Gregory B. Sadler | Core Principles of Stoicism

Gregory B. Sadler | Core Principles of Stoicism


Greg Sadler is a practical philosopher who offers consulting, coaching, and speaking through his company ReasonIO.  He is also the editor of Stoicism Today, co-host of the radio show Wisdom for Life, and the producer of the Half Hour Hegel series.  His popular YouTube channel has over 1500 videos on philosophy, and he is approaching 80,000 subscribers.  He recently started the Sadler’s Lectures podcast.  He also teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Marquette University, and Carthage College.


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– All life change is difficult and slow. We need to start with this in mind when trying to gain better reasoning capabilities.

– Just like in sport and music, all change takes time. Just because you’re bad at something now doesn’t mean that you can’t make lasting change over time.

– To enable yourself to grow and develop, allow yourself to make mistake and to simply try to live correctly. As you make mistakes and try to progress you will naturally build new pathways and become more skilled at making better choices.

– We need a strong network of support then looking to make changes, so meetup groups, coaching or great friends are a great way to maintain that aim while things are very difficult.

– It doesn’t help to always be mad at yourself for not changing. Accept your imperfections and simply try again. 

– The dichotomy of control is the idea that there are some things that are in our control and there are many more things that aren’t.

– We now understand that this is all on a sliding scale, but ultimately the only things you really have control over are your own actions, our thoughts and our reasoning abilities.

– You can control your own actions, but other people’s actions are ultimately out of your control.

– Even the body, ultimately, is not in your control. You can eat healthy and exercise, but ultimately your body runs itself.

– This principle is not about inaction, but rather it’s about doing exactly what you can do to change the situation. 

– The Stoics weren’t the only ones to talk about four main virtues. The Platonists and Epicureans also talked about these virtues.

– Virtue is a way of being excellent. For example, your headphone cable is excellent if it transfers the information from the computer to your earbuds. A water bottle is excellent if it holds water.

– The Stoics taught the four cardinal virtues. These are courage, justice, temperance and wisdom.

– These should not be thought of as specific virtues but rather as bundles of virtues. 

– Courage is a virtue that encompasses all the emotions, not just fear and bravery. Sometimes we literally have to force ourselves to do the right thing. Live with courage on every level.

– Justice includes (the interpersonal realm – things within our nature as humans) fairness, beneficence, kindness, having better. Relationships etc.

– Temperance includes (behaviour to do with the body) moderation, discipline, understanding of pleasant things and unpleasant things, health, sexuality etc.

– Even overindulgence in certain virtues can lead to intemperance because they can cloud our vision.

– The Stoics said that overindulgence in good things can lead to mistaken priorities. This is when you no longer can see how you’re being affected by this intemperance and you can’t see what would be truly good for you.

– As long as what you’re doing isn’t getting in the way of your reasoning abilities, it should be fine.

– Courage is about maintaining and to impose self control. Stoics taught that we all have seeds of virtue within us. We just have to nurture them. 

– We don’t have any full works from the Stoics that encompass all emotions, however we do have fragments from various teachers.

– Margaret Graver wrote an excellent book on Stoic emotions.

– When it comes to emotions, we really cannot control our immediate responses. It all takes time.

– The Stoics talked about four aspects of our immediate emotional responses. Things that are good, things that are bad, things that are present and things that are not present.

– For example: fear is an emotion that pops up when we are perceiving that something that is a) not here is b) bad.

– Pain/disturbance is when we are experiencing something as a) bad that is b) present.

– Desire is something that is a) not here but is perceived as b) good.

– Hopefulness is something that is a) not here and perceived as b) good.

– Anger is something that is perceived as a) bad and is b) here.

– We can’t do much about our emotions as they tend to simply pop up and stay with us, but in the long term we can make lasting change simply by working on our responses to those emotions. It’s like any other skill – it must be trained.

– Stoics encourage rational caution over fear.

– Emotions should not be left to run free, but rather they should be developed so that we can feel them at the right place, the right time, and with the right intensity. 

– The role model can sometimes be helpful and other times a hindrance. It’s helpful to look up to a great example, however the guilt that can come from comparisons is often counterproductive.

– Role models are often more helpful when they are closer to us in place and time. This makes it more real for us and also more achievable.

– Stoicism is not simply about being tough. This is only one element of a very wide-spanning philosophy.

– The Stoics said that when you take courage away from justice and prudence it ceases to be courage.

– Thinking is a practice, and we need to see it as such. Learning is a very practical pursuit as it allows us to understand how we should live and act.

– The Stoics would encourage us to take advantage of all the learning tools we have today. We have greater access to information than any other time in history, so we should use this.

