Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy created in Athens by Zeno of Citium. Stoicism teaches that the only true good is a virtue, and the source of all evil is within oneself, stemming from a turbulent inner life. The goal of stoicism is to suppress one’s emotions and transform them into indifference so that one can live according to nature as a rational being.
Stoicism flourished for over 1,000 years until it was eventually superseded by Christian theology during the Renaissance period. The idea of Stoic ethics lives on today, with modern thinkers such as Robert Nozick and George Berkeley drawing on the philosophies of both Zeno and Chrysippus in order to formulate theories of moral responsibility.
This article provides a brief overview of Stoic philosophy and what it means for one to live life in accordance with nature.
What is Stoicism in Philosophy?
In philosophy, the ancient Greek school of Stoicism is a form of Hellenistic philosophy that primarily deals with ethics and the good life. It was created by Zeno of Citium in Athens around 300 B.C. The school was hugely influential throughout much of the Hellenistic period and into the Roman Empire, despite being largely confined to its original city-state in Southern Italy.
Stoicism was in many ways very different from other forms of Hellenistic philosophy. It had an emphasis on logic, reason, and the objective assessment of claims, rather than the subjective impression that characterises the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. The Stoics believed that conscious control over one’s passions was necessary for a life lived in accordance with nature.
Stoicism was also partly rooted in the Early Greek worldview.
Unlike most other Hellenistic schools, Stoic philosophy rejected the Greek concept of “polis” (meaning “city-state”) or the idea that man is naturally a social being. Stoicism is also famous for holding that all emotion such as grief, fear, anger and envy are harmful to a fully virtuous life. Because of this, the Stoics believed that emotions should be suppressed and that one should strive to be completely rational.
What are tenets and beliefs of stoicism
Stoicism is organised around the three disciplines of action, affection, and thought. This system was based on the fundamental law of Stoic ethics: to live in accordance with nature.
Stoicism was a form of virtue ethics. The Stoics believed that human beings are a part of nature and that everything in the universe is a result of interactions between other things. Because of this, they saw no distinction between one’s inner life and actions in the world (outer life).
Stoicism emphasises the role of “virtue” (or “arete” in Greek) in leading a good life. The Stoics defined virtue as an apatheia, a kind of self-sufficient happiness or tranquillity. The ideal Stoic sage is someone who has achieved this goal—a state free from suffering and the fear that comes with desire, which is itself caused by an ignorance of the true nature of things.
Stoicism was later adopted by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In his book Meditations, which is a series of personal notes to himself, he emphasises that everything in this world is transitory and that those who seek wealth and fame are deluded. He advocated living a life of service, for others if possible, to help others achieve the same sort of tranquillity as oneself. This is evident in the work of Saint Augustine who was a student of Marcus Aurelius.
As with other Hellenistic schools, Stoicism was founded on its belief in determinism. The Stoics believe that everything in the world is “choreographed” by nature and that everything happens for a reason. For this reason, they do not see it as necessary to blame themselves for anything. People do things because they are compelled to do so. That is, the Stoics argued that the best reason for the action was because it produces a good effect. Thus, for the Stoics, unlike the other Hellenistic schools, blame and apology are reserved only “for acts that are our own.” (Diogenes Laertius 7.94)
In this sense, virtue can be understood as a form of fate: one cannot achieve virtue by trying to avoid vice. The Stoics argue that this does not mean that we should be passive and accept the consequences of our actions. Instead, one can be virtuous by acting courageously in a way that produces a good effect, whether this be by living a life of virtue or living an “exemplary” life.
As with other Hellenistic schools, Stoicism was founded on the idea that the soul could be divided into two parts: reason ( logos ) and desire ( hêdon ). The Stoics believed that all human actions and emotions stem from these two parts of the soul.
The Stoics believed that reason is a kind of “master” or “ruler” of the physical aspect of life (that is, body and passions), while desire remains in the soul’s lower regions. The reason was seen as being capable of reasoning in accordance with nature by following the natural order of things, while desire was seen as being at the mercy of its passions and external influences.
For the Stoics, achieving tranquillity in the pursuit of virtue was, primarily, a matter of controlling or mastering our passions. The Stoics taught that there is no virtue without self-control (or “self-discipline”). It is only by controlling our body and emotions through high standards of behaviour that we can become free from suffering caused by desire. This idea is referred to as the Golden Mean; it was an attempt to bring together extremes: moderation and courage.
