Stoic Podcast Notes #3

Stoic Podcast Notes #3 — Control, Logic, and Other Core Ideas in Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophy that can be deceptively simple. There are just a few concepts that a Stoic needs to remember, but fully living those ideas is another challenge.

If we truly aim to be calm regardless of our life’s circumstances, it’s worth repeating the basic ideas until you grok them. Without a deep understanding, you will never be able to transform your character.

This week I’m sharing notes from two podcasts I only discovered recently; The Practical Stoic Podcast and The Pocket Philosopher. Both episodes cover basic ideas from Stoicism, but I found their presentation refreshing.

Last but not least, I let Chris Fisher continue his excellent presentation of the Stoic discipline of assent/judgment. This episode is for more advanced students of Stoicism, as becoming aware of your value judgments is tough. I especially liked the “stop it, strip it, see it” exercise that helps us question our impressions.

The Practical Stoic Podcast #242 — The Core Ideas of Stoicism

27m 40s | Audio | Show Notes | Website

No, The Practical Stoic Podcast is not mine, but I was an instant fan when discovering it. The host Simon Drew certainly knows how to deliver practical value to those interested in Stoicism.

Simon recently rebooted the podcast (after 239 episodes!) and the quality is top-notch. The second episode of the reboot is about the core ideas of Stoicism. I know many of you have been studying Stoicism for several years, so you probably don’t need an explanation of the core concepts. Still, I’m a big believer in repeating the main Stoic ideas over and over until they become part of you—and even then you’d do good to repeat them.

My takeaways

  • The main goal of Stoicism
    • Humans are generally confused about their purpose, contrast with animals who are not perplexed about their role in the world.
    • For Stoics, everything is one, and every part has its purpose. Everything has its virtue.
    • When we live virtuously as humans, we can achieve eudaimonia.
    • What makes us unique as humans is our rationality. We need to think about what’s the best way to live. Stoics did this rationalizing for us and came with the Stoic Virtues.
  • The structure Stoicism provides to get us to the goal
    • Wisdom
    • Courage
    • Justice
    • Moderation
  • Tools and tactics of Stoicism
    • The dichotomy of control
      • When you feel frustrated, it’s often because you focus on what’s outside your control.
    • Think about what’s good, bad and indifferent
      • Only what influences our character can be good or bad. Only a good character can bring happiness.
      • Externals are only good or bad to the extent they’re used; they have no inherent value.
    • Amor fati
      • Love your fate.
      • Everything in the universe has its place, much of which is outside our control. It doesn’t help to complain.
    • Memento mori
      • Remember, you’ll die. Death is one of the harshest facts of life, and we’re aware of it as humans.
      • Ignoring you’ll die is contrary to Nature.
      • Death should push you to be a virtuous person.

The Pocket philosopher #2 — The Illusion of Control

22m 51s | Audio | Website

The Pocket Philosopher is another podcast I discovered recently. It’s hosted by Tobias Weaver, who also runs the excellent blog Orion Philosophy.

This episode zooms in on the Dichotomy of Control, or better said, the illusion most people have about the extent to which they can control the world around them. Again, this is probably a concept that most practicing Stoics are well aware of, but it’s worth repeating and hearing it from different perspectives.

My takeaways

  • Epictetus taught mastery of your mind. Resilience and strength of character as an antidote to suffering.
  • Socrates: Take care of your psyche; know thyself so that you can take care of yourself.
  • In your mind, you can create both heaven and hell. Your mind is your greatest strength, but it can also be your biggest weakness.
  • We tend to look outward when suffering, and this causes us not to take ownership of our suffering. If we turn inward, we can take ownership of our thought patterns.
  • A good life is more easily obtained if you master your thoughts versus if you depend on happiness from the external world.
  • Epictetus heavily influenced Marcus Aurelius, and the Meditations are filled with reminders of the dichotomy of control.
  • The dichotomy of control is a useful tool for prisoners (example: Viktor Frankl), so they focus on their mind as the ultimate thing they can control.
    • “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl
  • What you pay attention to modifies your thinking and emotions. You are bound to feel frustrated when you focus on what you can’t control.
  • When you are aware of what you control in life, you will focus more on your agency and how you can improve your life through what you can influence.
  • When you accept fate, you remove the control that random events have on your mental state.

Stoicism on Fire #9 — Stoic Logic: The Discipline of Assent

28m 7s | Audio | Website

Last week I published my notes on the first part of Chris Fisher’s explanation of Stoic Logic. Now it’s time for the practical application, which is part of the discipline of assent (judgment).

I found this episode of Stoicism on Fire especially useful as it explains the steps we (unconsciously) go through when forming a value-judgment. Chris bases his explanation on John Sellars’ enlightening book titled Stoicism. The “Stop it, strip it, see it” exercise is valuable to help you think clearly.

My takeaways

  • We don’t have control over what happens to us, but we have control over our value- judgments.
  • Things that happen to us (external events) aren’t good or bad for our moral character (the only thing that matters). Only our response to events affects our moral character. Our value judgments determine our responses.
  • Most think: Event > Response (FALSE)
    In reality: Event > Value judgment > Response (TRUE)
  • Useful meme: Assent to the event, not to the value judgment.
  • Book Recommendation: Stoicism (Ancient Philosophies) by John Sellars.
    • According to John Sellars, there are four stages to assent:
      1. We perceive an external thing or event.
      2. We form an “almost involuntary and seemingly unconscious value-judgment” (in some instances) about that thing or event.
      3. An impression is a proposition, formed from perception and the value judgment, that is presented to our guiding principle (hegemonikon).
      4. We either assent to (agree with) the proposition or we reject it. We may also withhold judgment.
  • An exercise based on Discourses 2.18: Stop it, strip it, see it.
    Stop the impression, strip it bare, see it from a cosmic perspective.
    • Step 1: Stop the impression
      “Wait for a while, impression…” – Epictetus
      Put up a roadblock. Notice the impression, see what value judgments you attach automatically. How are you interpreting the event?
    • Step 2: Strip the impression bare
      “Don’t allow [the impression] to lead you along…” – Epictetus
      Nothing is inherently good or bad; only how you think about something makes it good or bad. So strip the value judgment from the impression. Remind yourself of the dichotomy of control.
    • Step 3: See it from a cosmic perspective
      “Replace [the impression] with a fine and noble impression” – Epictetus
      Take a comprehensive view of what happens to everybody. Have a sense of gratitude. (Discourses 1.6.1-2)

What Are YOUR Favorite Stoic Podcast Episodes?

How have podcasts helped you to understand and practice philosophy? What specific episodes and podcasts have helped you understand Stoic ideas?

I’m eager to hear what you think of my notes and to hear about your learning process with podcasts. Please share your favorite Stoic podcast episodes and insights in the comment section.

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An educator by training, I turned to philosophy and coaching after a period of personal transformation. I'm interested in ancient European and Eastern philosophy. Having studied Zen Buddhism for years, I combine other wisdom philosophies with Stoicism.