– At any moment you could go to YouTube and learn from some of the foremost experts in the world. This is an incredible benefit we have and so we, as aiming creatures, have almost no excuse to not learn more.

– The Stoics taught that we have a faculty of choice, and this was actually quite a new idea at the time.

– We have a responsibility, as modern Stoics, to continue the work of the ancient Stoics by always finding new applications and adding to the philosophy. 

– An impression is essentially a feeling or meaning you give to an event or stimulus. It’s the way we perceive things.

– We tend to not take in the whole picture of life and we often make incorrect judgements about what we see. This leads to many misunderstandings and unnecessary pain.

– We need to test our impressions. For example, in a moment when we perceive something or make up a story about what has happened, pause in the moment and question whether or not your impressions are real and helpful.

– This is why theory and practice go hand in hand. We have the theory of why we should pause and rethink our impressions, and we have the practice which is where the results start to flow. It starts with theory.

– Humans are walking contradictions. We love, we hate, we’re disciplined, we’re not disciplined, we’re happy and then we’re not. We’re constantly in and out of these contradictions and the Stoics taught a few ideas that are helpful for evening the playing field so that we aren’t always so up and down.

– Sporting teams are a great example of how we tend to perceive the wrong objectives. For example, if your team wins you should still be happy that you were able to watch the other side play so well. After all, good sportsmanship and excellence of skill is always admirable whether it’s your team or not. 

– “Living in accordance with Nature” is more of a slogan than a core principle. We have to unpack a lot of various interpretations.

– Zeno, along with the aristotelians, plato and the epicureans had the idea of living in accordance with nature. They all had different meanings.

– Cleanthes (second head of the Stoic school) expanded on this idea and taught that it meant to live in accordance with the universe. This means aligning with how things are.

– Chrysippus (third head of the Stoic school) expanded the idea further to teach that we should live our lives in accordance with our own unique nature as humans and as individuals. There is an instinctive human nature that makes us what we are and who we are. This is built into our lives and culture, and we should develop our own unique nature so that we can realise our full potential.

– What does a human do? What is a truely human response? How should we live? These are the questions the Stoics would ask to find out how to align with our nature.

– We are not separate from Nature, but rather we are an active part of nature. This should help us to understand that we need to align with the processes of Nature. 

– Listen to the first answer in your head when you ask if you should do something. For example, should you workout? Well, the first answer in your head is probably “yes”, because that’s what would be good for you! But we often don’t listen to these answers because we allow our overthinking mind to flood us with a deluge of other responses and options. There is only to do or not to do. You know what’s right, but procrastination is the result of thinking you have options. 

– Our minds are still developing until we’re in our mid twenties. We should be optimistic about our ability to continue the development of the mind well after this point, but we should forgive ourselves for not always acting in our own best interests seeing as we are in many ways already “fully baked”. We can change, but in the end we will have a hard time of it and this is exactly how it should be.

– Our freedom and reasoning capacity can be expanded over time by negotiating with our instinctual reactions. Understand who you’re dealing with, understand that it has to be a win-win, and over time you can gain a greater understanding of the inner workings of your mind so that you can in turn develop greater control.

– The Stoics weren’t necessarily pure individualists because they believed that we were all interconnected. They thought that you do affects the entire tribe of humanity, and we now know this to be more true than ever.

– It doesn’t make sense to want large-scale and fast change in a society because then you still have many people with the same problems who now have to adapt to a new way of doing things, so the Stoics also didn’t believe in a top-down approach.

– We can’t expect people to align with our new Stoic values when we begin to study Stoicism. This shows an intellectual arrogance in a new student. Focus on what you can change and things will change for you. 

– Any lasting change involves failure. Learning the guitar, going through school, achieving a healthy body, all of these things require time and constant failure.

– It’s not as simple as immediately changing or becoming disciplined. This is a recipe for disappointment. The best strategy is to understand that you will fail, and despite these constant failures the most important thing is to recognise that you don’t have to stay the same. Over time you can see lasting change.

– Ethics is often a matter of learning how to fix things once you’re messed them up, or after someone else has messed up.

– The Stoics believed that in our nature was a desire for truth. We don’t like to be deceived, and so we should try as best as we can to live and act correctly, and to tell ourselves the truth as often as we can. 

– Stoicism is a complex system. It’s not about sound bites, but rather it’s a constellation of ideas, principles, tools & tactics that can help us to live a more effective life.

– There’s always more to study in Stoicism, which is great because there’s always more to learn! Stoicism is dense with ideas and strategies that can help us to live well.

– If you extend your stay with great Stoic writers and teachers then you’ll see that it’s more of a way of thinking than a specific rule book for life. We can use it most effectively as such.