Stoic Serenity is a practical guide to Stoicism as a way of life. The author, Keith Seddon, describes himself as a freelance academic and author. It is actually based on a correspondence course, first published in 2000, by an organisation called The Stoic Foundation. The course focuses mainly on the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Letters of Seneca, probably the two most relevant sources for novice students of Stoicism. These are “set texts”, which the reader should also have access to, in order to follow the coursework in Stoic Serenity. Each chapter concludes with some written exercises and at the back of the book examples of answers provided by previous students are given along with tutor feedback.
I thought this was a good introduction to the challenge of applying Stoicism in the modern world, in one’s daily life. It’s probably going to be more accessible than most other books on Stoicism and provides clearly-described advice and exercises that anyone should be able to engage with. The whole point of Stoicism is that we should apply it in our own lives and this course gives the reader a good framework for beginning to do that. It’s also written in a style that encourages critical thinking and self-reflection, rather than merely teaching the theory and practice of Stoicism didactically. This book doesn’t engage with the comparison between Stoicism and the techniques of modern psychotherapy, which may reveal a wider repertoire of Stoic “exercises”, but it does a good job of helping the student to learn the core principles of Stoicism as a way of life and, as such, it would probably be the best thing for many newcomers to the subject to read first.
Seddon quite rightly observes that for Stoics, “Our responsibility is primarily to ourselves… The idea that the Stoic should promote justice (or any virtue) in others is hard to come by in the literature” (p. 166-167). However, of course, the many books written by ancient Stoics, and the fact that Stoics lectured and tutored others, suggest that they did seek to promote virtue in others, through education and training. Further, that seems to be precisely what Seddon’s course is meant to accomplish. Indeed, according to Stobaeus, the ancient Stoics believed that the Wise Man would naturally write books intended to help others. Stoic Serenity is such a book and I’m sure that many people will find it an excellent introduction to practical philosophy, as well as to the classic texts of Stoicism with which it deals.
Table of Contents of Stoic Serenity (2006)
- Good, bad and indifferent
- What is in our power
- “Live simply” and “Live according to nature”
- Universal nature, God and fate
- Living in society
- Impermanence, loss and death
- Appendix 1: The Stoics on Determinism
- Appendix 2: Striving to be Free of the Passions
- Supplement 1: Sample Responses to Assignments
- Supplement 2: Key to the Stoic Philosophy of Epictetus
- Supplement 3: Conflict between Stoics and Epicurus