The origins of Stoicism are rooted in ancient Hellenistic philosophy. The philosophy has grown to be a major influence at the time of the Roman Empire, which was marked by its Stoicism. It is argued that this period of Roman history is why we now have the term “stoic” as it is used today for someone who exhibits indifference or lack of emotion towards pain and pleasure.
What does Stoicism mean?
The philosophical system of Stoicism, which is a Hellenistic philosophy, focuses on the idea that the only thing that really matters in life is a virtue. The authors of this philosophy, Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus (melded into one entity for simplicity) argue that virtue must be our goal as it will lead us to a better life than living by worldly desires.
Stoicism comes from the Greek word “stoicus” which means nomadic or uncivilized. This is where the concept of being stoic began as these philosophers were considered unemotional and did not react to external things.
The goal of a stoic, according to this philosophy, is to maintain a state of being imperturbable, which means not disturbed. If we can achieve this state of being we will have peace and understanding in our lives.
How Did Stoicism Begin?
Stoicism began in Athens among individuals who were discontent with the prevailing school of thought, which was in conflict with their own beliefs about life. These philosophers met in a shrine to Apollo and other gods (called a “Stoa”), and named themselves the “friends” (stoikos) of these gods. The name “stoic” was then derived from this group’s name, and its use as an adjective became widespread after the 300s BC.
The founder of Stoicism is a man named Zeno, and students of his became known as Stoics. Zeno was born in the city of Citium, Cyprus. When he was quite old, Zeno moved to Athens and studied under Crates, a Cynic philosopher.
Students of Zeno began compiling his ideas into books called “the lectures” (logoi). The Stoics began studying the writings of Socrates and Plato (particularly his dialogues). They also studied the works of Parmenides and Aristotle on logic.
Who Were The Stoic Philosophers?
Stoicism was formally established by Cleanthes and Chrysippus. These men were both students of Zeno, who had become good friends. The Stoic philosophers came from all walks of life, from people who were farmers to philosophers and generals.
They were also more concerned about character than knowledge, stating that the only thing we can control is our own actions because fate is completely out of our hands. They believed evil is only the result of mistakes in judgment. We can only be happy or unhappy through our own actions. They also believed that reason is knowledge of good, and pleasure and pain come from pain or pleasure.
What Do We Know About The Stoic Philosophers?
The Stoic philosophers were noted for their use of logic to support their philosophy, which was different than the earlier philosophical ideas used for the same purpose. The works of Zeno show his belief in the unity of nature as well as that there is no other reality but what we can observe with our senses.
The Stoics also believed that there was a higher power, but this is not the same as the gods of the Epicureans. The Stoics held that everything is subject to reason, and therefore it is wrong for us to fear anything. They also believed that fate can work against us, but this does not mean we should give up in life. The only solution is to face whatever situation comes our way and be patient which will eventually make things better.
Who Were The Stoic Philosophers?
There were many famous Stoics but the following were distinguished by their writings and the influence they had on their contemporaries.
Who Is Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius was born in Rome in 121 AD. His father was the Emperor of Rome. He would later become Emperor of Rome in 161 AD, but he died before this could happen because of a stab wound he received while fighting Germanic tribes outside of Vienna.
After his father’s death, Marcus Aurelius became Emperor and continued his father’s policy of making his people happy by giving them free food and free medicine. He was a generous emperor and he was also a highly educated man. He would spend much of his time reading and writing.
One such writing is his book Meditations. In this work, he talks about the death of his son, as well as the death of both his parents. He also talks about living under the rule of a despotic ruler, and he is also aware that other governments are in conflict with Rome.
He finishes his work by saying “What can I hope for, then?” This is the point where he acknowledges his position as Emperor and the power that comes with it. He continues with “Only that I may not decline.” This is his way of encouraging himself to continue living well because he was born into this position.
“That I may not decline” is a statement that is a moral imperative for all people.
This work was then followed up by another book called “Meditations on how to live.” This book addresses the idea that the whole of life is a lesson that we must learn from and it allows us to work out our mistakes in life so that we can be better human beings. In this way, living well in our current situation will lead to being better people overall.
Who Is Seneca?
Seneca was born in Spain. He came from a wealthy family that didn’t believe in Stoicism, and so he began reading the works of Zeno, as well as other philosophers like Socrates. Eventually, he left his family and went to study at Rome University where he became a Stoic philosopher. He wrote both poetry and philosophy. He was a strong supporter of the letter from an exile to his father.
The book Letters From a Stoic also showed the influence of Cleanthes, who was one of Zeno’s students. This work is a collection of letters that Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius. It’s about how we should live our lives and be good to one another.
This work is considered one of the most valuable ancient books because it combines philosophy and practical advice for living well. Seneca was also an advisor to Nero, who would eventually order him to commit suicide.
Who Is Epictetus?
