Purpose Setting

Intentionally moving through life

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

Typically – we share two emails a week to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. I’ve cut back to one a week as we run our three week live course.

🏛️ Theory

What are you doing and why are you doing it?

Marcus Aurelius encouraged himself to only think about what he could report to others. This forces clarity and prioritization.

One way to encapsulate it into a practice is purpose setting. Whenever you have a pause or break – whether it’s driving to work, walking to a meeting, or pausing during other transition moments – remind yourself of the purpose of your actions. Life is too short to sleepwalk through.

The Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus gave several lectures where he goes through the purpose of ordinary things from furniture to food, lawsuits, and marriage. In each, he asks, what is its function?

Take food. Is it meant to provide pleasure? Not for Musonius Rufus:

To summarize the whole subject of food, I say that the goal of eating is to bring about both health and strength. Consequently, one should eat only inexpensive foods and should be concerned with decency and appropriate moderation and, most of all, with restrained and studious behavior.

Lectures and Sayings

Food is for health, not pleasure. Of course, food is pleasurable and that's best experienced with self-control. Indeed, one can use eating as a training ground for building discipline.

Do you agree?

Perhaps not, regardless, the clarity of Musonius Rufus’s thought here is essential. If we held the purpose of things in mind before acting, we’d live more intentional and purposeful lives.

🎯 Action

Pause today and bring to mind the purpose of your actions. Then act.

🔗 Links

🥗 I think it’s plausible that Musonius Rufus is overlooking the social function that food also plays. Feeding and sharing food is a way to care for one another. Michael and I talk about that here & other issues with Stoicism and food here:

I think Seneca deserves our attention, despite—or, in a way, because of—his faults. Much of the wisdom in his letters and treatises reminds of how to live better, even when we’re tempted not to, or being pressured by the way folks live all around us.

Meredith Alexander Kunz

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.