HN Books @HNBooksMonth

The best books of Hacker News.

Hacker News Comments on
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

William B. Irvine · 3 HN points · 28 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine.
View on Amazon [↗]
HN Books may receive an affiliate commission when you make purchases on sites after clicking through links on this page.
Amazon Summary
One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable first-hand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. Readers learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have. Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own lives. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.
HN Books Rankings
  • Ranked #12 all time · view

Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
"In a rich man's house, there is no place to spit but his face"


Stoicism is popular in a variety of communities on reddit, so I bet its popularity in SV is related

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is an easy introduction to Stoicism

Mar 01, 2019 · phatle on How to Be a Stoic (2016)
A good book on Stoic is:

Very easy to read this book and growth mind. There are no abstraction here. Very pragmatics. For those who want to know/understand Stoic. I'm highly recommended.

I disliked this book. Just go to the original classical sources, instead of this watered down derivative.

Reading this one felt to me like having a sequence of funny jokes explained pedantically, without ever getting to hear the original jokes.

I can see why many would dislike this book vs. the sources, but it definitely makes the overall idea more palatable. Reading the Meditations isn't for everyone.
I agree, I got a lot of value from this book.
As a newcomer to it, I found this book extremely helpful and instantly impactful to my daily life. That said, I find that you need to keep up the practice continually as its impact has a half life and fades over time.
almost as if the world has a limitless supply of "challenges". As you level-up, so do the challenges which force one to grow. Hopefully.
A couple things that helped me when I was severely depressed and suicidal:

1) I can kill myself, at any time, if I want to. I'm in control and nobody can take that away. Paradoxically, understanding that made me feel better, because if I know I can do it at any time, why do it now? May as well wait a little while.

2) Make a checklist of essential tasks and get into a habit of doing those things no matter what. Some examples: shower, brush teeth, floss, use mouthwash, clip nails, walk 10k steps, do dishes, make bed etc. Check them off. It doesn't matter what's on the list, but it is important to check off 100% of the items each day. Put every small task you can think of on this list and you'll feel good when you check each of them off.

3) Take a good multivitamin + vitamin D

4) Eat healthier. Fresh steamed spinach and wild salmon always made me feel a little better for whatever reason.

5) Get out of the house! Walk! This is really important.

6) Go to the gym. Aim for at least a couple minutes of sprints per day (I like the rowing machine for this). Sprints are holy time in that suicidal thoughts will completely disappear, if only for those few minutes.

7) Walk through a dangerous part of town. Nothing gets rid of depressive thoughts faster than rising blood pressure and a fast heartbeat.

8) Get rid of as much decision-making as possible in your life. Turn decisions into mechanical rules. e.g. don't think "do i want to brush my teeth today?" You need to brush your teeth in order to cross it off your list.

9) Sleep will naturally improve on its own, over time, if you exercise, move around, and eat healthier, so don't worry if you currently have trouble sleeping.

10) This book is pretty good, but only read after you've eaten healthy, gone outside, and exercised:

What didn't work for me was: thinking about all the people i'd hurt, calling a hotline, any decision-making that wasn't mechanical and required reasoning, insight, or motivation.

If you're suicidal right now, start by putting some shoes on, going outside, and sprinting until you can't breathe anymore. Do this 3 times.

The thinking expressed echoes many of the themes from my reading of Stoicism, chiefly * learning to appreciate what you have rather than chase something you don't have in the vain hope that it will give you satisfaction. * coming to terms with the fact that there are things you have no control over and not worry about them.

(If you are unfamiliar with Stoicism and would like to learn more, the blog archive at has a lot of content. I also liked William Irvine's "A guide to the good life" (

I liked what I read in "The Guide to a Good Life" [0] about the importance of a philosophy of life. I'd advise to start there's exploring what's available and finding out if anything in particular resonates. Maybe read/listen that book and go from there.

0 -

Thank you, I will look into that!
Nov 28, 2017 · evo_9 on What the Stoics did for us
A good summary of my go-to Stoicism book:

The book they are summarizing: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy:

Ah nothing like being down voted for trying to help
Welcome to Hacker News: "We're Reddit with a better vocabulary!"
Lol, so true. Top tier trolling though.
Sep 04, 2017 · DanHulton on You are not 'behind'
Huh. I was gonna type a lot of this, but you've saved me the trouble.

I did want to signal boost the stoicism part, though. There are a lot of good mental health practices available in modern stoicism that tend to appeal highly to nerds and other logical types. I can't recommend the following book enough:

I reread it every couple years and it has definitely helped a lot with my feelings of loss and "wasted time."

Oh, and getting older. It's incredible how much more mellow I feel at 37 than at 27.

Feb 25, 2017 · FabHK on How to Be a Stoic
Here some great contemporary introductions to Stoicism:

1. William B. Irvine, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy",

This is an introduction to Stoic thought as it applies today by a professor in philosophy, very clearly written. Great for first exposure. It (sensibly) skips some of the more arcane stuff, such as Stoic metaphysics (historically relevant, but really obsolete).

2. Donald Robertson, "Stoicism and the Art of Happiness",

This is a touch more academic and historic on one hand, and very practical and text-book-like on the other hand, in that it has self-assessments, key points, exercises for every section. Excellent second book. The author also has a course, blog and FAQ at

3. Epictetus' Enchiridion is available on Project Gutenberg, btw. It's very short, and many things are not really relevant today anymore, yet surprisingly many sections still "speak to us".

4. Note also that Tom Wolfe's huge novel "A Man in Full" is suffused with Stoic themes.

I find Stoicism quite wise, and still substantial enough when you subtract all the obsolete superstition (which cannot be said of, for example, Abrahamic religions). Certainly good for tranquility and empathy. Sometimes hard to translate into positive action, though, I find.

> (which cannot be said of, for example, Abrahamic religions)

Interesting thought! I'd say that "love thy neighbour" is a pretty substantial idea, albeit a "bit" less deep than the average stoic philosophy.

Did anyone try this? Take a religion like Christianity (or one interpretation of it) and remove all the deities and miracles? As an avid Christian who dislikes dogma even more than militant atheists, I'd love to dive into an attempt at this.

Something akin to the Jefferson bible?

That's awesome, didn't know about it.

Full text available online, about 20 printed pages.

Edited to add:

Here you can read it, facsimile of the original cut-and-paste (literally...) version by Jefferson. 84 pages, because it's in Greek, Latin, French and English. Love it.

Here's an ePub, if you want to put it on your ebook reader (note: possibly unsavoury site):

Hi, well, first I must admit that that by itself is not an original thought, of course. I've most recently read it in Sam Harris' Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

I've made the same comment (nothing original, as I said... :) elsewhere in this thread, and someone replied with the golden rule, maybe you want to read the discussion:

Elsewhere, the argument has been made that the miraculous parts of Christianity (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.) are largely not original, but collages of earlier prophets, though I couldn't point you to that literature off the top of my head, and it's not the point we're discussing anyways.

I think of Meditations like a daily journal or notebook. It's one of the few books I keep around my desk and occasionally just flip to a random page and read. Individual passages have a lot of meaning so often I'll isolate one and really think about it or talk to my wife about it for a while.

