From How To Be A Stoic
If you are into infographics, you may want to check out these quick summaries of basic Stoic ideas:
History. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium (modern Cyprus) around 301 BCE, and it takes its name from the Stoa Poikile (painted porch), a public market in Athens when the Stoics met and engaged in philosophical discussions with anyone who was interested. A second major figure of the so-called “early Stoa” was Chrysippus, who is actually credited with elaborating most of the doctrines that are still associated with Stoicism. The early Stoics were of course influenced by previous philosophical schools and thinkers, in particular by Socrates and the Cynics, but also the Academics (followers of Plato) and the Skeptics.
The second period of Stoic history, referred to as the “middle Stoa,” saw the philosophy introduced to Rome. Cicero (not himself a Stoic, but sympathetic to the idea) is one of our major sources for both the early and the middle Stoa, since otherwise we have only fragments of the writings of the Stoics up to that point. The third and last period is referred to as the “late Stoa,” and it took place during Imperial Rome; it included the famous Stoics whose writings have been preserved in sizable parts: Gaius Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
From Roger Johnston
Stoicism saved me in a way. My last deployment to Iraq was particularly trying. I was medivacced out with just three weeks left of the deployment. I recall as the helicopter crew chief told me we had crossed the Kuwait border and that I was safe, I was relieved that I survived a war zone, but was under no illusion that I was “safe.” I’m a son of a Vietnam vet. The war did not end for him when he got home, in many ways it had only just begun for me. Relief quickly faded to resolve as I was determined not to suffer the same fate as my father: being angry at the world.
During recovery, back in the States, I could tell that my deployment had changed me. Infuriated would be a good word for how I felt 10 years ago during as I began to mend. Google militant atheist and my picture would show up and I would look pissed in it. I felt betrayed by my country, coopted to fight for profit and gain. I had seen so much suffering. The anger was poisoning everything, and what made the poison spread even further was that I was angry because I was angry. I had turned into my father.
From The New Yorker
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in the Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis—present-day Pamukkale, Turkey. I first encountered his teachings in 2011, shortly after moving from San Francisco to Istanbul. I lived alone on a university campus in a forest. In the midst of a troubled long-distance relationship, I sometimes went days without talking to anyone but my boyfriend’s disembodied head on Skype. I was demoralized by Turkish politics, which made both secularists and religious people feel like victims. If you were a woman, no matter what you were wearing—décolleté or a head scarf—someone would give you a dirty look.
The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”
From How To Be A Stoic
STOICON ’16 just ended in New York City, and according to one of our speakers, Bill Irvine, it was the largest gathering of Stoics, ever: 331 attendees. It was, more importantly, an amazing opportunity to meet and mingle with people from different parts of the world who are interested in, or regularly practice, Stoicism as a philosophy of life. All the talks, and one of the workshops, will soon be available as video on YouTube (stay tuned for announcements!), but let me give you a flavor of what happened this past Saturday in the Big Apple, just to whet your appetite.
The first speaker of the day was Don Robertson, with his inimitable Scottish accent. Don, who is the author of the very first book on modern Stoicism that I read — Stoicism and the Art of Happiness — talked about the connection among Stoicism, mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (he is a licensed practitioner of the latter). He pointed out that Stoic mindfulness is different from techniques aiming at emptying your mind of wandering thoughts, for instance, as it is done in some strands of Buddhism. The Stoics meant it as a cognitive exercise to constantly remind themselves to live by focusing in the here and now (hic et nunc), as well as by paying attention to the ethical dimension of everything they do (though both of these concepts are also found in Buddhism).
Julia Annas, one of the foremost scholars in ancient philosophy and author of Intelligent Virtue, rhetorically asked the audience if Stoic virtue is as off-putting as it seems, proceeding to regale us with an in-depth analysis of apparent paradoxical concepts, such as that we are all equally unvirtuous, and yet we can make progress (see the “drowning man metaphor“); or that the Sage is like the mythical phoenix, i.e., a state that can never be achieved by actual human beings. But if so, then why bother trying? My own take on these questions is that the Sage is an ideal, and it doesn’t matter if any such man or woman ever existed, it is simply something to strive for. As for the apparent paradox that we can make progress (we are all prokoptontes) and yet we all equally lack virtue, I take it to be the Stoic way to remind us to be humble, that the job is really never finished, it continues to the end of our lives.
Viktor E. Frankl
From Stoicism Today
Stephen J. Costello, PhD.
