Stoics

Stoicism 101

 

 

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.

Once Christianity became the official Roman religion Stoicism declined, together with a number of other schools of thought (e.g., Epicureanism). The idea, however, survived in a number of historical figures who were influenced by it (even though they were sometimes critical of it), including some of the early Church Fathers, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, Giordano Bruno, Thomas More, Erasmus, Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Montesquieu, and Spinoza. Modern Existentialism and neo-orthodox Protestant theology have also been influenced by Stoicism. The philosophy is currently seeing a rebirth, and has deeply influenced modern practices such as logo-therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. It also has a number of similarities and overlaps with modern philosophical approaches such as Buddhism and secular humanism.


Stoic EggThe Stoic Egg. The Stoics thought that (practical) ethics was the most important component of their philosophy: it was about how to live one’s life in the best possible way. However, they also believed that it is hard to develop a viable ethics without two other components: understanding  how the world works, and appreciating the power and limits of human reasoning.

Stoicism, therefore, was made of three areas of study: ethics (more on this below), “physics,” and “logic.” By physics the Stoics meant something that by today’s meanings would encompass natural science and metaphysics, or what was once called natural philosophy. Of course, many of the original Stoic notions about the world have been superseded by modern science, which would not have surprised the ancient philosophers (they were very conscious of the limits of human knowledge, and very open to revise their specific beliefs).

Briefly, however, Stoic physics included the idea that the universe began in a cosmic fire (and will end the same way, only to begin anew). [The Stoic fire is represented in the symbol in the image at the top of this page.] They also believed that the world is made of matter, and that causation is a universal phenomenon, i.e., everything that happens has a cause. Finally, the universe is organized according to rational principles, the Logos. This can be interpreted as God (for instance in Epictetus), but also simply as the idea that Nature is understandable by way of rationality (which is why we can scientifically investigate it).

A crucial idea that the Stoics derived from their physics is that life ought to be lived “according to Nature,” which can then in turn be interpreted as “in agreement with what Zeus (God) has ordained,” or simply lived according to reason, developing to its best that most specific attribute of the human animal. Being a secular person, I obviously go for the latter interpretation.

In terms of Stoic logic, the word encompassed the study of logic as we narrowly understanding it today, plus rhetoric, epistemology (i.e., a theory of knowledge), as well as what we would call psychology and related social sciences. The Stoics invented a system of logic alternative to that of Aristotle, which was largely ignored throughout the middle ages and beyond, until it began to be appreciated again with the modern advent of propositional logic (of which the Stoic variety is a type).

The Stoics distinguished between the existence of corporeal and abstract things, like a number of modern philosophers do (say, respectively, physical objects and mathematical concepts). They thought that knowledge can be attained by reason, which is in principle capable of separating true from false (they were certainly more optimistic about this than their contemporary and critics, the Skeptics). Importantly, the Stoics also adopted a very modern belief that knowledge can be achieved only by peer expertise subject to collective judgment (the way modern science works, for instance).


Ethics and practical philosophy. I assume the main reason people are reading this is not because of their interest in Stoic physics or logic – as fascinating as they are in their own regard – but because they want to learn about Stoic ethics, which is more immediately linked to their practical philosophy. So here we go, then.

The first thing to get out of the way is the misconception that Stoicism is about suppressing one’s emotions and going through life with a stiff upper lip. No, Mr. Spock was not a Stoic (despite the fact that, apparently, Gene Roddenberry imagined the character according to his own, simplistic, view of what a Stoic would be like).

Rather, Stoics taught to transform emotions in order to achieve inner calm. Emotions – of fear, or anger, or love, say – are instinctive human reactions to certain situations, and cannot be avoided. But the reflective mind can distance itself from the raw emotion and contemplate whether the emotion in question should (or should not) be given “assent,” i.e., should be appropriated and cultivated.

To be a little more specific, the Stoics distinguished between propathos(instinctive reaction) and
eupathos (feelings resulting from correct judgment), and their goal was to achieve apatheia, or peace of mind, resulting from clear judgment and maintenance of equanimity in life.

The Stoics thought that the good life (eudaimonia, often translated as “flourishing”) consisted in cultivating one’s moral virtues in order to become a good person. The four cardinal virtues recognized by the Stoics were: Wisdom (sophia), Courage (andreia), Justice (dikaiosyne), and Temperance (sophrosyne).