In general, though, I agree it's not very organized or easy to read. If you're looking for a better entry into stoicism I'd suggest A Guide to a Good Life[1]. It's a structured overview of stoicism with straight forward advice on actually using stoic ideas in your own life.


Jan 10, 2017 · 3 points, 0 comments · submitted by dome82
I've never thought of Meditations as religious or non-religious. It's all about really appreciating what you have and understanding the way you feel is derived from your perception of the world. I think that's pretty universal.

If anyone is interested in a more modern introduction to stoicism A Guide to the Good Life is a worthwhile read:

>> I appreciated things I got . . .

This reminds of me of the book that I read in this year named : "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" [1]

Its really a good book and changed my life literally.


That's a very broad question, so I read your comments to get a feel from where you might be coming from and/or going to and where you and I might overlap:

* Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragile, things that gain from disorder

* Jared Diamond. The World until yesterday, what can we learn from traditional societies

* Frans de Waal. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

* John Higgs. The KLF: Chaos, Magic...

* Joseph Jaworski. Synchronicity, the inner Path of leadership

* Piero Ferrucci. Your Inner Will, finding personal strength in critical times

* William Irvine. A Guide to the good life, the ancient art of stoic joy

* Chogyam Trungpa. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

* Tomas Malik. Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us

* Nick Winter. The Motivation Hacker

* Chas Emerick, Brian Carper, Christophe Grad. Clojure Programming


* Peter Hamilton - The Reality Dysfunction

* Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon (his other hit: Snow Crash is surprisingly more history then SF now...)

Have you looked into Stoicism? It's got a lot of the Buddhist elements of learning to accept the present while also focusing on achievement. I think of it in some ways as a Western-friendly mindfulness approach. A Guide to the Good Life [1] is a great book on the subject, and in the past has helped me be more effective in life, while also being happier. I've also heard good things about The Obstacle Is the Way [2].



Marcus Aurelius has been on my reading list for years, but he never got to the top of the list. Maybe it's time to read something on this subject, like one of your suggestions, thanks!
Hi OP, I'm the same. I work out and keep myself in good shape, but tend to let my brain wander to thoughts like what if my heart just stops. I can't engineer a solution for myself, but I will be fully conscious of the fact that my body is failing me. It's terrifying, and you're not alone.

I don't have the right answers for you because I'm in a very similar position, but I can try to relieve parts of your existential anxiety. I used to think how crappy it was when you read on the news that some innocent bystander got shot or a freak accident occurred and someone died and how that could've been me. Ultimately, we should only worry about the things we have complete or partial control over. We are all susceptible to heart attacks, but we can also mitigate its probability through healthy diet and exercise. We are all susceptible to getting shot, but we can also mitigate its probability by choosing where we spend our time.

There will always be things we have no control over, but we should only concern ourselves with the things we do.

I would also recommend checking out "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy"[1] by William B. Irvine. It's been suggested on HN occasionally and it offers a philosophy on death as well as what I mentioned above (letting go of things you don't have control over).


Reminds me a bit of this book on a modern take on stoicism:

Had a part about negative visualization where one would contemplate the negative aspects of life as much as the positive as a sort of counterbalance to hedonic adaptation. One would fall into a good life as being the norm and start to become overly negative about inconsequential aspects of it and hope for the next step up where the cycle would repeat. Instead, using this negative visualisation thing, one would contemplate how life would be without a paying job or a family or arms which I suppose leads to positive thoughts about having such things.

Yeah, the negative visualization aspect very much reminded me of stoicism.
Stoicism and Buddhism have some interesting parallels. They are very different in techniques and belief systems, but similar outlooks.
There was another thread about anxiety a while back, and someone mentioned how 'A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy' by William B. Irvine had helped them ( I'm about half way through it, and have to say it was a great recommendation.

Stoic philosophy aside, sleep (cutting back on caffeine), exercise and spending time with family and friends helps me.

For the mind:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

Not only a description of the Stoic philosophy, which is, unfortunately, not very well known today, but also a great practical guide to a variety of techniques that can be included into daily activities easily, and will increase happiness.

For the body:

Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength - Steven Low

As I'm growing older (turned 40 last year), I'm no longer inclined to exercise with very heavy weights and was looking into replacing most of the barbell/dumbell exercises in my routine with bodyweight exercise. The book is a great encyclopedia of exercise that can be performed without or with minimal equipment. There are progressions, advice on creating routines, on injury prevention and management and a lot more. There is also a subreddit for those who follow the book

You can read some samples from Irvine's book "A Guide to the Good Life" on Boing Boing.


The five dysfunctions of a team.

This book is now required reading for everyone I work with. Not only is the content some of the most important I've ever read, but 80% of the book is written like a novel, making it a VERY easy read.

It's worth noting that much of what Irvine lays out in this book is closer to Epicureanism than Stoicism, per say. For a better treatment of Stoicism, I'd recommend The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot.
You're definitely going to like The Obstacle Is The Way if you want to go deeper into stoicism.

It is based on that line from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and it's about turning obstacles upside down.

> A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

I read this, and have nothing bad to say about it per se. I think Stoicism in the classic sense is very under-appreciated these days, and it's good to have a book to serve as an introduction. But I personally found it to be very repetitive. The historical context part is worth reading in my opinion, but apart from that you'd be better off reading something like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations instead, or some of the other classics.

Edit: Or if you're interested in a contemporary overview, I found AC Grayling's What is Good? to be much more insightful. Its central theme is also a search for some form of "philosophy of life", like Irvine's book, but it doesn't cover just Stoicism. Instead it covers many more philosophies, and I think it's a much richer book because of it since it gives you a much broader context, even if you end up adopting a Stoic outlook.

Marcus Aurelius is an overrated bad philosopher. a) he takes a high moral position but persecuted christians in his kingdom (he is just a fascist in modern terms)

b) he should have chosen to write in his native tongue instead he chose greek (according to jean-luc marion, wrote in bad greek), which makes me think he was just a pretentious guy who wanted to join the ranks of the great greek philosophers.

And yes, I've read Meditations.

If you want to understand Meditations and Marcus Aurelius, you should read The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot. For instance, there are good reasons for his writing in Greek, for the format of the book, for the repetitiveness, etc.
you'd be better off reading something like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations instead, or some of the other classics.

Incidentally, I'm trying to read Meditations now, but it's not an easy reading and it goes very slowly. Maybe I'll be able to put in on my 2015 list of influential books?

Meditations is not a book you read cover to cover. It's rather repetitive, and says the same things in different ways, hence the name: meditations.

It's a book you dip into. I was once introduced to the esoteric art of bibliomancy; and as much as I can't take such a practice seriously, it does seem to work on books that are simply fantastic. Open up meditations, at any page, read it for 10 minutes and put it down. The chances are the passage will be highly pertinent and insightful.

The certainty is that you will feel nice, deep feelings of enlightenment, but that has very little to do with the content of the book used in your enlightenment-ritual.
The first time I read Meditations I read the Gregory Hays translation. It's written with very colloquial language and makes for a great entrance to the book.
I'm interested to read the Hammond translation and compare it to Hays's - I was very pleased with Hays's work.
This is a fantastic translation of Meditations:
Have you read any other translations and can you say in what way this translation is better than them?
I think the particular translation you have makes a big difference, as with a lot of these older texts. I found it very readable because the sections were so short and the language pretty clear, but I was reading the Martin Hammond translation.

e.g. just compare the first few lines from the version on Project Gutenberg:

"Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion. From the fame and memory of him that begot me I have learned both shamefastness and manlike behaviour."

and the same lines from the Hammond translation:

"From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper.