For centuries, Stoicism was the most influential philosophy in the Graeco-Roman world. Founded by Zeno of Citium in the fourth century BC who taught from a stoa (a painted porch or colonnade) in Athens, it was to attract into its ranks men as diverse as Epictetus the slave, Seneca the lawyer and Marcus Aurelius the emperor. In the context of the Ancient classical Greek tradition, philosophy was understood to be a therapy of the soul and the site of spiritual exercises, persuasively argued for and highlighted by Pierre Hadot in his What is Ancient Philosophy? and Philosophy as a Way of Life.
It was Stoicism, arguably, that was the preeminent practical philosophy of the time. This older view of philosophy as praxis, as a care of the self or cure of the soul, may be traced back to Socrates’ maieutic method and more systematically to Plato’s understanding of the nature of philosophy itself (therapie der Seele). This applied interpretation was alive and well with the Stoics but ruptures in the Middle Ages and in modernity and returns in the nineteenth-century with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and in the twentieth-century with various thinkers such as Viktor E. Frankl, Eric Voegelin, Jan Patocka, Michel Foucault, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others who retrieve the ‘ancient consolation’. That said, there were some notable exceptions down the centuries such as Michel de Montaigne and the Earl of Shaftesbury.
In this present paper, I want to state the case for some Stoic sources underlying Frankl’s logotherapy and existential analysis.
I have now studied and practiced Stoicism seriously for more than a year and a half. I still have a long way to go on both theory and praxis, but I have gradually accumulated a number of favorite Stoic reminders, as well as developed my own summaries of Stoic doctrine and list of concepts I find particularly useful. Here they are, presented as a vademecum, a handy reminder that one can bookmark or print out and keep in one’s pocket. (a downloadable pdf version is here)
Virtue is the highest good, everything else is “indifferent.” The Stoics got the first part from Socrates, who argued that virtue is the chief good because it is the only thing that is good under all circumstances, and indeed helps us make proper use of things like health, wealth, and education. Everything else is “indifferent” in the specifically Stoic sense that it is not to be traded against virtue. The Stoic can pursue the preferred indifferents and try to stay away from the dispreferred ones, so long as this doesn’t interfere with virtue. In economics, this is called a system of lexicographic preferences.
Follow nature, that is, apply reason to social life. The Stoics thought that we should get a hint from the cosmos (studying what they called physics) to figure out how to live our lives (ethics). Since human beings are social animals capable of reason (logic), it follows that we should strive to apply the latter to the former.
Four virtues to practice:
From Stoicism Today
There are huge similarities between Modern Stoic philosophy and Western Buddhist teachings. Amidst these there are three that I would like to examine in this essay. Firstly, the mutual belief in our innate ability to produce our own personal happiness. Like Buddhists, Stoics believe that happiness is not about the acquisition of assets such as money, celebrity or social position but by developing what we, in Buddhism, might call ‘skilful means’. In Stoic philosophy this same understanding is seen as learning how to develop the pertinent qualities that are essential for a human life; the development of ‘The Virtues’ such as wisdom, courage, justice and self-control. Secondly, that all sentient beings are naturally beings who want to know and acquire a better understanding and a better world. This in Buddhist terms is known as ‘basic goodness’ or our ‘Buddha nature’. Stoics would more probably refer to this phenomenon as a natural propensity to help others; an innate altruism which is common to all human and animal life. Like modern Western Buddhist practice, Stoics are encouraged to get involved in family life, in social and political activities and to understand that we are, all of us, members of the one human family; we are brothers and sisters wherever we may be. This is extremely close to the Buddhist teaching of ‘oneness’ and ‘non-separation’ or in modern philosophical terminology, the teaching of ‘non-duality’. Finally, like Buddhists, Stoics, in their own particular way, affirm the importance of mind and hold that the universe itself is permeated by a providential principle of rationality and reason which in turn give shape and form to an intelligible universe, the understanding of which can generate a system of beliefs that informs our attitudes and desires in the most positively beneficial and constructive ways.
From Brain Pickings
“If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.”
“Anyone with any degree of mental toughness,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in contemplating life and the art of setting priorities, “ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.” It’s a beautiful thought, and yet a strange and discomfiting one as we grow increasingly accustomed and even entitled to the simple, miraculous conveniences of modern life. I think of O’Keeffe each time I catch myself, mortified, on the brink of fury over a wifi outage aboard an airplane — centuries of physics and privilege converging into a superhuman capability we’ve come to take for granted — and then I quickly reach for Seneca as the ultimate vaccine against this humiliating hubris.
