Nietzsche had a contentious relationship with stoicism. On the one hand, he credits them for offering a “First and most necessary insight: that we are not mere things, but that we exist only in the measure to which we give ourselves what is called existence” (Nietzsche 1970).
However, Nietzsche also criticizes stoicism for failing to question its own assumptions and remaining rooted in certain “deterministic dogmatism” (Nietzsche 1970).
In “The Will to Power”, Nietzsche even accuses them of being among the most intolerant of all religions. In this book, Nietzsche upholds his critique of stoicism by questioning the notion that the good can be separated from the will and by claiming that even when people strive for a “freedom from” they still need to maintain a “meaning–giving” factor in their life (Nietzsche 1983).
In beyond good and evil , Nietzsche also considers stoicism a form of “decadence” and “reactive ressentiment” (Nietzsche 2003).
The following is a further breakdown of Nietzsche’s criticisms of stoicism:
Total rejection of the body: According to Nietzsche, stoicism embodied a complete rejection of the body.
It is as if in a civilised race there were …a class which does not carry its rights at all but only its duties, and therefore not an enjoyer but only a trustee, altogether without will and pleasure on its own account, but fitted to be an instrument and organ in the hands of those who do possess will and pleasure. This is what the stoic desired to be; under the same delusion, however, the Buddhist and all that sort of priest desire to be nothing. (Nietzsche 1970).
Nietzsche believes that stoics have failed to distinguish between morality and character. He says that instead of having a “good” character, they have been driven by their will to arrive at a “good” life. This is why they are not satisfied with just a “good” life but need to bring in religion and spirituality into their deliberations.
Stoicism was an attempt to counterbalance one’s natural impulses by the cultivation of reason and community. The failure to acknowledge the importance of what these voices tell us, leads them to a corruption of the individual and an embrace of tyranny.
What can we learn from Nieztsche?:
Nietzsche identified that stoicism was an individualist philosophy and therefore denied the importance of collective values. However, while some might think that this is a sign of inadequacy in the thoughts of stoicism, it actually highlights their strength as a philosophy.
Stoicism did not aim to be a religion for the masses (a mass religion) as Nietzsche’s doctrine turned out to be. They never claimed to have any “revelations” or dogmatic truths for everyone.
How can stoicism be employed in my daily life?:
Stoicism can be used for its extremely valuable advice. Stoics believed that the value of a person lies not in their outward appearance but in the internal qualities of character. To train for one’s “spiritual” and “mental” growth, one needs to adopt a mental attitude that is completely detached from all your wants and desires. In order to achieve this detachment, you must practice mindfulness. Through mindful practice, you can rise above your natural impulses to become a more rational and virtuous person.
Stoicism manifests itself through our daily work as well. It is not about increasing your income or acquiring more material possessions. It is about doing your best to keep the inner peace that comes from living in harmony with nature (Coelho 2007).
Another important thing you must remember is that you are free to choose where you direct your efforts, attention and energy. Your choices do not have to be based on instinctual urges. Stoicism teaches us to use our reason and willpower as opposed to relying on emotion.
Trust yourself and listen to your intuition. When you put your trust in the world, you will come to realise that there is a lot of wisdom and power that can only be accessed if you become aware of it. This is why Nietzsche was also a huge advocate for meditation.