From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness."

Obviously a matter of personal preference though, but it's worth shopping around for a translation before you start reading, and the Gutenberg versions tend to be the most archaic (which doesn't necessarily even mean they're more accurate, I think it was just the fashion back then to translate classic texts into a more formal prose).

I definitely started the Project Gutenberg version, I think this is the link that was posted most on HN. Will try to get the other translation.
In the last year I replaced my copy of Meditations, which I didn't like very much, and surveyed most of the existing translations in the process, comparing them to each other and to the original Greek.

Maxwell Staniforth's was my favorite, being both faithful to the original and easy to read. Hammond plays too loosely with the material, IMO.

The only hardcover I know of:

A paperback:

A great introduction is "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by Irvine

Actually in my opinion: No. Read the original texts. The book from Irvine gives you a different impression of stoicism. It has some "self-help with stoic touch" feel that I just don't feel comfortable with. Read some historic context and the original texts. The original texts are quite accessible.
"What do you do when you believe that you can do great things but something that you have no control over is holding you back?"

Whoever taught you that made a mistake. This is very typical of our generation (yes me included) we all think we can be the president if we just work hard at it. While all our parents heard was: "You know when you work hard you might own a house, with a garden even!"

Happiness is reality minus expectation. (

And you, your expectations are too big. Yes you can change reality but how hard do you have to work to make it match your expectations of greatness? Perhaps you should just learn to be content with what you have, be happy, who knows what comes on your path. Your alternative is facing a high chance of never being happy with yourself and your achievements.

I'm half way through this book: On the advice of the HN crowd. So far I'm liking the message. Try, regularly, to imagine life without the things you hold dear. Try to want the things you already have.

I've been reading about stoicism lately (the ancient philosophy, not the adjective for lack of emotion) and I think that practicing stoics have some nice tools to help people out with this.

One of the primary ways that stoics find tranquility is by "wanting what you already have" instead of "wanting what you don't have." Easier said than done, so they offer some tools to help, inluding negative visualization (imagining life without things you care about), only worrying about things you have control over, and occasionally denying yourself pleasures.

I'm not doing the subject justice, but here's an easy to read book that condenses a lot of their ideas and applies them to modern life: And of course Wikipdeia:

For an intro to stoicism you should start with Seneca's letters and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations before you jump into Guide to the Good Life (which I do not recommend, despite Derek's praise of it)

Also, check out the upcoming book 'The Obstacle is the Way' by Ryan Holiday -

Both amazing, but I think I prefer Epictetus' Discourses to either one.

I'm not a big fan of Guide to the Good Life either -- mostly because I think it takes a very profound (and by no means simple or obvious) set of ideas and reduces it to a kind of intellectual fad diet.

For something weightier, you might look at the works of Pierre Hadot (Philosophy as a Way of Life and What is Ancient Philosophy?), both of which contain excellent discussions of stoicism.

Check out Hadot's Inner Citadel if you haven't, also an amazing book.
A Guide to the Good Life has its issues, particularly around complicating simple ideas (for example, his "trichotomy of control" adds nothing at all the the basic dichotomy, other than confusion).

However, he does a good job of giving a basic introduction and framing for Stoic concepts. I think it's easier to digest the Romans (particularly the concise and acerbic style of Epictetus) if you are somewhat familiar with the subject. I got much, much more from Epictetus than I did from Irvine, but he is, I think, a valuable on-ramp.

I'm also not sure what the big deal is with Marcus Aurelius. Compared with The Enchiridion and even Seneca's letters, it's haphazard and dull. I'll give it another shot once I'm done with all of Seneca's letters.

Personally, I would start with Irvine, then the George Long translation of The Enchiridion (it's more poetic than the Carter translation, IMO). I'm about half way through Seneca's Letters, and while enjoyable, he takes a long time to cover the same insights as Epictetus.

(aside: on my 3rd or 4th reading of The Enchiridion, I wrote brief notes on each part, which you can find at

Truly warms my heart to see there is some resonance on HN for the stoics. I came across Epictetus in a particularly low part in my life - it was this particular passage that nailed me - excuse the bad formatting/spelling.
I wouldn't start with Epictetus just because I think some of his lines can be easily misinterpreted, for example, the line about kissing your child and thinking about his death can really put people off.

I had the same initial reaction with Marcus, but honestly it might be because I didn't have the right translation (pick Gregory Hays's!!) and not enough background on the man. I would highly recommend watching this short series that mentions both Epictetus and Marcus: I truly think you'll see the Meditations in a different way after watching this. Also, Pierre Hadot has a very good (but scholarly) analysis on it in The Inner Citadel.

And for Epictetus, I always introduce him with the story of the Vietnam prisoner of war James Stockdale who in a way relied on stoic principles to endure the tortures he was inflicted. He wrote and lectured about the lessons there, Google him around.

Wow, that was a brilliant lecture, thanks! Part 1 is one of the best summaries of stoicism that I've heard.
It's funny, I've heard of the term stoicism in the philosophical regard, but never knew what it was, and yet now I'm reading that it embodies a lot of what I've felt for years.

Growing up, my family never had much, and I always had to make due with simple activities. Luckily enough I got immersed in the Internet at a young age, because I was able to inherit outdated computers, but never had the fancy toys or gadgets or games that my friends did. I had to find ways to entertain myself with very little, and since then my interests have always revolved around a very small subset of simple, low-fidelity activities. Drawing (materials are universal), weightlifting (free-weights only), programming (self explanatory).. Things that I know could never really be taken from me.

As I'm preparing to graduate college, I've told friends and family that I never want to own a car, or a house. I haven't owned a bed in two years. The only major purchases I want are a decent laptop, which I consider a necessity for a software developer, and books. I want the tools I need to live and grow my skills and intellect.

In that sense, I probably take the modern translation of stoicism too far. But then again, I'm easily fulfilled.

As long as your choices don't negatively impact yourself, or your family and friends, I'd say "keep it up!"
Stoicism seems like it would be relevant to a Roman. If you had no air conditioning and very little good things, being stoic would probably make you pretty happy.

We're not in ancient Rome anymore.

I don't see any reason for modern humans to be stoic. It seems like a great way to stagnate. When you can't change your environment, it makes sense to change your mind to accept your environment. When you can, self-modification is harmful. It lets you accept things you could change if you worked to to change them.

Stoicism seems to be at odds with a personal drive towards self-improvement. It doesn't seem relevant to modern environments where this improvement is possible.

Let me assure you that, having gone through a very major health crisis, stoicism is eminently useful, and practical. I have lost things that are impossible to recover. And I'm doing pretty good, thanks.

There are some things you really cannot change. We can change more than we used to, but not everything. Stoicism helps.

And we also change things we don't need to change. We chase after things that bring us no happiness. By allowing you to be happy with what you have, stoicism lets you seek those things that truly matter.

Perhaps looking at it in a less black and white manner would show where it could help.