Two millennia before O’Keeffe, the great Roman philosopher — a man of timeless wisdom on how to stretch life’s shortness by living wide rather than long — took this point to its exquisite extreme in a letter to his friend Lucilius Junior, found in the altogether indispensable Letters from a Stoic (public library).
Writing in the month of December — a season of supreme Roman bacchanalia and intemperate festivities — Seneca offers his friend a recipe for moral resilience and constancy of mind:
From Donald Robertson
Although most (but perhaps not all, as we’ll see below) Stoics appear to have placed considerable importance upon belief in God (specifically, Zeus), there is some indication that others may have entertained a more agnostic stance, something relatively unusual for the period in which they lived. Only about 1% of the ancient Stoic writings survive today, at a rough estimate. We have substantial texts from only three authors: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. They were all late Roman Stoics and we have only fragments from the early Greek Stoics, including the founders of the school. (Also some important ancient secondary sources, especially in the writings of the Platonist Cicero.) None of these Stoics appear to have been agnostics themselves but others may have been. What matters is whether they, and other Stoics, would have accepted that someone else could potentially be both an agnostic (or atheist) and a Stoic.
Throughout history, Stoics, and indeed pantheists in general, have been accused of atheism. Spinoza, who has been called “more Stoic than the Stoics”, and his followers, were attacked as atheists because he said “Deus sive natura“, God is the same thing as Nature. On the other hand, many people would say this was an unfair criticism. However, the Stoic conception of God, or Zeus, which they also equate with Nature, is so unlike most theistic conceptions of God that it inevitably raises questions about whether it makes sense to call it “God” at all. Stoic physics and theology were heavily influenced by the writings of the pre-Socratic Heraclitus, the master of paradox, who wrote that Nature “is both willing and unwilling to be called by the name of Zeus”. In other words, if you asked Heraclitus whether Nature is the same as Zeus he would probably have replied: “yes and no“! The Stoics were materialists (or corporealists) for whom God could not exist as a metaphysical or supernatural entity apart from physical Nature. They were therefore renowned for interpreting Greek myths about the gods allegorically, as metaphors for natural forces and processes. We have a surviving text on theology from the Stoic Cornutus, which elaborates at great length on the symbolic interpretation of the gods, drawing heavily on speculations about ancient etymologies. It concludes:
From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister
I have a regular morning ritual that starts my days with great Joy… it is a habit that I cherish. Sitting in front of my wood burning fire, with my pre dawn coffee, I read pages of Heraclitus, or other great literatuare. It starts my day on a noble plane. I would not wilt the freshest part of the day with the littleness and banalities of morning television and news.
The wood in my fireplace is REAL wood, not the gas fed artificial wood, real wood from a stack in my backyard where a friend brings in several a day and puts them by my living room fireplace. Growing up in West Texas, with real wood, for real fires, there could be no other kind for me.
In front of the fireplace is a hooked rug of Indian design with a sun burst. My two four legged soul mates adore curling up on it, two Shih-Tzu’s, and with me in my chair experience this magic time of the day. I live alone and this is a very precious time where silence and peace, tranquility and vision become present and clear.
Erasmus wrote: “The muses love the early morning, as that is the perfect time for thought and study.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that he always arose at first light to enjoy “the freshness of the new dawn.”
How well I remember the week I spent with Buckminster Fuller. He stood silently every morning at first light, facing East, for his moments of meditation.
There is harmony at this magnificent time of the day. You will never see any painting more spiritual than dawn breaking. The first hour of first light… is the rudder of the day. And Erasmus reminds us: “The dawn is always a friend to the muses.”
My dawn now, is sitting in front of my wood burning fire with one of the recognized mental giants of civilization, HERACLITUS., who was in his prime in 500 b.c., the “golden age” of Greece. Geniuses like Heraclitus have always pushed against orthodox and received traditions. They are always light years AHEAD of the knowledge curve. They prod sleeping minds to awaken… they elevate minds to a higher level of consciousness. He confronted the dullness and archaic thinking of Ephesus.
His observations are treasures. He was twenty-five hundred years ahead of Einstein. He said “energy is the essence of matter”.
“All things change to fire, and fire exhausted falls back into things.”