What are the 8 principles of stoicism?
There are 8 principles of stoicism, known as the “Moral Rules”.
- That those things are within our power which is related to our will.
- That those things are within our power which is not related to our will.
- What is neither in our power nor not in our power? (This being neither in our own power nor outside it).
- That every event which has not been willed by us, or has been willed by us but depends upon some condition, must be admitted to depend on external causes- and that this [not being in our power] must be understood as being in those persons who have the power to do something about it.
- That we should admit nothing into our soul which is not our own.
- That, when our opinions are true, they are to be maintained by us with all possible tenacity; and, when our opinions are false, we should endeavour to refute them.
- That we should withhold assent from opinions which are opposite to those which we ought to maintain.
- That the primary objects of our dread—those which affect us most deeply—are illness and death; that there is a difference between these two in that death is inevitable while illness is not.
What are the four virtues of stoicism?
These four virtues of stoicism include:
- Courage: A virtue of maintaining a good opinion, which involves being strong in character. Courage can be understood as a determination to live in accordance with nature and not to fear.
- Justice: The virtue of keeping promises, fulfilling obligations, and acting fairly. Justice is based in the belief that actions should be performed based on principles such as reason and justice. It also acts as a restraint on desire and other passions so that we do not act from self-interest.
- Wisdom: The virtue of being virtuous with a value on technical knowledge. Wisdom involves being able to use your intelligence and understanding of nature, society, and yourself to achieve the good life. It should be understood that wisdom is not simply knowing things but rather using this knowledge to achieve eudaimonia.
- Temperance: The virtue of controlling desire and passion so that you do not act rashly or inappropriately. We should live our lives with moderation so that we pursue passion or pleasures in moderation and do not give in to excess.
Which philosophers were stoics?
Seneca: He was one of the most influential Roman Stoics until his death in AD 65. He served as tutor to Nero’s son (Nero’s successor). He was accused of impiety by the Christian authorities and executed in AD 69.
Marcus Aurelius: He ruled as Emperor of Rome from 167 until his death in 180. Marcus is considered by many to be the last real Stoic philosopher and one of the best-known figures in ancient history.
Epictetus: He is a major Stoic author regarded by many as the founder of Stoicism who lived in the late 3rd century BC.
Benedict de Spinoza: a philosopher and a theologian who was one of the great rationalists of the 17th century. He believed God was perfect and that the universe must be entirely explicable in terms of laws – like physics or chemistry – without reference to religion, purpose, or divine intervention.
How does stoicism relate to ethics?
Stoicism focuses on ethics as an axiomatic (deductive) system. The Stoics argue that all human actions are part of a process called “karma”. Therefore, the ethical life is a process of living happily and fulfilling one’s purpose in life by acting courageously and responsibly.
The Stoics argue that we can only live a good life if we put the rational virtues before the passions in our lives. According to them, this involves embracing lifelong learning and training, as well as accepting new information to improve our knowledge. They also argue that we must act according to reason within an independent framework so that our actions are not “confirmed” or controlled by external factors.
Why Practice Stoicism?
Being a philosophy, Stoicism does not require acceptance of any specific set of religious beliefs. It does, however, value one important aspect of religion: like other philosophies, Stoicism emphasises that every human being has the potential to live a life in accordance with nature. The Stoics believed that living a life in accordance with nature included adhering to social customs and traditions. This is evident in the work of Saint Augustine, who was heavily influenced by two important books of Stoic philosophy: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and The Enchiridion by Epictetus.
Stoicism is fundamentally concerned with how to live a good life. This is a practical approach that emphasises the use of reason, as opposed to faith or Christianity. As a consequence, it was initially popular among many prominent Romans such as Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Seneca the Younger.
Many people reject Christianity on the basis that it is a faith. The Stoics, however, believed in a natural religion that embraced all people. Unlike other Hellenistic philosophies, the Stoics emphasised the importance of living what they believed to be ethical lives and considered morality to be the basis for virtue and happiness.
How to practice stoicism in your life (13 Stoic examples)
Stoicism as a philosophy has basic tenets that don’t change. However, Stoicism also emphasises that we need to adapt to changing circumstances and respond to them in an appropriate way. This is actually similar to Buddhism, which emphasises the idea of change, in that both philosophies propose that the world is constantly changing and we need to be able to adapt to different situations and not become overly attached or concerned about them.