For instance, I work with Enterprise Software but not with cars. Perhaps being Stoic towards my material possessions( such as liking my Honda and stop looking at the Maserati I don't need) while still driving towards improvements in the areas that matter, such as my relationships (family, friends, strangers) and career (software, etc)?

I don't see any reason for modern humans to be stoic

We don't have the resources to keep all modern humans in the manner to which those in developed countries have become accustomed.

"Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them."

Since 'improvement' is so often a subjective quality the stoics may perhaps suggest you rebase what you consider to be self improvement.

What if one could find a way of being happy regardless of 'self improvement' drives?

If happiness is the objective and you can be happy without changing your environment, even if changing the environment is trivial, what's the difference?

Be it stoicism or any school of thought that recommends a way of life, the key fallacy to avoid fall into is that it is these principles that make you happy, or productive, or wealthy, or healthy or whatever. While such principles can be temporarily crutch for a person, over time the crutch gains the status of legs instead of people using it to learn to walk.

My mind keeps coming up with generalizations all the time. For example, "the more space you have for your family, the less valuable time together you spend". Needless, useless generalizations like this about just about everything. So I've formed a mental habit of just pausing and asking "really?" .. and soon these just go poof.

In other words, I automatically question the validity of any concept I construct. This way, I'm free to stick to one temporarily and have no qualms about abandoning concepts that aren't valid for me.

The nice thing about Derek's post is that he's just posing the question and leaving it to the reader to ruminate on what answer would mean to them. The skill to pick up here is to ask these kinds of questions ... like all the time.

"When you can, self-modification is harmful. It lets you accept things you could change if you worked to to change them."

I think "changing the things you can" (as Niebuhr once put it) is precisely the second half of the stoic idea. In fact, not changing things that by rights should be changed runs contrary to virtue, which the stoics held as the chief -- and indeed, the only -- true good.

Your forgetting that some things can't be changed with respect to other things. I may hate the commute to work, but otherwise find my job great and my house great. I may have optomised that commute as much as possible already (audio books, a nice car, best route) but it is still the worst part of my day. If I behave more in line with stoicism then this no longer worries me as much. Sure this may stop innovation by me in that particular area but I'm still inovative in other areas and people who are better able to tackle that issue are the ones that can deal with it (if indeed there is a better soloution).
Improvement is also a very fuzzy notion, it really depends how you wanna look at things.
Stoicism isn't anti-improvement. Epictetus was an abused slaved, then philosophical leader. Seneca was rich and was tutor and adviser to the emperor. Marcus Aurelius was the emperor.

Yes, Stoicism teaches you that you don't have (at least ultimate) control over the world. But it does emphasize that you have control over yourself. You internalize your goals: Instead of "winning the tennis championship" it's "be the best player I can possibly be despite circumstance".

I'm really glad to read such comment. You do a service to other HN fellas mentioning stoicism as a way to "solve" this kind of problem. After a few years reading and studying stoic works (such as Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, already mentioned in this thread) I can say I'm finally good with myself and I could not recommend it enough for other geeks and nerds who eventually find themselves in such negative mindset. Hackers: read the old philosophers, you'll do yourself a favor, your mind will thank you. Modern life is nearly unbearable when you don't have the tools to fix it.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

This book was my first introduction to stoicism. I loved the book and idea behind stoicism. I meant to find more but had forgotten about it. Thanks for the book suggestion.

My biggest problem with being happy with what I have is the lack of motivation to improve and better myself.
Wrong. Your biggest problem is believing you have to improve yourself.
Interesting that this was downvoted... I wonder if it was the tone or the content. While I don't think it's clear that this person's desire for self-improvement is their "biggest problem," I like that this comment points out a potential assumption in the grandparent comment: that improving ourselves is some kind of requirement or moral imperative.

You could make a plausible argument that self-improvement allows one to accomplish more for others, and use this to connect self-improvement with moral obligations to the community. And you could simply have a deeply ingrained desire for self-improvement (Maslow's Hierarchy seems to suggest that this is a fundamental human need). However, I think it's good to acknowledge that this idea -- that we should improve ourselves -- is not prima facie necessary; it's simply another human desire.

Sorry it was perhaps a bit abrupt.

Many people often feel that something's wrong with life or something is missing. A little voice in their heads comes up and says "maybe if I had X that'd fix it", or "maybe if I was Y I'd be happy". In fact, I'm coming to realise (as all the books I've read over the years have been saying) that it's the thinking that is the whole problem. In fact it's not a case of just intellectually accepting this idea that's important. We can go deeper.

Where does the voice come from? What is this thing called "I" that is blindly followed? It would appear it is just another thought. The mind is just a stream of thoughts and "I" is just another one. It has no substance, no reality.

It seems that the only thing that does exist is the present, so just ignore the past and future. The more you are able to ignore the voice in your head (and it's much easier when you see it has no reality) the more you start to tingle, literally. You (well I don't know about you, but I) feel amazing. Satisfied and replete.

So to conclude, what I was getting at was that maintaining the belief that you need to "improve" somehow, or be "better" just adds more fuel to the fire and keeps the mind spinning, distracting us from the present and ever experiencing that fulfilling feeling.

This is a fairly common complaint with stoicism. Just because you're happy with what you have doesn't mean you can't also be intrinsically motivated to make life better for yourself and others. But it also leaves you in the wonderful state wherein you don't mind the outcome of your efforts because you were already happy with your state to begin with. It's a fuller appreciation of what you can control and what you can't and the in-between states where you can control your inputs but not the output. You start to set goals that focus only on the actions you have complete control over and don't worry about the outcomes you can't control.
So the joy is in the traveling, not the destination, then?
> Just because you're happy with what you have doesn't mean you can't also be intrinsically motivated to make life better for yourself and others.

An important note: the clinical definition of Attention-Deficit Disorder is exactly "being unable to feel motivated, except under conditions of stress/fear/pain."

A common self-medicating strategy for people unaware they have ADD, is to invite unhappiness and stress in order to derive motivation from it. If the only thing that can get you to start working on a project is the feeling of a looming deadline, you may want to get yourself checked.

That's just procrastination. Where do we draw the line?
Agreed 100%. Sometimes it feels like some people are trying to define every regular human action and emotion as some disease that needs to be medicated.
This is an instance of the Worst Argument In The World (

Neurotransmitter imbalances (e.g. clinical depression, AD[H]D, anxiety disorders, etc.) are not diseases. This doesn't mean that people who have them are okay; it just means that thinking of them in terms of what you normally associate with the label 'disease' will lead your thoughts astray.

Instead, neurotransmitter imbalances are genetic impairments. Like, say, nearsightedness.

As with nearsightedness, neurotransmitter imbalances are just annoying natural features of some people's bodies. As with nearsightedness, it kind of sucks to be those people, but they don't generally know what they're missing, because they've always been that way.

But, as with nearsightedness, prosthetics have been invented that "even the playing field" between those with and without the impairment. And, as with nearsightedness, it's readily apparent to those who use the prosthetic that they were impaired, because they now have access to experiences that they may have heard unimpaired people speaking of, but never previously got to experience for themselves.

(And, as with nearsightedness, this has caused the genetic defects responsible for the impairment to spread rapidly through the population; because the impairment is no longer a disadvantage, there's no longer any evolutionary pressure to protect the genetic code responsible from mutating.)