Another crucial Stoic idea, and a corollary of the centrality of virtue in one’s life, is the distinction between preferred and dispreferred “indifferents”: wealth, health, and other goods are indifferent in the sense that they do not affect one’s moral worth (i.e., one can be a moral person regardless of whether one is sick or healthy, poor or rich). But some are helpful in pursuing our goals, and are therefore preferred, while others are an hindrance, and are therefore dispreferred. This makes Stoic doctrine a little less stern than it is usually thought to be (though certainly more so than Epicureanism, or Aristotelian virtue ethics).

Stoics made a sharp (perhaps too sharp) distinction between things that are under our control and things that lay outside of it. The first category included mostly our own thoughts and attitudes, while the second category included pretty much everything else. (For a funny rendition of this distinction, see this short bit by comedian Michael Connell.) The idea was that peace of mind comes from focusing on what we can actually control, rather than wasting emotional energy on what we cannot control. However, do not take this as a counsel for despair about affecting human affairs; remember, many prominent Stoics were politicians, generals, or emperors, and they certainly spent a significant amount of energy and resources attempting to change things for the better. But they also accepted that when things didn’t go their way that was it, and there was no sense in dwelling on it.

Indeed, Stoics thought of their philosophy as a philosophy of love, and they actively cultivated a concern not just for themselves and their family and friends, but for humanity at large, and even for Nature itself (see below). Stoic philosophers were interested in improving humanity’s welfare, and some were even vegetarian.


Stoic practice. And we finally get to the crux of the matter: how, exactly, does one practice Stoicism nowadays? There are a number of modern Stoic practices, or “spiritual” exercises, inspired by the writings of the ancients. Of course, different combinations will work for different people, but these are the ones I do regularly:

* Morning meditation: as soon as I get up I find a quiet, not brightly lit spot in my apartment, seat comfortably, and mentally go over the potential challenges awaiting me during the day ahead, reminding myself about which of the four cardinal virtues I may be called to exercise in response to those challenges.

* Also in the morning, I pick one of my favorite sayings from the ancients (a continuously updated collection can be found here), read it over a few times, and contemplate it as inspiration.

Hierocles concentric circles* Hierocles’ Circle: this is a visualization exercise, during which you begin by thinking about your own self, then mentally expand your circle of concern (see figure) to your family, your friends, people living in your neighborhood and your city, and then gradually to all of humankind, and finally to nature itself. It is a way to remind you that the rest of the world is just as important as you are, and that you should make it a habit of being concerned about it.

* The View from Above: again mentally picture yourself, but then “zoom out” to see your polis from above, then your country, then the planet, then the solar system, then the local group of stars, then the Milky Way, then the local cluster of galaxies, and finally the whole of the cosmos. The idea is to remind yourself of the proper perspective: what happens to you on a speck of dust afloat in the universe is not, after all, that important…

Premeditatio malorum: this exercise consists in visualizing (not just verbally describing) something bad happening to you, in order to overcome your fear of it and to better prepare yourself in case it actually happens. The specific visualization may be something as simple as anticipating your irritation at fellow riders in the subway (or drivers on the road), to the occurrence of your own death (I would recommend to reserve the latter for when you feel more confident in your Stoicism, and to do it only occasionally – it can be disturbing). This is similar to exercises in cognitive behavioral therapy designed to overcome one’s fears or anxieties.

* Mindfulness about (moral) choices: this is to be done throughout the day, and it is a distinctly Stoic type of mindfulness, as opposed to the Buddhist variety, for instance. The Stoics taught us to live “hic et nunc,” in the here and now, i.e., paying attention to what we are doing, achieving what some modern psychologists call “flow” in our actions. But a crucial component of this mindfulness is paying attention to the fact that your choices, even the apparently trivial ones, very likely have an inextricable ethical component to them, and you should be aware of it and chose according to virtue.

* Evening meditation (philosophical diary): before going to bed, do the reverse of the morning meditation, going through the salient events of the day and asking yourself Epictetus’ three questions: What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What duty’s left undone? It helps to carry out this exercise by writing a personal philosophical diary, in the style of Marcus Aurelius (not meant for publication!). The idea is to learn from what has happened during the day, clear your mind, and go to sleep in peace.


Meet the Stoics.

