Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Which master do you serve: the fleeting approval of the multitude or your own integrity?


You may strive to be honored after your death. When you are dead, however, you will no longer be with the living and all that they say will not be heard by you.

Furthermore, you will not have any control over what the living speak about, even if they decide to speak about you.

If people do talk about you, how soon will their conversations shift from praise and blame to indifference?

Those who do remember you will also die. Their memories will fade with them. Their stories forever lost in time.

Your name may not even be as significant as the greatest humans from generations past who are now less than the whispers on lips.

Every sage and poet, king and slave, every lover and child and warrior and scientist, everyone who was born and breathed in the cool air, everyone from hundreds to thousands of years before, had perished into bones and dirt and shadows. Their lives were so fleeting, here, then gone.

Forgotten in unknown pasts.


Just because someone appears happier by being famous doesn’t mean that they are happy. Appearances of happiness are not happiness.

It is common for people to have a first impression of an event or a person. While the unwise take that impression to be true and make value judgements about it, the wise will use their reason to investigate why they felt a given way and whether their feeling was justified. After they’ve patiently evaluated their initial impression, they will let go of it, and then move on. Those who are unwise will cling to their impressions. They will desire what is external and uncontrollable, such as reputation and fame and power and money.

The wise will be present and focus on who they are and what they can change while the unwise will worry about the past and the future.


Fame is not worthwhile if it causes you to lose your dignity, self-respect, kindness, turning you into a hypocrite, coward, or tyrant.


Praise is a fickle pleasure. Applause is empty of meaning beyond a moment in infinity. Nothing lasts and everything is soon forgotten. Desiring fame is only a tiresome burden.


Don’t fall under the spell of vanity, believing that you are more important than others. If you are convinced of how special you are, then you are seduced away from your reason.

Seek to be a good person rather than seeking to be known as a good person. Everyone is connected as citizens of the world.


When you want to attain a higher social status, people will have power over you. You’ll be enslaved to their approval and disapproval.

Always be indifferent to praise and blame.

When praised, laugh internally at their silly words. When blamed or sneered at, don’t concern yourself with what you cannot control.


Before you talk about being a good person, be a good person. Do not let crowds seduce you away from your discipline, your virtue, your actions. You are responsible for the type of person you are. Master yourself rather than manipulating other people.

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

Alan Watts telling the parable


What is good arises with the bad. What is bad arises with the good. There is no in without an out or an up without a down.

Each depends upon the other, follows the other, is within the other, changing from extreme to extreme, and from nuance to nuance, in an intricate web.

Life is a changing process with no definite end. Things happen to people and then people judge those events as right or wrong, good or bad. They make divisions in the world of symbols and act as if those divisions are true. Separating the whole into an innumerable number of parts and clinging to specific parts, while denying the rest of life.

It is easy to make judgements about life. When something unpleasant happens, a person claims that it is terrible, clinging to an idea of terribleness. When something appears to be good, then someone will claim it as good and cling to an idea of good, but will suffer when it goes away.

Those who are wise are not attached to ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, ugliness and beauty. They patiently watch without judgement, aware of change, and open to what may come. They are not as fixed on conclusions about the answer in life, but rather, live in the mystery. They listen in stillness, not overflowing with opinions about how something appears, or should be, or what they believe about it. Mindfully, they accept what is arising and passing. They do not hide from their fear or anxiety or uncertainty. They flow with what comes, not stuck to their thoughts, open to unfolding nuances.