Stoicism: 23 Best Quotes (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by stoic philosophers. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.


On wisdom:

Only the wise man is content with what is his. All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 9, trans. Robin Campbell


On philosophy:

Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature, nor is it pursued for the sake of self-advertisement. Its concern is not with words, but with facts. It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure. It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm, and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 16, trans. Robin Campbell


On desire:

Imagine that you’ve piled, up all that a veritable host of rich men ever possessed, that fortune has carried you far beyond the bounds of wealth so far as any private individual is concerned, building you a roof of gold and clothing you in royal purple, conducting you to such a height of opulence and luxury that you hide the earth with marble floors – putting you in a position not merely to own, but to walk all over treasures – throw in sculptures, paintings, all that has been produced at tremendous pains by all the arts to satisfy extravagance: all these things will only induce in you a craving for even bigger things. Natural desires are limited; those which spring from false opinions have nowhere to stop, for falsity has no point of termination.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 16, trans. Robin Campbell


On human nature:

Suppose he has a beautiful home and a handsome collection of servants, a lot of land under cultivation and a lot of money out at interest; not one of these things can be said to be in him – they are just things around him. Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly a man’s. You ask what that is? It is his spirit, and the perfection of his reason in that spirit. For man is a rational animal. Man’s ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he was born.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 41, trans. Robin Campbell


On old age:

We should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending. The charms of youth are at their greatest at the time of its passing. It is the final glass which pleases the inveterate drinker, the one that sets the crowning touch on his intoxication and sends him off into oblivion. Every pleasure defers till its last its greatest delights. The time of life which offers the greatest delight is the age that sees the downward movement – not the steep decline – already begun; and in my opinion even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own – or else the very fact of not experiencing the want of any pleasures takes their place. How nice it is to have outworn one’s desires and left them behind!

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 12, trans. Robin Campbell


On honour:

What utter foolishness it is to be afraid that those who have a bad name can rob you of a good one.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 91, trans. Robin Campbell


On death:

What is death? Either a transition or an end. I am not afraid of coming to an end, this being the same as never having begun, nor of transition, for I shall never be in confinement quite so cramped anywhere else as I am here.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 65, trans. Robin Campbell


On death:

As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will – only make sure that you round it off with a good ending.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 77, trans. Robin Campbell


On education:

We must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers, who say that the educated only are free.

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 1, trans. George Long


On philosophy:

What is the first business of him who philosophizes? To throw away self-conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn that which he thinks that he knows.

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 17, trans. George Long


On logic:

When one of those who were present said, “Persuade me that logic is necessary,” he replied: Do you wish me to prove this to you? The answer was, “Yes.” Then I must use a demonstrative form of speech. This was granted. How then will you know if I am cheating you by argument? The man was silent. Do you see, said Epictetus, that you yourself are admitting that logic is necessary, if without it you cannot know so much as this, whether logic is necessary or not necessary?

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 25, trans. George Long


On desire:

To you everything appears small that you possess: to me all that I have appears great. Your desire is insatiable: mine is satisfied. To (children) who put their hand into a narrow necked earthen vessel and bring out figs and nuts, this happens; if they fill the hand, they cannot take it out, and then they cry. Drop a few of them and you will draw things out. And do you part with your desires: do not desire many things and you will have what you want.

– Epictetus, Discourses, III, 9, trans. George Long


On old age:

How are you desirous at the same time to live to old age, and at the same time not to see the death of any person whom you love?

– Epictetus, Discourses, III, 24, trans. George Long


On freedom:

Freedom is acquired not by the full possession of the things which are desired, but by removing the desire.

– Epictetus, Discourses, IV, 1, trans. George Long


On desire:

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire toward it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods.

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, XV, trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson


On equality:

These reasonings have no logical connection: “I am richer than you, therefore I am your superior.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am your superior.” The true logical connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my possessions must exceed yours.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style must surpass yours.” But you, after all, consist neither in property nor in style.

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, XLIV, trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson


On happiness:

If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if thou holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which thou utterest, thou wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, III, 12, trans. George Long


On the human condition:

Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are. … Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV, 48, trans. George Long


On introspection:

Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VII, 59, trans. George Long


On character:

The perfection of moral character consists in this, in passing every day as the last, and in being neither violently excited nor torpid nor playing the hypocrite.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VII, 69, trans. George Long


On reputation:

Consider… the life lived by others in olden time, and the life of those who will live after thee, and the life now lived among barbarous nations, and how many know not even thy name, and how many will soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are praising thee will very soon blame thee, and that neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IX, 30, trans. George Long


On virtue:

No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, X, 16, trans. George Long


On reputation:

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, XII, 4, trans. George Long


If you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.

 

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