Epictetus was born in Phrygia in 54 AD. He was sold into slavery when he was twelve years old, and his master was a philosopher that wanted to teach him philosophy. We now know his master as Epaphroditus. He learned about Stoicism from one of his student’s slaves named Onesimus who wrote Preamble To The Discourses that explained Epictetus’ ideas on Stoic philosophy.
Eventually, he was bought as a slave by Scrofa, who was a wealthy farmer. He would later leave Scrofa and join his master’s University in Rome.
He was then sent to Rome as an ambassador of Seleucid King Hieron. After his master died he did not have any money or possessions, but he began teaching Stoicism at the school that the local people were attending. This allowed him to become rich since they were paying him for private lessons. He had the ability to write down what he was teaching, which made his teaching very popular. Eventually, the townspeople forced him to retire in order to keep the school open.
He was a great teacher who accepted all students and even taught them without pay. He encouraged his students to focus on living well by putting their attention on things that were outside of themselves such as what is going on around us.
What Are The 4 Virtues of Stoicism?
There are four virtues that were important to the Stoics. They are:
Courage is the power to do what needs to be done. It also means not being lazy and actually doing things that are important. Stoicism stresses the importance of having personal courage, which only you can give yourself. Getting a job that you don’t like, or having the courage to go out and stand up for yourself is an example of being courageous. What’s important is knowing what you should do and then doing it.
This means knowing when to do things and not doing them. This virtue is about control and self-restraint. It’s about knowing what you want and then not pursuing it. Self-discipline is an important part of this virtue because it involves the ability to be in control of yourself no matter what situation you are in, as well as being indifferent to external factors that may tempt you.
Justice is the ability to put yourself aside and to be concerned about other people. It’s about being fair and finding a balance between different people. Stoicism believed that everyone was part of a universal whole, so it was important for humans to be kind and just with one another. Harming someone else or not being fair to other people is an injustice because it goes against the natural order of things.
Wisdom is the ability to see things clearly and correctly. It’s about being able to make decisions and act in a way that is appropriate for the situation. For example, if you’re walking somewhere be wise enough to know where you are going without getting lost. It can also mean making decisions in the right way, by thinking about what might happen next.
It’s important to note that virtue is not something that cannot be lost but it’s something that can be improved upon with practice and training.
What Are The Best Books On Stoicism? (top 5)
We have 5 books we recommend as part of the Stoic journey they are:
1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a collection of personal writings from his own journal. It’s an interesting book to read for any Stoic, as it shows the real life application from one of the greatest stoics of all time. When reading Marcus Aurelius’s words, it’s useful to remember that he was writing things to himself, or at least with himself in mind. He set himself challenges to try and improve his character. He would ask himself, “What kind of man would I have to become to be able to accept this with joy?”
2. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
In life, things don’t always go according to plan. However, in Stoic philosophy things not going according to plan is not seen as a negative thing, but rather an opportunity for growth. Stoic philosophy is extremely useful for dealing with the obstacles and challenges of life. The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday shows how we can use stoicism to turn obstacles into advantages.
It’s a thorough and insightful book that explores philosophy with useful examples from modern-day. You don’t have to be interested in stoicism to enjoy this book, it’s just an all-around good read.
3. A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
If you’d like to know what Stoicism is really all about, A Guide to the Good Life is the book for you. As you can tell from the title of the book it explores stoicism and how it can be applied to everyday life. A great thing about this book is that it reads more like a manual than a plain old philosophical guide, so it’s easy to put into practice.
4. The Art of Living by Epictetus
The Art of Living is a text from ancient Roman philosopher, Epictetus. His text has recently been translated into English and has been added to the library of books from the Stoics. The book is short and full of great insights which will help you deal with life’s ups and downs.
5. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher. He was the tutor to emperor Nero, however, he eventually decided to withdraw from public life and spent the rest of his time on philosophical studies. Letters from a Stoic is a collection of letters written by Seneca which detail his thoughts on various subjects.
At around 200 A.D. these letters were placed in a book and circulated widely across Rome. For many years it was regarded as one of the greatest books ever written.
How To Be A Stoic: 9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started
Practising stoicism is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can bring tranquillity and peace of mind to those that take it seriously; while on the other, for those who don’t take it seriously, the practice of stoicism is merely a superficial exercise in self-control – something which quickly becomes boring.
In fact, taking stoicism too lightly can be problematic. Seneca tells us: “The very teacher who taught you stoicism will appear a fool if you do not act accordingly. For what did he teach you except to act in accordance with your own nature? Don’t you see that these are his precepts: ‘Despise fame if you are a man of sense; if you are Christ-like, don’t set your heart on being Christ-like; if you want to act virtuously, whatever be your position, behave as a virtuous person would; in life or death, take it all with calmness’ … If someone succeeded in fully practising just one of these precepts… he’d be happy.
