What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is one of the four Ancient Greek value theories, the other three are: Epicureanism, Skepticism, and Cynicism. Value theories in philosophy teach us what makes a good life, wheras moral theories tell us how we should act.Stoicism asserts that accepting one’s destiny is what makes a good life. when used in daily interactions, being stoic means being prone to accepting one’s circumstances.
According to its teachings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting the moment as it is, by not allowing yourself to be controlled by your emotions, and using your mind to understand the world.
So the basic definition of stoicism as they themselves defined is as , “the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.”
While Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca are the most popular and widely known stoics in today’s age, they all represent a later stage in Stoic philosophy 300+ years after the school was established by Zeno, often called ‘Roman Stoicism’. Though it demonstrates significant continuity to early Stoicism, it also took a more pragmatic turn, made other developments to the tradition, and so forth. Cicero is a good source for earlier forms of Stoicism (at least of Panaetius and other 2nd century Stoics). Didymus Arius/Stobaeus and Diognetes Laertes are often mined for fragmentary citations of early (Zeno, Chryssipus) Stoicism.
True stoicism is the ability to understand what one can control and what one cannot. What one can control should be addressed, acted upon, completed. If one encounters a situation beyond ones control, one may still control ones response. Say your company downsized, and your position is one that is eliminated. Certainly, that is beyond your control. Whether you choose to whine and cry or accept the situation gracefully is under your control – or should be, according to classical stoics. The true stoic will aim for the high road even if the going is rocky.
Some traits of stoicism:-
- “Amor fati.” This phrase, popularized by Friedrich Nietzsche, means “love of fate.”
Perspective towards stoicism in today’s age
As Caleb beers a very well articulated well known writer writes, Stoicism is uniquely suitable for our time in history.
The received wisdom of our age is that self-acceptance is a cardinal virtue, that being “in touch with your emotions” is of the highest importance, and that if you’re in the gutter, it’s somebody else’s fault, probably a “systemic” social problem. Needless to say, the fact that these are the unspoken tenets of our time reflect the underlying problems, which are laziness, weakness, fear, and a near-total absence of anything resembling personal responsibility. People are aware of these problems, of course, in the back of their minds, but struggle to articulate it, which is why people who shout from the rooftops about the importance of responsibility and taking ownership of your own life receive such a positive response. When a speaker gets up on stage and tells a bunch of young people to get their shit together, that speaker will get a standing ovation because the audience feels invigorated by what they’re hearing. And they feel invigorated because they’re hearing something they needed to hear, but did not consciously know that they needed to hear, although perhaps they knew it instinctively.
This is where Stoicism comes into play. The main observation behind it is that there are some things you can control, and other things you cannot control, so it helps to focus on the things you can control. Like much wisdom, this is blindingly obvious but people avoid it because it’s unpleasant to hear and think about. In contrast to so-called self-acceptance and being “in touch” with your emotions, Stoicism preaches self-improvement; “If you would be good, first believe that you are bad,” says Epictetus. Control of the emotions is of the utmost importance in this philosophy, and in contrast to blaming society for your problems, Stoicism tells you to pull your head directly out of your ass and begin doing something useful.
The main critique of Stoicism comes from academics who assert that it only works for people in positions of privilege. Of course, this isn’t true; one of the great Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, was a slave and thus occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder. And there have been people in dire situations who have used something similar to Stoicism; Victor Frankl, for example, was a Holocaust survivor who took comfort in the fact that only he could control his own choices, even if his captors took everything else from him. This points to the fact that the “social” critique of Stoicism comes from people in academia who, despite being quite well-off in their comfortable bourgeois occupations, have built their world view on a victimhood narrative. These critics of Stoicism have not only based their worldview on victimhood, but derive their very psychological stability from a narrative based around oppression and power, and thus feel personally threatened by a philosophy that tells them to take responsibility for themselves.