Try imagining telling someone with nearsightedness that they should just learn to cope with everything being fuzzy, instead of getting glasses. Imagine condemning the boom in contact-lens sales as "overmedication." It seems ridiculous, right?

Surely for psychological impairments the line is blurred. Nearsighted is trivially diagnosable, and it's mainly a physical problem.

ADHD is fuzzily defined and overdiagnosed. People can be different from one another. "Curing" someone from being active and unfocused has uncomfortable implications.

Let me highlight the most important part of what I said:

> And, as with nearsightedness, it's readily apparent to those who use the prosthetic that they were impaired, because they now have access to experiences that they may have heard unimpaired people speaking of, but never previously got to experience for themselves.

The human body requires its internal chemicals to be maintained within certain ranges for various features to function. Each of these features is relevant to what would be called "the human experience"--things that are built into the generalized human utility-function to want, as terminal values.

When you have a neurotransmitter imbalance to a degree that it becomes an impairment, it is so because it disables some of these features, and therefore bars one's access to these terminal values.

In AD(H)D, the feature that gets impaired is the "sense of intrinsic motivation" generated by the dopamine system. The terminal values one loses access to are the feelings of striving, accomplishment, or pride in one's work; and, in more extreme cases, the feeling to hope that one will be able to improve one's lot in life by one's own hand. (When you know you can't motivate yourself to get a job, being jobless is a lot more depressing.)

When you apply the appropriate prosthetic to the impairment--combined dopamine agonist/reuptake inhibitors, in this case--you gain access to this feature, and through it, the terminal values you were barred from.

As with putting on glasses, if you have the impairment (everything is blurry), then it is very, very obvious that when everything comes into focus, that this is the way things were "meant" to be--not from some moral imperative, but just because the rest of your body was built to rely on this feature that was previously broken.

With glasses, this means you suddenly stop bumping into things, and don't find yourself moving closer to people to see them. With normalized dopamine levels, this means you suddenly feel able to make yourself accomplish things you've always wanted to accomplish.

If your dopamine is set to the correct range for your body, this doesn't "make you into a robot" or any of the things people talk about with various neuroaffective drugs. Inasmuch as that was ever true in clinical settings, it was from failure to identify the neurotransmitter which is in imbalance (i.e. treating a norepinephrine production deficiency with dopamine agonists).


And now, a rant:

Inasmuch as AD(H)D treatment is made out to be a problem in pop-culture, though, it does indeed come from "overdiagnosis"--if you give a drug to boost a neurotransmitter into a reference range to someone who is not impaired, you will of course boost that neurotransmitter out of the reference range it was already in. People who can see fine already will find glasses quite harmful to their vision.

"Overdiagnosis" is a very strong word for what happens with AD(H)D, though. Population studies have been done, with random samples of adults brought in off the street given strict evaluations to test for AD(H)D--and as much as 3% of the population has scored far into the "impaired" range. (This is, coincidentally-enough, about the same percentage we see for all the other neurotransmitter-reference-range problems, e.g. clinical depression, giving merit to the genetic-drift hypothesis.) This number is far higher than the number of people actually diagnosed with AD(H)D. The stigma behind "overdiagnosis" has lead to underdiagnosis.

The real problem, of course, is parents wanting to treat their children for neurotransmitter imbalances at all. Children do not have stable neurotransmitter reference ranges. Their brains produce random spurts of neurotransmitters at random times, just like their bodies produce random spurts of growth in random body parts. (This is why children have such vivid nightmares and fantasies: random spurts of serotonin will induce visual and auditory hallucinations, much as are found during an LSD trip; coupled with random spurts of adrenaline, these hallucinations can be quite stressful. It is also why they may not "feel tired" after being awake for many hours: due to random spurts of acetylcholine, their bodies can be effectively self-caffeinating. You can surmise how this applies to each other neurotransmitter as well.)

AD(H)D is not a "childhood disease", any more than nearsightedness is. Both impairments tend to first reveal themselves, oddly-enough, when one is first asked in childhood to sit and stare at a blackboard--but this doesn't imply that the problem goes away when the blackboard does. In fact, it usually gets worse--but there is no longer a set of parents being sent report cards to indicate a problem which they might get it into their heads to "fix."

So, when I say "get checked for AD(H)D," I'm intending that advice for adults. Children might certainly have AD(H)D already--if you have a neurotransmitter imbalance, it's almost always present from a very young age--but the rampage of random neurotransmitter releases during development will moot any sort of prosthetic, just like (no, not glasses this time!) a bone- or skull-plate to fix a break would be inadvisable for a child: their bones haven't finished growing or forming, and the plate would soon harm instead of help.

Having said that, school systems must be designed around the fact that children will have various neurochemical imbalances--whether temporarily due to growth, or permanently, due to genetic problems--and around the fact that it is improper to expect the child to be treated for these before their neurology stabilizes. Grade-school must be an environment where a child is given the resources to succeed despite neurochemical imbalances. This calls for a radical restructuring, much moreso than the "radical" ideas one sees proffered on education around HN.

After this condensed lecture on neuroscience I certainly understand this problems in a deeper way. Thanks for that.

Diagnosing this chemical imbalances has got to be quite hard, if each person has a different profile. Furthermore, most people aren't even tested for it.

It's not an easy problem to solve, and parental pressure for drugs that calm an extrovert kid certainly don't help.

Interesting. For me, being happy starts positive reinforcement cycles that enable further learning and growth.
I don't fell that being happy is worth it. If I needed no money and no attention, perhaps happiness shouldn't also be the next goal to achieve. See what I mean here:
I've found there are two particular thoughts that need to occur for the "motivation to improve and better myself" to manifest itself.

1) honest love for oneself; a belief that bettering oneself is not a completely selfish goal, but actually helps everyone and everything else in your life that you care about (insofar as you interact with them)

2) an honest belief that energy spent on self-improvement is effective; if I try to change myself in this way or that and am unsuccessful, it makes the next attempt much harder to get started.

just my two cents.

The original works of Seneca and Epictetus are also surprisingly applicable to modern life, and their problems are surprisingly relatable. I recommend Seneca's "On the Shortness of Life" and Epictetus's handbook in modern translation.
> "wanting what you already have"

Sounds very much like Taoist teachings as well. Desire, in its many forms, never results in happiness.

IME there's a massive but not that often discussed overlap with Stoicism and Buddhism. I'll have to look into Taoism a bit too now.
How can people say this without giving the slightest reflection over their own lives and moments of happiness? I've had plenty of moments where desire-satisfaction has granted me happiness. Sometimes even without the satisfaction, the desire itself had given me a sense of worth and a life path that I found exciting and joyful.
It's mostly a problem of conflating many different emotions under the one umbrella-term of "happiness." If, by happiness, you mean contentment, then removing desire can give you that. If, by happiness, you mean relief or satisfaction or excitement, then no, removing desire will not give you those.
> If, by happiness, you mean contentment, then removing desire can give you that.

But would this not require, in some sense, the desire for contentment? I suppose this is just a semantic issue; somehow our usage of "desire" excludes this case (perhaps because it is so fundamental).

