Valuable Stoic Insights About Death

The Modern Stoicism organization does quite a bit of work to promote understanding and application of Stoic practices and philosophy worldwide. In addition to the very blog you’re reading, Stoicism Today, we host International Stoic Week (including the free course and handbook), organize the annual Stoicon, support Stoicon-Xs, carry out and report on research on Stoicism, and a number of other things.

Initiatives of this sort inevitably require some expenses and outlay, so the Modern Stoicism team (who are all volunteers) has started engaging in some fundraising and crowdfunding to support the ongoing work we do. This includes a relatively new Patreon page, on which we have started hosting some exclusive content for monthly supporters.

Each month, we plan to publish a set of answers from a panel of experts on Stoicism to a given question, and we’re starting this month with responses to this one: “What’s the most valuable thing Stoicism teaches us about death?” Answers came in from Massimo Pigliucci, Donald Robertson, Tim LeBon, Piotr Stankiewicz, Gregory Lopez, and Chuck Chakrapani.

Here’s Massimo’s response to that first question:

“One of the things that has always struck me as interesting about the Stoic take on death is that it is essentially identical to the Epicurean one. Despite the manifest incompatibility of the two philosophies in other respects, Seneca here sounds very much like Epicurus:

Reflect that the dead suffer no evils, that all those stories which make us dread the nether world are mere fables, that he who dies need fear no darkness, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, no judgment seat before which he must appear, and that Death is such utter freedom that he need fear no more despots. All that is a phantasy of the poets, who have terrified us without a cause. (To Marcia, On Consolation, XIX)

Or, as the famous Epicurean epitaph goes:

I was not;
I have been;
I am not;
I do not mind.

While Seneca rightly says that death is the ultimate test of our character, he is also correct that in a sense we “die every day.” The question, then, is how to best live our life during this ongoing process. The Stoic answer is clear:

Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet. (Letters LXXVIII.14)”

You can see all of the experts’ responses to this question, and those coming up every month going forward, by becoming a Patreon supporter at the “Seneca the Younger” Level. It’s a great cause – so consider making a contribution!

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

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