The Dichotomy Of Control
To illustrate the dichotomy that exists between too little control and too much of it, let’s use an example from Zeno of Citium. Let’s assume that you are in a race, competing against your friends. If you were to tear off at full pelt right from the start, you’d almost certainly end up exhausted long before your friends would. Alternatively, if you were to take things a little more slowly, conserving your energy for sudden bursts of speed where needed, you’d have a much better chance of winning the race.
The same thing can be applied to controlling your emotions. If you find yourself being extremely irritable or angry with somebody, it’s much more likely to have an effect on you than someone who is much calmer and cooler.
The analogy would be that of the sprinter and the marathon runner. The runner who has to take things easily gets to the finish line first, but if you’ve only ever run marathons in your life and you try sprinting, you’re going to find yourself in a load of trouble.
While this is a rather crude analogy, the idea that you have to be somewhere in between being hunched over and rigid where control is concerned is the main takeaway from Stoic philosophy.
The best way to apply the Stoic technique of taking things calmly is by writing down your frustrations (or whatever it is that has got you angry) in a journal. As Seneca writes, “You must keep yourself straightened out: you’re never going to be angry again if you do this. Look at it as though you were dealing with things that have happened to you, things that are neither your doing nor the world’s, and not as though they were an intentional assault on yourself which is being made by someone else. Look at them as a natural event that has occurred. They are facts and you must relate to them as facts”.
Seneca tells us that “Misfortune is hard on those who have not prepared for it” and so it is important to think about the worst that can happen. As Seneca writes: “No man has the power to have everything go right. He must always expect things to turn out otherwise than is expected. It is folly for a man not to expect evil. It is even more foolish if he expects only good and not to work in such a way that he can bear the worst”.
The Stoics were constantly trying to pre-empt problems, going through all of the things that could go wrong before they actually happened. This was called premeditation of adversity and it was meant as a defence mechanism against things going wrong. The idea is that you have already mentally rehearsed a certain situation before it happens. The idea is that you are informed of the potential for things going wrong, which means that you can deal with it better.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s a good idea for those who find themselves in positions where they need to be mentally prepared for things going wrong – such as business executives or students at exam time.
By changing your perception of things, you can change your emotions. As Seneca notes, “Poverty consists not in having little but in wanting many things”. Easier said than done, though there are ways that we can change our perceptions to encourage us to enjoy the things that we already have. If you see things in terms of black and white (or negative and positive, whereas the Stoics would say “bad” and “good”), you’re likely to find yourself much more upset by things that go wrong.
By giving these things a negative label, they become more upsetting to us. However, if we give them a positive label we can learn to be more at peace with less. For example, we might call something a “burden” rather than a problem. The burden doesn’t disappear, but the way we perceive it does. We can be more accepting of things that aren’t perfect.
Remember—It’s All Ephemeral
As the Roman philosopher, Seneca put it, “What is transitory is trivial”. The same things that upset us today will upset somebody else two years from now and it will have no effect on them. It’s all about perspective. This is why the Stoics thought that you should be able to handle anything life threw at you—they believed that as long as you weren’t being physically tortured or forced to endure something against your will that you should be able to deal with any situation. The Stoics didn’t really care what they did or where they went, so long as it was in accordance with their nature. They also believed that as long as you were doing the right thing, you should be happy—whether you were Emperor or a slave, it shouldn’t matter.
If you’ve ever cried because of something truly trivial—loss of your favorite pen or getting a parking ticket—then we should all have more empathy for those who are going through real problems in their lives. The things that upset us are actually ephemeral and, in the grand scheme of things, to be upset by them is rather silly. The trick is to just remind yourself that everything you have is also temporary—sooner or later you’ll lose it all anyway.
So, there we have it. The Stoic exercise for controlling your emotions. It’s simple:
Remember that everything in life can be taken away from you at any time, therefore it’s foolish to worry about what you don’t have.
You must learn to be in control of your emotions. This is the only way that you will be able to handle anything that life throws at you in the future.
Always have a sense of perspective and remember that most things—even very serious things—are temporary.
Take The View From Above
The view from above is often a better view from below, even though it may be more painful to view from elsewhere. The same holds true for emotions. When you see things from a certain perspective, they become less painful and more manageable.
However, the hardest perspective to take is the one that looks down at all of the bad things in life and never looks up, because then you’d have to look at all of the good things that are obscured by them as well. The view from above only allows you to see the bad things because it doesn’t allow you to see the good things. As Seneca puts it, “No one can live a pleasant life who has contempt for those who are not well off” and yet many people do just that—they look down on everyone else and think they are better than them.