"Desire", when you strip away the connotations, generally just means "spikes in your dopamine system that reward you for acting toward a goal your brain associates with a previous large dopamine release."

Contentment, on the other hand, is something more like "the lack of any particular goal currently requiring you to think, plan, or expend energy."

Basically, they're at odds: when you have a desire, you are by definition discontented.

Contemplate what proportion of those moments are related to work and money, and contemplate how much those issues permeate the rest of your life to the point where they impede your enjoyment of other facets of life.

I made a conscious decision to work from home and comfortable places because I realized that commuting two hours a day was destroying my health. Very few projects would be worth that sacrifice to me (although I realize that many are out there).

I made a choice to eat mindfully and properly in every meal unless I have something else of extreme urgency. I find very few things are worth interrupting a meal. There's at least one hour of every day you can enjoy tremendously, and many people lose complete sight of that.

I am not disagreeing with your premise, but the truth is that most people's desires, in my opinion, seem to be highly misplaced, given that not many people out there are actually working towards a goal so noble that it's worth the rest of the sacrifices in their lives. Having shorter vacations, less time for relaxation and pursuing hobbies is worth it if you're engaged on projects that give tremendous satisfaction and make a difference.

> And of course Wikipdeia:

Incidentally, if you're moved to get broad outlines of philosophical things, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy tend to be better resources:

virtue and tranquility.
Here's a short excerpt from a talk by Alan Watts that I find incredibly powerful:

"What if Money Was No Object" -

If you're looking for something longer and more in-depth, the late David Foster Wallace's talk on a similar subject is incredibly sincere and motivating:

"This Is Water" -

almost superficial remark, the video quality was contrasting with the wisdom, here's an HD version

ps: it's a bit looking at the finger pointing to the moon but anyway. pps: thanks for the links

It's so interesting how our generation is so deeply interested in this idea - what would we do if money wasn't an issue? I really loved this video - a good reminder to feel okay to break the "traditional" structure and pursue happiness.
I have a lot of friends who majored in the arts and humanities and graduated straight into unemployment and misery. Some of them are happy about the fact, but the majority is really resentful towards the society. They feel cheated, as they thought they'd get a low-paying job which would still allow for a modest life, but all they were offered is volunteer work. Money, it turns out, is unimportant only if your belly is full and you have a roof on top of your head.
I studied Classical Philology. I had no idea that learning Ancient Greek and Latin would be amazing preparation for learning to write code. Hey, if you can read some Ancient Greek, you can decipher a lot of [insert computer language here].

It's probably not realistic to see a humanities degree as a meal ticket, but it can be an excellent foundation for the "real world". Getting the degree teaches you to research and to learn. Those are marketable skills you can apply to many jobs. Unless you want a career in academia, in many cases the humanities degrees aren't likely going to lead you to a job in your field of study, but they will prepare you. You just need to figure out where to apply your skills.

I didn't actually major in the arts myself, but I can see many of my old friends suffering. Turns out, knowing ancient greek might help you get a coding job, but knowing data structures, algorithms and some Perl would help a lot more.

With the economy in the state that it is, it's a lot harder to beat the odds. Just getting an interview with a not-directly-applicable major seems to be flat out impossible.

After many years of watching people dear to me struggle, I'm starting to feel bad telling them that they just need to market themselves better, find a way to bypass the recruitment process and think outside the box. I've come to realize that they really got the raw end of the deal, and instead of any sympathy, they get told that they just need to try harder.

Yeah, it's probably a stretch to think that knowing Greek will get you a coding job, but in my case I ended up picking up Perl along the way and I found the two skills to be complementary.

Having said that, the team lead at my $work has an M.A. in Music Composition. Having the coding skills will get you the job, but there's nothing to say that a Humanities degree can't prepare you for getting the skills.

The company was Blue Cross Blue Shield (if you care)
How is Greek and Latin helping you ? is it to infer meaning through etymology/roots ? or the different grammars ordering ?

I never really cared about languages before programming, but after learning it, then logic, semantics, ontology I think about other human languages a lot. I'm curious about your point of view coming from the opposite direction.

I agree! I'd be fascinated by GP's point of view. :-)

Hopefully our posts encourage him to weigh in.

For me it was basically learning to take a text in a foreign language and parse it. When you're faced with a different word order and, by extension, a different way of thinking about things, you're forced to take each element of the sentence and break it down as far as you can, in order to understand what's going on.

For my second year of University, I studied in Germany (rather than Canada0, which made things really hard for me. To translate my Latin texts I translated from Latin to English and then worked out how to translate the English to German.

I had a really great professor who taught us not only how to break down words to find their meanings, but he also made no bones about the fact that the key to translating is knowing when to make a good guess.

Once you can get by with Greek and Latin, you can pick up a lot of other bits of languages fairly easily. Sometimes it's by knowing root words. Sometimes it's because you've gotten good at guessing.

A lot of those skills apply directly to reading someone else's code and trying to make sense of it. I find that if you can learn to decipher a foreign, natural language, you may just do alright with languages that machines understand.

I majored in humanities and I'm not unemployed nor in misery. I don't feel cheated at all (never did), because society does not owe me anything since I made all the calls myself.
So, you're not friends with him them?
Which generation is "our" generation?
Agreed. Apparently, unaware of the whole extensive spirtuality and simplicity movements that characterized previous generations in the 1910s, the 60s, and 70s, among other generations.
Could you please elaborate a bit about the 1910's generation simplicity? It's the first time I've seen that mentioned.
The 10's were the middle of the wave of Indian teachers coming to US shores and offering the public a first glimpse of non-Christian spirituality. The catalyst was the Parliament of World Religions of 1893 [1], when Vivekananda came to the US. By the end of the 10's, Paramahansa Yogananda had come to the US to found the Self-Realization Fellowship, the Theosophical Society was reaching the height of its popularity. The Bahai movement was beginning to take hold, etc.

It was basically when Eastern spirituality first wove its way into the American consciousness.


I might be off base here but I think this idea "what we would we do if money wasn't an issue” is subconsciously the reason why shows like the walking dead and to a lesser degree falling skies have become so popular with our generation. The theme of a post apocalyptic world where zombies and aliens are trying to kill off the human race are the obvious draw at its core these shows illustrate what a moneyless world would look like in the sense that survival and relationships with those in close proximity to you would be the only thing that mattered. I also think a moneyless world would be complete chaos but that just me.
It's nothing really new, though. Some hippies in the 70s (check out Easy Rider if you have never watched it) tried to live away from civilization in small communities, living off farming and trying to do without money. Not sure how most of them ended up, though. Probably not well.
You hit it on the nail, at least for me. I love the post-apocalyptic film genre because it throws the current system of society under the bus and makes the characters focus just on survival and then a possible rebuilding of society in a whole new way.
Interesting theory! I like the idea of relationships mattering than the next shiny in life. In the case of your scenario I wonder what would happen if humanity survived the zombies and aliens and fully recovered. Would we just naturally end up worshiping money (a proxy for resources) again?
Money will be back.

Guns, ammo, food, water etc. will become valuable commodities. Natural bartering will lead to money again.

I totally agree. It is the main reason I like the post apocalyptic genre. It's fun to think about not having to go to a job for money, building a fort, and attempting to just live. :)
What happens when you need something modern society provides, such as surgery or medicine?
Depends on the genre, but if it's zombies, I've developed a nearly unlimited supply of free electricity.

