In the arena of philosophy, practices are always evolving and being updated. Stoicism is no different and through the centuries, the original ideas laid out by Zeno of Citium were adapted and changed by later Stoics like Cleanthes, Chrysippus and Epictetus.
Epictetus in particular is of note for his focus on the dichotomy of control and his teachings in The Enchiridion have influenced countless generations.
A modern Stoic who’s been influenced by Epitectetus is Massimo Pigliucci and in his book The Stoic Guide To A Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons For Living, Pigliucci reinterprets The Enchiridion for a modern audience and introduces his own take on how Stoicism should be updated.
A guide that’s perfect for carrying with you
The Stoic Guide To A Happy Life is written as a vademencum, literally a portable book that people in the ancient world used to carry with them. It’s a small, pocket-sized book that covers many of the lessons that Epitectus presented, with Pigliucci updating them for how they would apply in the modern day.
Rather than a paraphrasing of The Enchiridion, Pigliucci doesn’t shy away from injecting his own opinion into Epictetus’ voice and working to make it more relevant for everyday readers. This is a bold move and a welcome one.
For example, Epictetus spoke a lot about slavery (he happened to be one before becoming a philosopher) in the original text. Pigliucci omits any reference to it, as well as other lessons, such as a teaching about always submitting to parents no matter how they treat you.
Yet the original wisdom is never lost and Epictetus’ words are still as important as ever. There’s a fine balance between old and new in 53 snackable sections.
The case for Stoicism 2.0
The latter half of the book is focused on Pigliucci’s interpretation of Stoicism 2.0, which he breaks down into seven themes:
- Externals don’t need to be despised: Caring about things like money and property doesn’t have to be negative and they shouldn’t be avoided. In Pigliucci’s own words “they are indispensable raw material on which we exercise virtue. Virtue cannot be cultivated in a vacuum after all.”
- No need to cultivate indifference to human loss: Epictetus spoke of trying not to feel sad when loved ones die because ancient Stoics believed in the combination of physics and logic and that death was inevitable. Pigliucci suggests a different approach.
- Live according to nature: Stoicism teaches of understanding the characteristics of human nature and the author comments on the modern version being to “enjoy ourselves and remain reasonable and pro-social i.e. not getting angry with fellow human beings.”
- Questionable science or metaphysics: An ancient Stoic belief is that the universe is a living being and Pigliucci suggests that we should apply the most up-to-date scientific evidence when trying to live in harmony with everything around us.
- God and atoms: Perhaps the most controversial change is that Pigliucci refutes the notion of the world being permeated by logos, a force that’s only present in the most reasonable of beings. It’s a highly metaphysical kind of belief that the universe itself is a living organism and modern scientific practices have debunked the theory.
- Local customs are neither universal nor immutable: Epictetus was alive during a time when things like slavery and parents beating their children was an accepted part of society and Pigliucci urges that Stoicism 2.0 should emphasise the importance of cultural progression.
- Social justice: Pigliucci reminds the reader that cosmopolitanism is still a vital part of Stoic practices and that discrimination against race and gender are unacceptable.
There’s a lot of great things to unpack in The Stoic Guide To A Happy Life. Not only does it introduce Stoicism in an easy-to-understand way, it demonstrates how philosophy continues to change throughout time and that there are still important lessons to be taken from those who’ve come before us.