Saturday, April 25, 2020

Noble thought for these times …

… Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help | Books | The Guardian. (Tomorrow is the anniversary of Marcus' birth in 121.)

With all of this in mind, it’s easier to understand another common slogan of Stoicism: fear does us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid. This applies to unhealthy emotions in general, which the Stoics term “passions” – from pathos, the source of our word “pathological”. It’s true, first of all, in a superficial sense. Even if you have a 99% chance, or more, of surviving the pandemic, worry and anxiety may be ruining your life and driving you crazy. In extreme cases some people may even take their own lives.
In that respect, it’s easy to see how fear can do us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid because it can impinge on our physical health and quality of life. However, this saying also has a deeper meaning for Stoics. The virus can only harm your body – the worst it can do is kill you. However, fear penetrates into the moral core of our being. It can destroy your humanity if you let it. For the Stoics that’s a fate worse than death.


  1. "I once thought myself a philosopher and talked nonsense with great decorum: I defied pain, and preached up equanimity. For some time this did very well, for no one was in pain for me but my friends, and none lost their patience but my hearers. At last, a fall from a horse convinced me bodily suffering was an evil; and the worst of an argument overset my maxims and my temper at the same moment: so I quitted Zeno for Aristippus, and conceive that pleasure constitutes 'to kalon'".

    Byron, letter to R.C. Dallas, January 21, 1808.

    (Included in The Selected Letters of Lord Byron, edited by Jacques Barzun.

  2. I'll stick with Marcus. I've been an admirer of his since I first read his book in high school.