The prophet Zarathustra, lived earlier in the same century as Heraclitus and Zoroastrian teaching saturates Christian dogma.
Jewels from Heraclitus: “People dull their wits with gibberish and cannot use their ears and eyes. They lack the skill to listen and speak.”
“By cosmic rule… all things change.” (By the way, Heraclitus can be found all thru the writings of Emerson)
“The river where you set your foot just now is gone.”
“Applicants for wisdom do what I have done, INQUIRE WITHIN.” “People ought to know themselves.”
There is no sloppy emotionalism in Heraclitus… he would have little to do with much of the “New Age” fans.
Heraclitus appeals to artists and writers because he recognizes clearly and crystal sharp the constant TENSION between the Heart and Mind. “How, from a fire that never sinks or sets, would you escape?” Thomas Jefferson would totally agree with his classic letter “My Mind and my Heart.”
Heraclitus constant message was: ALL THINGS CHANGE, ALL THINGS FLOW, THE WORLD IS REVEALED ONLY IN QUICK GLANCES. Heraclitus influenced philosophers through Nietzsche, Whitehead, Heidegger and Jung.
With my pre-dawn coffee now, in front of my wood burning fire… I am spending time in the company of one of the giants of civilization, Heraclitus.
First light with Heraclitus, it starts my day on a noble plane. My morning has not been wilted with the banalities of the television gibberish.
My two little four legged soul mates, have awakened on the rug before the fire place… and barked at me for their morning food bowl. Far more important to them than Heraclitus. So until tomorrow first light… I move on into the rhythms of the day.
We’re all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
From The Atlantic
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it’s haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?” he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
He’s a little late to the party. Stoicism as a school of philosophy rose to prominence in the 3rd century B.C. in Greece, then migrated to the Roman Empire, and hung around there through the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died in 180 A.D. “That Stoicism has seen better days is obvious,” Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University, writes in his book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. He stumbled across the philosophy when researching a book on Zen Buddhism—“I thought I wanted to be a Zen Buddhist,” he says, “but Stoicism just had a much more rational approach.”
From the Author:
Stoicism is a very old tradition that is enjoying a modern renaissance thanks to, in large part, the internet. One of the things the world wide web can do is connect desperate people who share common interests who might otherwise never have met. In a way, books have always done this, and you are reading the product of both of these.
I first became interested in Stoic philosophy by a fortuitous twist of Fate. I was taking an after-school Latin class in middle school (clearly I was one of the cool kids), and for class we had to choose a name by which we would be called. I went to my family bookshelf, and pulled down a leather book with gold foil embellishments. It was a copy of several of Plato’s dialogues, Marcus’s Meditations, and The Golden Sayings of Epictetus. I found the bits of the Crito I leafed through less than easy to digest, the same of the Meditations.
But these little quips of writing, bumper stickers-lie slogans almost, I could easily read and process. So I chose to be called Epictetus, and although the name was Greek, my teacher let it slide. I found, as the years passed, that I would be be drawn back again and again to these little excerpts from the Stoic thinkers.
I didn’t realize that they were of a school of thought at this point, and throughout high school and university I continued to read. Regardless of my exposure to other schools, cultures, travel, etc., I found something that resonated with me in these writers who called themselves philosophers and Stoics.
Over the past year and more, I’ve been more focused on my studies, and I wanted to produce something meaningful for myself and that others might benefit from as well. This work is the realization of that hope.
This book will take you through, day by day, a plan of short excerpts and my thoughts will follow. After that, a few short exercises in the practical side of philosophy may follow.
Ah! This isn’t just an academic exercise, you may think. This is true, and that leads us well right into the first week…
The 30-Day Stoic Reader — Read and Download Free PDF eBook here
From Pick The Brain
Are you sad to hear people you care about calling you “a Stoic”? It might be time for you to refine your philosophy and show them how much the Stoic you are, love them and care for them.
Among the different schools of philosophy, Stoicism is one of the least understood. Yet, Stoics were among the most rationale and practical people of their time and we still have a lot to learn from them. Sadly, nowadays, the word “stoic” is generally used in a somewhat negative way describing someone who refuses to complain or show his feelings. Stoics certainly advocated a rather ascetic way of life but is it what Stoicism is solely about?
In this article, I would like to share with you, three Stoic principles that you can apply in your daily life in order to live, not a “stoic” and somewhat boring life, but a joyful life.
