Book Review: Beware of the dark side of Stoicism

Philosophy as a Way of Life
12 min readSep 17, 2019
[The book being reviewed here]

As anyone who cares at all about science fiction, fantasy, or even just pop culture knows, the Star Wars universe is characterized by a mysterious Force that pervades everything, and that can be harnessed for good by properly trained individuals, known as Jedi Knights. However, the Force also has a Dark Side, which provides plenty of drama and mayhem throughout the 12 movies belonging to the franchise.

Far from me to play the character of the wise Yoda, which would certainly be presumptuous, but I have to warn people about the dark side of Stoicism, my chosen philosophy of life. The occasion for doing so here is provided by a book that I just finished reading, William Ferraiolo’s Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure (O-Books). It is comprised of thirty chapters, loosely inspired by Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I can see why Ferraiolo wrote it, as a kind of self therapy where he bares his troubled soul (just like the emperor-philosopher did), and I sincerely hope it was a worthwhile exercise for him. But I fear it will also project the wrong image of Stoicism, and this review is an attempt to provide a corrective to that.

Full disclosure: I actually endorsed the book after having seen a pre-publication version. These were my words: “Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure will make you pause and reflect, whether or not you agree with any or all of its contents. Written in the style of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and with a strong flavor of Epictetus, it confronts the reader with what happens if one looks at reality in the eyes and considers regulating his life accordingly. To do so takes both wisdom and courage, but Ferraiolo argues that it is well worth the effort.”

Notice the rather cautionary tone of my endorsement, with no clear advice to the reader to actually go through the book. Still, it was an endorsement, and I understand that William has been making good use of it. Which is what endorsements are for in the first place. But during my recent Stoic School in Rome this past summer one the students pointed out to me several dark, and even disturbing, passages in Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure, which prompted me to download the book and read it from scratch. I would not recommend it today.

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at