Sellars achieves the task he sets himself admirably. In elegant, economical prose, he urges us to become better, happier people by focusing on rational decision-making. This is Stoicism not in its popularised sense (the grin-and-bear-it ideology of Victorian public schools) but as self-empowerment through reasoned deliberation. Once you have learned to clarify which choices are available to you, and what their likely consequences will be, you will be better equipped to deal both with trials of adversity and the temptations of success.
The mastering of emotions is certainly a key element of Stoic philosophy but – as this accessible and absorbing new study by John Sellars makes clear – it is only one aspect of a much more complex and (without wanting to get bogged down in the Sophists) sophisticated way of thinking about the world... There is a lot more to this book, and – of course – a whole lot more to Stoic philosophy, but that is perhaps the nub of the Stoic worldview, and at times like these, when the world seems increasingly to be governed by instinctive, unconsidered reactions, it feels like something that bears repeating.
There are few things we can actually master, so stick to tending your Stoic soul. Of this, Dr Sellars says “we ought not to assume anything immaterial, immortal or supernatural”, and instead “understand it simply as mind, thoughts and beliefs”. For Stoics, being “virtuous” means to be wise, just, courageous and moderate. “If humans are by nature social animals,” says Dr Sellars, “then a good human being will be one that behaves sociably.”