[One of the most horrible aspects of fundamentalist religions’ false promise of an afterlife in heaven is the believer’s hopeful comparison of their short life here with the eternal life in the hereafter. Why should they worry about wasting their daily life now when they will live forever? Such a belief not only denies them the searching questions and meditations on whether or not they will look back on a life well lived, which would help them change their own wasteful habits and decisions of daily life, but it denies them the energy and duty to insist that the unjust circumstances imposed on them and others that deny the freedoms to make change must not be challenged or organized against. -ds]
From Maria Papova
The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long
by Maria Popova
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence, “is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognize that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.
Stoicism is taking responsibility
Taking responsibility for yourself in such an all encompassing way that many people look at Stoicism and find this portion of it ridiculously impossible. A stoic recognizes two things:
1. Emotions are within us and while we are not necessarily in control of whether or not they arise, we are in control of how long they stay and what impact they will have on our minds and behavior.
2. We must understand the event that has given rise to the emotion. Understand why you have been affected by it, realize that giving into your emotions will only serve to make this experience more difficult for you, will ultimately serve no purpose, and will likely lead you away from disciplined control of your mind and towards irrational behavior and thought.
From The Book of Life
‘Stoicism’ was a philosophy that flourished for some 400 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, gaining widespread support among all classes of society. It had one overwhelming and highly practical ambition: to teach people how to be calm and brave in the face of overwhelming anxiety and pain.
We still honour this school whenever we call someone ‘stoic’ or plain ‘philosophical’ when fate turns against them: when they lose their keys, are humiliated at work, rejected in love or disgraced in society. Of all philosophies, Stoicism remains perhaps the most immediately relevant and useful for our uncertain and panicky times.
This book is really for everyone—whether you’re philosophically-minded or not. It’s all about being happier and having more control over how you react to life’s difficulties. And don’t we all have those, to some extent?
Even if the term “ancient philosophies” puts you to sleep, Irvine does a good job of making the topic accessible to just about anyone, at least once you get past the history portion of the book. Some of the tricks you may heard of, some you may not—and some may seem like common sense. But the Stoics (and Irvine) have a way of putting them into words that can really motivate you.
What You’ll Get
In Irvine’s opinion, everyone should have a cohesive “philosophy of life” to follow, and his goal is to present one with A Guide to the Good Life. But you don’t have to think of this book as a massive life change. Most of the tips can easily fit into any modern lifestyle, and are even compatible with many major religions, whether you’re a Christian or a Zen Buddhist. So, while you can think of it as a philosophy of life, I prefer to think of it as a collection of “tips and tricks” from some very smart, very old people.
The book is broken up into three parts, each of which is broken up further by subject:
What is Stoicism? Stoicism is a wisdom philosophy. What that means is that it’s a philosophy about how to live life and live it well. Our philosophy was founded in Athens, Greece, about 2300 years ago by a man named Zeno. After studying with the Cynics for several years, he studied at Plato’s Academy, then started his own school at the central market in Athens. Zeno started his school by standing on a porch in the market and talking to anyone who happened by. In time, he had a regular group of men standing and talking philosophy there with him. The porch became his school. The word for porch in Greek is stoa, and the men who met there to talk philosophy soon became known as the men of the porch, or Stoics.
Stoicism became the preeminent philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome and flourished for nearly 500 years. It reemerged as a popular philosophy in the Renaissance when people returned to reason rather than faith to find answers about how to live. Today our philosophy and those who live by it are alive and well all over the world.
Is it true that Stoics repress their emotions and feelings? No. This is an old misunderstanding. Emotions and feelings are normal and natural, and sometimes they’re even essential to our survival. There are times when being afraid and running away is the wisest course of action.
From Matt Van Natta
Did you know that the Stoic view of humanity is one of love, compassion, and concern? It is. However, if you missed this fact, I wouldn’t be surprised. The common conception of the ‘stoic’ individual doesn’t immediately bring to mind an enthusiastic and engaged community member. Even as Stoicism has surged in popularity, much of the conversation has remained focused on the philosophy’s psychological tool kit without going on to address the wider Stoic view of the world. This is unfortunate. Stoic psychology is a powerful system that can build mindfulness and resilience into its practitioners. Such inner strength is helpful for everyone, but it becomes admirable when applied to the real problems of the world. One of my favorite descriptions of Stoicism well-lived comes from Seneca. He writes,
‘No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular’ (On Clemency 3.3).