On “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine

As the week comes to a close, I finished up the last few chapters of “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine. Irvine gives a broad introduction to Stoicism, and walks us through the basic

Negative Visualization

Negative Visualization is an easy way to get acquainted with the rules of Stoicism. It’s easy to incorporate into one’s daily life, as it is a common philosophy that many people hold today. Instead of visualizing the things we want, we are instructed as Stoics to imagine losing what we already have. This is supposed to help us practice gratefulness, and reduce the amount that we cling to desires and wants without truly appreciating what we have. This can easily be summed up in the common phrase “Well, it could be worse!” If we learn to practice the art of imagining that we could have less than what we have, Irvine argues that we will eventually restructure our brain to focus on what we have rather than what we do not have, and it will give us fortitude if we lose anything. It teaches us not to take anything for granted, and to be comfortable with the idea that we can lose anything at any given moment in time so that we are not as shocked or discouraged if we do lose something we value.

Trichotomy of Control

Marcus Aurelius initially created a dichotomy of control, but upon further interpretation, there seems to be another layer of control beneath the initial two. The original dichotomy of control as indicated by Aurelius is the things that we have the power to control and the things we do not have the power to control. Aurelius argues that we should not pursue things that we do not have the power to control, and only pursue things that we know we can control. However, there is a third element to this initial assessment – we find that in life there are things that we have some control, but not all. The idea is that we should pursue things we have some control over, so long as we ensure that our values are in the right place. For example, in a tennis match, I do not know what the outcome will be, but I have some control over whether I win or lose. The virtuous path is to be sure that my goal in playing the tennis match is not to win (which I cannot control) but to try my best (which I do have control over). This will ensure that we do not muddy up our thoughts with things that are up to fate to decide and will ensure that we keep a clear head as to the things we try to pursue.


Fatalism is the concept that we should regularly check in with ourselves to remind ourselves that we will one day be dead. This “stepped-back” approach allows us to truly evaluate our virtues at any given moment, and decide for ourselves whether any of this will matter to us in the long run, with the longest run being one in which we do not complete – we will be a mere memory in the near future, and we cannot do anything about it.

The art of Stoicism results in the attainment of genuine joy. We can choose to live with our grief, anger, and anxiety, or we can choose to take the necessary steps to overcome such feelings. In doing so, we will only have room for happiness.



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