The following ten examples are just a few easy ways you can practice Stoicism in your daily life. These are based on the works of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.
1 – Work with your emotions
Stoicism teaches us that all our emotions are within our control. We can choose to act in accordance with nature or not; it is up to us how we act because all external things are ultimately beyond our control—they do not depend on us, but on them.
When we are faced with a problem, we should not blame ourselves, as this is the wrong approach. Instead, we should control our emotions and respond to the situation in the best way possible. This is an active approach in which we become involved in response and actively work on it.
2 – Be in control of your thoughts
Stoics were aware that their thoughts and feelings had consequences for their physical well-being. We need to be in control of our thoughts as they determine our emotional “vibes.” If we have negative thoughts and emotions, then these will have a negative impact on our physical health and well-being.
3 – Don’t be overly attached to material wealth
Stoics believe that the world is temporary and that we should not be overly attached to material wealth. This means that we should not let superficial things or riches control us. When we practice Stoicism, we learn to be grateful for material wealth rather than excessively desiring it. Material wealth should only serve as a means to an end—that is, it is there to help us fulfil our potential as human beings, but not define us.
These days, the idea of “work-life balance” is important to many of us. We live in a society that places a high value on material possessions and status. Stoicism provides us with a way to maintain a healthy, balanced life by making sure we do not become overly attached to wealth and material possessions.
4 – Value every experience as an opportunity to learn…
Stoics believe that every experience is an opportunity for us to learn something new about ourselves. As Epictetus puts it: “You can turn the bad to good if you will. You will be seen as a good man if you will, and no one can ever stop you from being so.” This means that we can learn to accept every situation for what it is, and appreciate it for the things that matter most to us.
5 – …and learn from other people’s experiences
Stoics also believe that every interaction with other people is an opportunity for us to learn something new about ourselves and them. Marcus Aurelius says: “We can learn from all people as long as we allow ourselves to be open to their teachings.” This is because Stoicism encourages us to challenge our beliefs and do things differently when we disagree with someone’s approach. For example, when encountering people who tell us that having achievements in life will lead to a better life, the Stoics would challenge this view by pointing out that what really makes a person happy is not wealth or material possessions. It is how you use both of these things that matter.
In Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, he provides five simple steps that will make you less attached to money and material possessions and give you more awareness of the things that really matter.
6 – Make time for solitude and quiet reflection
Our modern society has become so busy due to the increase in work which has increased at a rate far higher than inflation. We all want to be successful, but this often means sacrificing various aspects of our life such as time with family. Moreover, our natural tendency is to avoid the things that matter: for example, we will stay in front of the TV or computer rather than taking the time to reflect on our lives.
When we practice Stoicism, we can become more aware of how much time we spend working and how little time we take to gain insight into ourselves and how we are living our life. People who are practising Stoicism understand that every moment of our lives is precious and needs to be used wisely.
7 – Be aware of your tendency to complain about things
In Stoicism, we learn that when we become aware of our attitude to “small” things, we can then change this attitude and choose not to complain about them. This is because if we have certain negative attitudes towards things, then these will lead us to experience negative feelings. By choosing our attitudes wisely, we can realise that many of the small things that happen don’t even matter in the grand scheme of things.
8 – Give up self-deprecation
In Stoicism, we are taught that self-deprecating comments are a sign of low self-esteem and insecurity. We can learn to be confident in our own abilities and not to underestimate our own capabilities. In addition, we need to become aware of the effects of continually thinking negatively about ourselves and the potential for negative consequences this could lead to. It is important that we begin to see ourselves as valuable human beings rather than just insignificant “numbers” in society.
9 – Do not get angry at people who are foolish
When we encounter many of the things that cause anger or frustration in our everyday lives, we need to remind ourselves that there is always something which is more important. When we practice Stoicism, it can help us to remind ourselves to be patient and tolerant towards others by not allowing them to get under our skin and upset us. This is because there are some people who lack the intelligence and mental capacity to understand things properly. It is, therefore, better to avoid getting angry and upset with them as there are far more important things in the world that we should be concerned about.
10 – Do not support external expectations
This is similar to what is called the “Identity Shift” where you consciously change your perspective so that you are no longer supporting others’ expectations for you. For example, if our family or friends expect us to do something a certain way, we could instead take a different approach. We need to remember that our internal expectations are just as important as external ones.
