that looks powerful and feel like we’ve internalized it – only to fail to apply it. It’s easy to feel like we’ve understood a proverb when we haven’t really.

Proverbs are at their best when you recognize that they’re prima facie advice. That is, they’re something to keep in mind.

Typically, we should persist. But sometimes we should quit. These are rules that we should cling to lightly. We should grasp more tightly onto our the fundamental rules of our philosophy:

In the meantime cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do.

Seneca, Moral Letters 78

If we understand that as a proverb, we walk away with the thought that we should never trust prosperity, never quit, and not take anything for granted.

But if you step further you will see the fundamental philosophy behind Seneca’s advice: prosperity, adversity, and the whims of fate do not determine a good life. 

What does is the quality of your actions. 

🎯 Action

Bring to mind Seneca’s fundamental rules of Stoicism throughout your day.

📊 Interesting results from the last poll:

I was surprised by how much Self won. Many of you said that “Start with yourself, then show compassions to others.” Perhaps that is fine rule.

🎧️ Listen to Michael and I on the related topic of rules in Stoic philosophy:

How do you use rules, proverbs, and precepts well when they are such imperfect tools? What's the difference between rules and principles?

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.