1. Place zombie on treadmill surrounded by a cage. 2. Hook treadmill up to generator. 3. Read a book in front of zombie. 4. Electricity!

If I was in a film, The Power of Friendship combined with Plot Armour would fix me right up.
I don't think bzudo was being entirely serious
I think he was. I also enjoy that fantasy, truthfully I think I'd do quite well in a post-apocalyptic society. For one thing; I have a friend who worked in a medieval troupe, and he taught me some of the basic routines they use with swords. Also I participated in which was amazing, a similar level of thrill that I got from skydiving.

So forgetting all the messy business of day-to-day life, just running around with pointy weapons and fighting zombies seems appealing.

You send a blind girl to fetch the medicines for you just like in The Village :)
apparently, you find yourself a vet.
I understand your point and agree that it would be hard to lose the expected longer lifespan. Right now I live in such a way that I expect to reach a certain age and have modern conveniences available to me. When safety, freedom from pain, fresh water, food, sewers, transportation, access to information, and so on, are denied, I get grumpy. But that's my expectation because I wake up to that reality every day.

But what if I lived without that expectation? Maybe I would be happier? Maybe take better care of myself, my communities, my surroundings, the things I currently have instead of pining for the things I want? I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe live more in the present instead of fretting about the distant future and things I have no control over? Maybe not.

There are an awful lot of people on the Earth who live without the resources I have and, I could argue, are happier than me, have less overall stress, have more leisure time, are in better physical shape, and so on. And I'm not trying to romanticize it. I also understand that many people in that condition are miserable.

But overall life satisfaction is relative, isn't it, and largely a state of mind?

> There are an awful lot of people on the Earth who live without the resources I have and, I could argue, are happier than me...

Again, the myth of the extremely happy have-nots. This is coming up regularly on HN, and it's based largely on ignorance. People who have much less than you are not more happy. Access to resources, energy, improves quality of life in every way, and increases relative happiness as well. If that were not the case, then nobody in the lesser developed world would want to have a car, to eat more stuff, to have more money to spend and send their kids to school. But actually, they do, because they strive for more stuff that will make them more happy.

i live in a small village in rural india where I'd guess the average monthly income is less than $150. So, its a poor area, but not a destitute area. People generally have water, enough to eat, and the kids all go to school. They want cars and big houses like people in the west want faster cars and bigger houses. As a whole even for people doing labor the lifestyle isn't obviously bad. They work fewer hours, are in a more natural less poluted environment and are generally less stressed by life and work than their urban counter parts. There's a perceived lack of opportunity driving people into the cities. But its a similar drive that motivates people in the states to leave relatively nice styles in the midwest to move to Los Angeles or San Francisco to chase a dream even if it means working long hours in a restaurant and living in a crowded apartment.

One reason I think this theme resonates here is that software people are location independent in a way few other industries are. If you can work from anywhere being somewhere where your core living expenses are $200 makes sense. Siver's questions becomes real - what then ?

I couldn't agree more.

It's probably got to do with publicity given to those who voluntarily give up wealth and chose the path of poverty.

Poverty affects humans at a very basic level; their cognition is impaired, their day-to-day life to a very minute detail is controlled by lack of money. And some of the things that we take for granted (for instance potable water) is struggle for them. Those with money can't even imagine what it is like to be poor, day in day out and for years on end with very little hope in sight.

I was not aware of all these until I read a terrific book, "The Poor Economics". It was really an eye opener for me and because of which I'm more empathetic towards poor today instead of just saying they are happier or blaming them for their poverty.

This is excellent advice, and quite ancient, too. I first read of the approach in a guide to Stoic Philosophy, and have been attempting it ever since, with good results :)

Given the criteria, this would come closest:

* A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy -

Honorable Mention:

* Anything You Want -

* On Intelligence -

* Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow -


Those interested in Stoic philosophy would do well to just skip to the primary sources. Not to say the guide you posted isn't a good book (I'll take your word that it is!) but Stoicism is one school of thought that I'd say rewards reading from a blank slate. As opposed to, say, certain domains in analytic philosophy wherein understanding is impossible without years of prior reading.

Seneca's various Letters [1], Marcus Aurelius' Meditations [2], Epictetus' Discourses [3] are all good places to start. There are a variety of translations for those titles available for free (see links).

[1] - [2] - [3] -

Even if Jonasson's claims are checked out by evidence, nannying a country's population by censoring offensive material is not the right course of action. You do not change public perception or progress society through censorship.

The internet is a new phenomena that has given individuals unprecedented power to indulge in all forms of media. Instead of arbitrarily obstructing information that they deem to be corrupting, the Icelandic government should recommend their citizens to learn the psychology behind desire and addiction [1], perhaps even Stoic philosophy [2], and how to set up a web filter for their children. They should trust that the adults of their country are generally smart enough to think for themselves and do the right thing; anything less is an insult to their intelligence and is likely to foster a mistrust of their government.



I really like social experimentation (to a sane degree, of course). Why shouldn't Iceland ban pornography (if it does so through a democratic process)? I'd quite like to see what happens.
Iceland shouldn't ban pornography because that is forcing someone's personal value upon a whole country based on questionable reasoning. "[Ogmundur Jonasson] argues that easy access to online porn increases the frequency and severity of sexual violence against women and causes longterm damage for children who view it at an early age." As another commenter mentioned, there is more evidence that porn reduces sexual violence, and it is easy and free to set up a porn filter for children.

I am not arguing that porn is a good thing, but that it's not a government's job to force their subjective moral values upon people by telling them what information they are not allowed to see.

If you want to see what happens in a country when porn is banned, there are already many examples.

If Iceland's parliament were in fact "forcing someone's personal value upon a whole country", then I would also consider it to be morally wrong. However, the democratic process is there to guard against this sort of behaviour. It doesn't always work, but you haven't shown that it is not working in this case.

I believe you are referring to the reference (haha) to the article in /Slate/. I read that article and didn't find it hugely compelling. Some good points were made in the article, but they weren't even close to a complete argument.

Again, I agree that 'it's not a government's job to force their subjective moral values upon people'. Firstly, when it comes to morality, it's pretty much all subjective. (I actually believe that there is an objective morality; it's just really hard to convince anyone else that my morality is it.) It is, however, a government's job to enforce the morality of the people.

Just because bad things happen in countries where pornography is banned doesn't mean they happen because pornography is banned.

I believe you are saying that banning pornography is an indicator of a bad government and the other governments that have made the same decision are a pretty bad lot. This may be true.

But my point remains: it is a government's job to enforce the values of society. It just depends what we see as our most important values (is it free speech or moral decency, in this case?).

The most accessible guide to Stoicism that I've ever found was recommended by Derek Sivers, and written by William Irvine "A Guide to the Good Life".

I really highly recommend it myself. A bit of history of Stoicism, but also a lot of practical advice about how to put it into practice in modern times. (Always going back to the key Stoic thinkers.)

Agreed that this is a great book to introduce Stoicism. This, and Seneca's works which I've read since, have been life changing for me - I think it should be required reading for all entrepreneurs, if not everybody.
Add Epictetus to that list, as well.
To add more social proof, it’s also featured on the personal mba (, which is a highly curated place.

