You’ve got problems. We all do. Maybe you’re having a difficult time in your relationship. Or work has worn you down. Or you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life. Maybe the pandemic has shaken you to your foundation and you’re still reeling from the blow. Or things have gone exceedingly well and now you’re overwhelmed by opportunities you never thought possible. Or you’re stuck, or you’re lacking motivation, or you’re terrified by all the uncertainties facing the world as we enter this new decade.
Who can help you with this? Can anyone? Yes. “Would you really know what philosophy offers to humanity?” Seneca wrote. “Philosophy offers counsel.”
Philosophy isn’t something for the classroom. It isn’t about abstract questions, or debating the existence of free will—it’s something that helps you with life. Epictetus is here, and he knows about freedom. He’s here to show to how to “work day and night to attain a liberated frame of mind. Instead of a rich old man, cultivate the company of a philosopher.” Marcus Aurelius is here to show you how to accept success without arrogance and setbacks with indifference. Agrippinus is here to show you how to follow your conscience, how to be the bright red thread in a sea of conforming colors. And on and on and on.
But you have to keep turning to these counselors. You have to engage. You can’t treat philosophy like a side job, as Seneca reminds you; it must be the main thing. Love it like your birth mother, Marcus reminds you, return to it again and again. Stop drifting. Start committing. Find others who have committed too—find yourself a Cato or a Zeno to measure yourself against. Find a Junius Rusticus who can give you advice and check in with you.
The wisdom is there. It’s here and has been, sitting, patiently waiting for you, for over two thousand years. The question is if you’ll listen. If you’ll take heed of the counsel. Or will you be like Nero, if you’ll leave Seneca disappointed again, proving the idea that a horse can be led to water… but not made to drink.
Will you drink? Will you listen?