I recently started reading Seneca to learn more about Stoicism. I found myself awestruck by the clarity of his words and the directness of his style. In a world where philosophy is so muddied by flowery and circular rhetoric, his straightforwardness caught me a bit off guard. It was, then, not surprising to me when I learned that the philosophy he subscribed to was just as functional and direct.
The stoics believed that life itself is about maximizing function and living life “according to nature”. Since life is already short, one’s goal should be to make progress for progress’s own sake. To quote the former Caesar of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” It’s a philosophy that strives to promote urgency in doing good in the world. It essentially comes down to, “Live meaningfully and excellently, for tomorrow we die.”
This sense of urgency is not meant to cause panic. Panic is not very stoic-like. Instead, Stoicism is meant to promote detachment from things that are not controllable. You can’t control death, therefore you should not fret over it or let it prevent you from doing things that you know in your heart are right. You should live for the sake of excellence, but not let excellence preventing you from living well. It’s the perfect balance.
What can I say? The dots are connecting now. I believe I understand the purpose of the entire philosophy more than I ever have. It’s a good feeling.