ZenoZeno of Citium (c. 334 – c. 262 BCE) originated from Citium, currently Cyprus, possibly of Phoenician descent. Zeno was the original founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BCE. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind, gained from living a life of Virtue in accordance with Nature. It proved very successful, and flourished as the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

ChrysippusChrysippus of Soli (c. 279 – c. 206 BCE) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a native of Soli, Cilicia, but moved to Athens as a young man, where he became a pupil of Cleanthes in the Stoic school. When Cleanthes died, around 230 BCE, Chrysippus became the third head of the school. A prolific writer, Chrysippus expanded the fundamental doctrines of Zeno of Citium, the founder of the school, which earned him the title of Second Founder of Stoicism.

CatoMarcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95 BCE, Rome – April 46 BCE, Utica), commonly known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder), was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. A noted orator, he is remembered for his stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his lengthy conflict with Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.

PortiaPorcia Catonis (c.70 BCE – June 43 BCE (or October 42 BCE)), Porcia “of Cato”, in full Porcia Catonis filia, “Porcia the daughter of Cato,” also known simply as Porcia, occasionally spelled “Portia” especially in 18th-century English literature, was a Roman woman who lived in the 1st century BCE. She was the daughter of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticencis and his first wife Atilia. She is best known for being the second wife of Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous of Julius Caesar’s assassins, and for her suicide, reputedly by swallowing live coals.

Seneca and SocratesLucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca; c. 4 BCE – CE 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, he may have been innocent. His father was Seneca the Elder, his elder brother was Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, called Gallio in the Bible, and his nephew was the poet Lucan.

MusoniusGaius Musonius Rufus was a Roman Stoic philosopher of the 1st century CE. He taught philosophy in Rome during the reign of Nero, as consequence of which he was sent into exile in 65 CE, only returning to Rome under Galba. He was allowed to stay in Rome when Vespasian banished all the other philosophers from the city in 71 CE, although he was eventually banished anyway, only returning after Vespasian’s death. A collection of extracts from his lectures still survives. He is also remembered for being the teacher of Epictetus.

EpictetusEpictetus (CE. c. 55 – 135) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey), and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in north-western Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

MarcusMarcus Aurelius (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 CE) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus’ death in 169. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.

Stoic Fire

 

See Also Stoicism Saved Me

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Stoicism Saved Me…

 

 

From Roger Johnston
Modern Stoicism

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.

Epictetus, The Stoic Philosopher…

 

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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.’ ”

STOICON ’16: the largest gathering of Stoics, ever?

 

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From How To Be A Stoic

What STOICON ’16 looked like

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.

A Sketch of the Stoic Influences on Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy…

 

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.

Basic Stoicism: A Handy Guide…

 
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From Massimo

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)

Fundamental principles:

  • 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.

  • Dichotomy of control: some things are under our control, others are not (though we may be able to influence them). Under our control — if we are mentally healthy — are our decisions and behaviors. Outside of our control is everything else. This means that we should concern ourselves with the first category, and accept everything else with equanimity.

Four virtues to practice:

If I were not a Buddhist, I would most likely be a Stoic…

 

buddhism-stoicism

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[1] 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.

Seneca on How to Fortify Yourself Against Fear and Misfortune…

 

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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:

Stoics: Can a Freethinker be a Modern Stoic?

mFrom 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:

Our Death Does Not Concern Us…

 

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WILLIAM EDELEN: First Light with Heraclitus

 
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From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister
[Repost]

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.
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What Good Is Thinking About Death?

 
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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.”

The 30-Day Stoic Reader…

 
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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
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3 Stoic Principles…

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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.

Seneca: Living Immediately. Living Wide…

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[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]
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From Maria Papova

The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

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“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.

Basic Stoicism…

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From Tanner Campbell

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.

We need the Stoics now more than ever…

Buste de Sénèque, marbre (H. 70 cm ; l. 33 cm ; pr. 23 cm) réalisé par un auteur anonyme au XVIIe siècle. – Œuvre N° cat. E144 du Musée du Prado de Madrid. Photographie réalisée lors de l'exposition temporaire l'Europe de Rubens - Musée du Louvre (Lens).
Bust of Seneca, Museo del Prado

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.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Best Life Hacks from the Ancient Stoics…

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From Lifehacker

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:

Stoicism FAQ…

From Newstoa

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.

The Stoic Love of Community…

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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).