For example, someone is rude to you in the street. If you get angry and upset, that person has won: they’ve upset you enough to upset yourself. By putting things into perspective, it makes it easier to deal with them. It’s difficult, but the best way to deal with these kinds of things is to try and look at them from someone else’s point of view. It’s much easier to see somebody else’s viewpoint when you are outside of it, so try looking down at where you are from a few thousand feet. It’ll be painful on the way down, but it’ll be painful on the way back up too—you can’t escape that feeling. You must accept it.
Memento Mori: Meditate On Your Mortality
The ancient Stoics were preoccupied with one thing: death. Many of the arguments in their philosophy are based on our own mortality and on how it should affect the way we live our lives.
By meditating on death, you can be better prepared for it and you will hopefully embrace life more than you normally would have. As Seneca puts it, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live”. This is one of the reasons that Stoics were never afraid of anything. They believed that they were already dead, and just waiting for the time when their bodies caught up with their minds and souls. Of course, it was a religious perspective and they didn’t believe in an afterlife, but they still lived their lives as though their death was imminent.
Some interpretations of Stoicism says that to do this you should treat every day like your last and some interpretations say you should live your life as though you’re immortal. I don’t think the Stoics would necessarily disagree. The most important thing is to approach your life like everything is temporary because eventually, it will be. If you genuinely believe this, you’ll want to live your life as fully as possible while you have the time and opportunity to do so. This is likely to make life more meaningful and it may help you to be happier too.
An ancient Roman concept, which translates as “premeditation of ills”. Stoics used to think that everything in the world is a combination of five things: appearance, reality, opinion, emotion and reason.
Appearance means your outward manifestations—things that you can see with your eyes such as money or status. Your life is ultimately written by your appearance—your personality as well as your actions. Therefore it’s important to control how you present yourself.
Reality is the world you live in—the physical and emotional things that happen to you. Nothing can be changed about reality because it is the way it is: it’s either good or bad.
Opinion, according to the Stoics, can be changed—it’s a form of logic as well as an opinion on what you think something is or isn’t (your interpretation). Your perspective comes from your opinions so they are really important. It also doesn’t end with what you think or say, it also includes your emotions and restlessness.
Emotions are the thing we tend to think about most in our modern lives, but according to Stoicism, your emotions are just another form of perception. Your opinions can persuade you that something is wrong or right and your emotions can persuade you that something is good or bad. We tend to be swayed by our emotions more than by other things because they’re more immediate and visible.
Lastly, the reason is the thing that separates us from animals. It’s what allows us to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, true and false. In this way, it’s the thing that gives us a purpose for living and a reason to be alive. The Stoics believed that reason was usually very limited in its scope compared to our other faculties—it can only tell us what is true or false, not why something is true or false or how it will affect our emotions.
Love fate. As the ancient Greeks said, amor fati (love of fate). Although this seems to be a contradictory practice, it is one of the most useful and rewarding practices you can do as a Stoic. It means that you accept everything as it is and embrace it—even if it’s bad.
It’s not that Stoics didn’t care about their lives or what happened to them because they did care, they simply didn’t let things in life disturb them too much. They knew that the only time they had control over something was their own opinion and perspective of it, so the rest of it wasn’t worth worrying about.
This view of life and death can be simplified down to this: death is in our control, life isn’t in our control. Therefore, you should make sure you are prepared for your death when it happens by living your life as well as possible, but you shouldn’t waste your time or worry about things that aren’t in your control.
Every time something bad happens to you in your life or you lose something, think of it as part of your journey. The pain of loss and the pain of regret are two very real parts of human nature so try to accept them rather than fear them. By accepting them you will be taught how to deal with both the pain and the function they serve in your life.
What Are The Best Stoic Quotes?
Quotes from the great Stoics of the past can really help keep you on track and inspired to continue the journey of practising Stoicism, so here are some of them for you to enjoy. Remember that these are only a few examples of many that could be given. There’s no universal Stoic quote list. The point is to encourage you to start reading more about this philosophy, both ancient and modern, and to put your efforts into practising it.
“No great thing is created suddenly. Any man can enlarge his sphere of action, provided he will first change his mind.” – Seneca
“Mistrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau
“A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or don’t. … The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking farther.” – Mark Twain
“Don’t be afraid of missing opportunities. There will always be more, but only if you continue to seek them.” – Jerry Colonna
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. – James D. Miles
“The essential thing is not how long you live, but how nobly you live.” – Seneca
“Meditations are like physical exercise for the soul.” – Marcus Aurelius
“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.” – Marcus Aurelius
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius
“When an opinion has been accepted by the masses, it remains only to identify those who are on the winning side. To do so, they use a system of giving and take. ” – Epictetus
“How often we fail to perceive how much we owe to the play of chance in human affairs.” – Adam Smith
“Most people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried till they’re seventy-five. The earth loses one child every twenty seconds; that’s how fast they’re born, and how fast they die. That’s one every two seconds. Life is really like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get.” – Ruth Horowitz