Tim Ferriss also talks a lot about stoicism on his blog.

When I saw it on the personal mba, saw it with a note of 10/10 in Sivers’s books notes, and understood it was about “the weird thing Tim Ferriss was talking about constantly” I knew this book was worth my attention. I haven’t been disappointed, even without practicing the principles depicted in the book as much as I should it as substantially made my life better.

If anyone is interested in a book on the subject, I really like William Irvine's "A Guide to the Good Life" (

I have some extensive book notes here:

I am currently reading this book and also find it a good modern interpretation. It has a concise background on the stoics and combines and interprets the teachings of many of them in to an easy to understand principles. I bought this in combination with Seneca's "letters of a Stoic" and "Meditations", by Marcus Aurelius thinking it would a good introduction before reading these.

I have noticed many of Stoic practices reproduced or supported by popular religious practices which makes sense if they aid in practitioners feeling the tranquillity/happiness that the stoics sought, even if done through fables and commandments.

Personally, I would cut out the middle men. Avoid glossy-covered and over-marketed summaries of other men's work. Grab a copy of Epictetus' discourses and his Enchiridion. Read Aurelius' meditations. Get familiar with Plutarch's Lives.

This will get one started cheaply: Be aware, this volume includes Lucretius who is not a stoic, rather, a typical reductionist Epicurian. The Enchiridion can also be found cheaply: . Here's a fine translation of Plutarch's Lives: . These works are cheap and readily available used on eBay and elsewhere. Take advantage of it if you are seriously interested in learning.

Avoid the marketing. Read Knuth or K&R rather than "How to Program in 24 hours", etc. The same goes for philosophy. There's nothing new under the sun. Seek out what's stood the test of time, incorporate it into your fundamentals, and proceed from there.

Agreed. Stoicism is not "philosophy" as we've been taught to think of it (that is, dense, boring, confusing).

Even the old translations of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus are straight forward enough for anyone.

Ah, but we do know more about the world in many ways than the original Stoics did. William Irvine's book recasts the Stoic teachings a bit: we don't believe that we were created by Zeus, for example, so he talks about how to interpret Stoicism in an atheist way (if one wishes).
>Ah, but we do know more about the world

I disagree completely. The appeal to progress is just as much a fallacy as the appeal to tradition. We do know more physical minutia, ie., slates and chalk have fallen to iPhones, sandals to sports cars, and yet the essential spirit of man is the same as it ever was, and that is what the Stoics are addressing.

The descendents of Aristotle have continued reducing the world to its sub-components in the centuries since Plato and he disagreed as to whether reality is in the whole or the part. But again, this is a fundamental division found in philosophy, and ultimately nothing new.

>he talks about how to interpret Stoicism in an atheist way would be better if he had taught how to interperet it in an agnostic way, rather. Atheism is a closed-minded agnosticism.

We do know more physical minutia, ie., slates and chalk have fallen to iPhones, sandals to sports cars, and yet the essential spirit of man is the same as it ever was, and that is what the Stoics are addressing.

Somehow we know, collectively, not to keep slaves anymore, or go to war so often. I find it difficult to label that as physical minutia.

> The appeal to progress is just as much a fallacy as the appeal to tradition.

And what if the spirit of man is shaped by his technology and culture?

> Atheism is a closed-minded agnosticism.

Ouch. There are no compelling reasons to believe in a god or gods. Atheism is the rational response to this state of affairs. Agnosticism is for the weak.

>what if the spirit of man is shaped by his technology

What if it isn't? Man no longer wars with trebuchets. Does that mean that the nature of man has changed? Similarly, man will someday set aside personal computers for something else. Does that mean that the nature of man will again change? A man's tools are not his nature, rather, nature is known through man's acts. Such acts are exampled in works such as Plutarch's lives or in the Meditations of Aurelius and speak just as true today as when they were written. Epictetus and the above cited wrote for the layman and require no arbitrator to make them pertinent or safe for the present day.

Recognize that there materialistic and idealistic worldviews, and further, that the the former is ubiquitous today. Try to see beyond the coloring of the present. Man's stuff is not the stuff he's made of. Capiche?

>what if the spirit of man is shaped by his culture?

Then one would benefit by looking outside of the prejudices of the present when reading for edification. Avoid marketing forces.

>There are no compelling reasons to believe in a god or gods. Atheism is the rational response to this state of affairs. Agnosticism is for the weak.

Atheists are really just closed minded agnostics. They are believers every bit as much as theists. Both are dogmatic.

Kant rationally discusses this in his Critique of Pure Reason. We have only five senses and a handful of a priori concepts with which to understand the world. All our knowledge is heaped up upon these principles of reasoning. In other words, what we know is fundamentally limited by what is used to know things. Objective certitude is far rarer than it is generally made out to be.

Beware of dogma, whether atheistic or theistic.

We're veering pretty far off topic here, but consider that, rather than attacking atheists or agnostics, we should just be more precise:

> A man's tools are not his nature, rather, nature is known through man's acts.

Man's tools alter reality and alter our perception of reality. The camera changes the artist; the atomic bomb changes us all. I guess the term "[essential] spirit of man" is kind of nebulous anyway so I wouldn't argue strongly against you. I am sure we agree on many more points than we would disagree on. I have no beef with stoicism.

Atheism isn't dogma; whereas theism is. I will show you why.

We have both argued that we should approach this rationally. My reason tells me that I have been given zero proof for the existence of any of the gods described by theists. Kant himself (who you mention) discusses various proofs and dismisses them. What we are left with is the puzzle of existence itself and this feeling (that we all have) of wonder at the majesty and mystery of the world. I am disinclined to attribute any of this to some supernatural agent. Why should I? I see no reason to. Clearly I cannot rationally know there is no god or gods but I as Douglas Adams pointed out I'm not going to take some kind of wishy-washy hedge my bets stance on the matter. When talking about the existence of some kind of objects that has the attributes that god or the gods are claimed to have the burden of proof lies with those who assert this agent's existence. Therefore I shall continue to believe in the non-existence of a god or gods. Show me my dogma: I don't assert the existence of anything without proof, I reject the proof claims of others and assert the non-existence based on lack of evidence.

Along with other commenters, I think our society redefined happiness to mean something it doesn't. I normally dislike self-help books ("The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one."), but on someone else's recommend I picked up: "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William Irvine ( )

It is written by a philosopher and its aim is to rehabilitate the Stoics and explain how their philosophy could be useful in modern society. I'd highly suggest reading it (along with the works of actual Stoics as well as pre-Socratic philosophers), particularly to those who like the core message of Zen Buddhism but find it less suited to their way of thinking and difficult to practice.

I can't recommend enough A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy[1]. It's a great and modern introduction to stoicism.


"A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy"

It taught me (reminded me mostly) what kinds of attitudes I have when I am happiest and kicking ass with my projects. Over time I had somehow lost myself. This book helped me get back to the person I liked the most. I think it's also helping me do a lot better on my current startup, so it's not just a touch-feely book, it is having a lot of real, immediate, positive impact, at least to me.

HN Books is an independent project and is not operated by Y Combinator or
~ yaj@
;laksdfhjdhksalkfj more things ~ Privacy Policy ~
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.