Editorials / Features

Philosophy of the Month: Stoicism

Zeno-Of-Citium

In a century far, far away, a Greek thinker named Zeno of Citium created an intricate philosophy that would saturate abstract thought for ages to come. Stoicism came forth as a school of philosophy that spoke of virtue, rationality, and living in accordance with nature.

Zeno created Stoicism in 3rd century BCE and it immediately caught on. Zeno’s initial followers, or Stoics, were often referred to as “philosophers of the porch” because they would frequently meet at the agora to hear him speak.

In its heyday, Stoicism was quite a cosmopolitan way of thinking. If you were anyone that was anyone in Hellenistic Rome, you would have been head over heels for the raging new fad of Stoicism. Even influential philosophers like Cleanthes of Assos and Chrysippus picked up the “new” way of thinking and developed Stoicism as a whole doctrine, complete with a system of logic, epistemology and cosmology. Holy mackerel!

Stoicism essentially proclaims that an enjoyable life can only be achieved if one has lived virtuously—that is, not indulging in vice, acting immorally and bringing unhappiness unto others. Moreover, it asserts that destructive emotions are a direct result of irrationality or poor judgement. Good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control.

In a somewhat fatalistic way of thinking, Stoics believe that the only thing over which we have control is the faculty of judgement. In a way, they believe that the universe acts of its own rational accord. Nothing that happens must happen necessarily. Stoicism also asserts that God has no existence distinct from the rational order of nature and should not be constructed as a deity or a bearded bloke above with a cosmic blueprint.

Since the natural world and the universe operate rationally, the Stoics believe that the only way to live a good life is…? Rationally, of course. To live the life of virtue is to live a life in accordance with nature. Stoics condemned those that lived morally decadent lives and stole, cheated and lied. Only a radically ethical individual could be immune to misfortune.

An interesting exercise in Stoicism would be to take a view from above; imagine your place in the universe via your family, your society, or the whole human race and work out your role within that.

Sure, this comes off as philosophical mumbo jumbo. But maybe after pondering all of this, you will start to look a bit stoic yourself.

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