When we practice Stoicism, we can become more aware of the importance of our internal self-values and how we should not allow external pressures to control us. We should also remember that circumstances, environments and other people will change over time so we should not cling to the past.
11 – Be willing to say “no” to others
Another way that we can practice Stoicism is by learning to become more assertive when we need to say “no” to certain things or people. This means that we should not let external pressures influence our decisions. When we practice Stoicism, it will also become easier for us to assert ourselves and be honest about our needs and wants. People who have learnt how to be assertive are often seen as being more self-confident and in control of their lives.
12 – Be more forgiving of others
When practising Stoicism, we learn to be more compassionate and empathetic with others. These qualities help us to become less judgmental and show more forgiveness towards other people. To be a good person means that we should not let others push us around or make us feel angry. Instead, we should always be able to think twice before we react in anger. With such practice, it is obvious how great our relationships with others will become and the benefits that this will have for all involved.
13 – Take a balanced view of the world
It is often said that “life isn’t fair” and this can be a very difficult thing for us to accept. However, people who are practising Stoicism will also tell you that life isn’t supposed to be fair and it is best to be prepared when things don’t go our way. Even though life isn’t fair, we can still choose how we react in any given situation.
Stoicism in the modern world
Stoicism has been around for several centuries and is still one of the most popular schools of thought today. This is due to it being simple to learn and the principles being easy to implement in real-life situations. In addition, people who have practised Stoicism tend to be less destructive towards other people since they know how destructive their thoughts can be towards themselves.
Who are the most famous modern stoics?
There are many people who have practised Stoicism and it seems that the most popular figures in recent times seem to be politicians. Many politicians appear to be very calm, composed and in control of their emotions on a daily basis. Here are some people who have been recognised as stoics:
One of stoicism most famous advocates is Winston Churchill, who was a British politician. He was one of the most important politicians that we ever had and was the prime minister of England from 1940 to 1945. When he became the leader of England, he changed his office in order to have a quiet and peaceful place to relax. He used this time to meditate and think about how he could change things for the better. This is when he started practising Stoicism. This is why he encouraged the Stoic ideas and was a huge influence on the modern world.
Many people admire Nelson Mandela because of his incredible strength of character. He was one of the most important people in South Africa’s history and revolutionized the entire country. It seemed as if his life was completely over but after being imprisoned for 27 years, he became a freedom fighter for both the African people and everyone around him. Mandela is a prime example of someone who learned how to practice stoicism and was, therefore, able to survive what many people thought was an inevitable death sentence.
Richard Feynman is a theoretical physicist and known for his contributions to physics. His theory is still in use today and he is known as one of the most important physicists of all time. He was also very religious and practising Stoicism. He believed in the importance of having self-discipline and focusing on being present in the moment. He was also very humble and considered himself to be a nobody. This is why he was able to take a humble approach to things and achieved so much.
Albert Einstein was one of the most important figures in modern physics and has been called the “father of modern physics”. He did not like studying because he believed that it would not help him to become an important physicist. This is why he rejected the idea of studying and instead focused on things that would help him to become a better thinker. It was this desire to understand things that led him to study physics and not studying itself. He spent most of his time in solitude, thinking about how he could solve problems. This is what made him one of the greatest physicists in modern history.
William James was one of the founders of American psychology and was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century. He was a philosopher and psychologist who believed that we could learn how to control our emotions and that emotions were not uncontrollable. He believed that we could live good lives if we practised Stoicism. His theories proved to be very popular and influenced the way in which psychologists look at people today.
What is stoicism in philosophy – Conclusion
Great philosophers, such as these people, should be examples to us all. They have found ways of being the “bigger” people and have then used their influence to help others. It is easy for us to take things for granted and think that most of our problems can be solved by being tough and having a good attitude towards life. However, stoicism proves everything the opposite and teaches us that we should deal with our emotions in a helpful way. By doing this, we can be more successful and happier.
If you plan on practising stoicism, you should keep in mind that this philosophy can transform your life. It has been practised by many of the world’s richest and most successful people and, therefore, if you aspire to be like them in any way, you should ensure that you incorporate stoicism into your life.
There are many ways that we can use stoicism in our daily lives. We can be more likely to make better decisions, face challenges calmly and improve our abilities to handle anger. By practising Stoicism, we can take less for granted in life and always keep striving towards a better future for ourselves.