Frequently Asked Questions

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC in ancient Athens. The Stoics believed that living with virtue was enough to achieve a life of happiness and flourishing, which they called eudaimonia. They also believed that virtue was the only good and that things like wealth, power, and status were neither good nor bad.

The four Stoic cardinal virtues were courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance.

What are the core teachings of Stoicism?

The core teachings of Stoicism focus on:

  • Understanding what is in our control and what is not: Stoicism teaches that we should focus on our own actions and attitudes, as they are within our control, and accept what is outside our control with equanimity.

  • Living in accordance with nature: This means aligning our nature as rational beings with the rational structure of the universe.

  • Virtue as the sole good: The ultimate goal is to live virtuously, which is living in a rational and socially responsible manner.

  • Developing apatheia: A state of being undisturbed by emotions, achieved through rational thinking and perspective.

What does Stoicism or Stoic mean?

The word Stoic comes from the Stoa Poikile or ‘Painted Porch’. This porch was a colonnade on the north side of the Agora in ancient Athens and is where Zeno of Citium and the Stoics gathered to discuss their philosophy and debate the best ways to live life and achieve eudaimonia.

How do Stoics deal with criticism?

Stoics deal with criticism by examining it rationally. If the criticism is valid, they see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. If it is not, they maintain equanimity and do not allow it to disturb their peace of mind.

Do Stoics believe in God?

The Stoics often write about god in their work. Marcus Aurelius comments on god, Epictetus speaks about god in his lectures; and Seneca writes to his friend Lucilius about god.

However, the Stoic reference to god is not the same as our more traditional view of theism. To the Stoics, god was more like nature.

In his work, The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius writes the following:

[142] …The doctrine that the world is a living being, rational, animate and intelligent, is laid down by Chrysippus in the first book of his treatise On Providence, by Apollodorus in his Physics, and by Posidonius. [143] It is a living thing in the sense of an animate substance endowed with sensation…

Later on, the book contains the following:

[147] The deity, say they, is a living being, immortal, rational, perfect or intelligent in happiness, admitting nothing evil [into him], taking providential care of the world and all that therein is, but he is not of human shape. He is, however, the artificer of the universe and, as it were, the father of all, both in general and in that particular part of him which is all-pervading, and which is called many names according to its various powers. They give the name Dia because all things are due to him; Zeus in so far as he is the cause of life or pervades all life; the name Athena is given, because the ruling part of the divinity extends to the aether; the name Hera marks its extension to the air; he is called Hephaestus since it spreads to the creative fire; Poseidon, since it stretches to the sea; Demeter, since it reaches to the earth. Similarly men have given the deity his other titles, fastening, as best they can, on some one or other of his peculiar attributes.

[148] The substance of God is declared by Zeno to be the whole world and the heaven, as well as by Chrysippus in his first book Of the Gods, and by Posidonius in his first book with the same title. Again, Antipater in the seventh book of his work On the Cosmos says that the substance of God is akin to air, while Boëthus in his work On Nature speaks of the sphere of the fixed stars as the substance of God. Now the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the world together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. Nature is defined as a force moving of itself, producing and preserving in being its offspring in accordance with seminal principles within definite periods, and effecting results homogeneous with their sources. [149] Nature, they hold, aims both at utility and at pleasure, as is clear from the analogy of human craftsmanship. That all things happen by fate or destiny is maintained by Chrysippus in his treatise De fato, by Posidonius in his De fato, book ii., by Zeno and by Boëthus in his De fato, book i. Fate is defined as an endless chain of causation, whereby things are, or as the reason or formula by which the world goes on.

Are Stoics unemotional?

This is a common misconception among newer students of the philosophy. The Stoics did not instruct us to mask, repress, or deny our emotions; they simply believed that we should prioritize reason and be careful when allowing our emotions to control our behavior.

Often, when we allow our emotions to dictate our actions, we behave impulively, irrationally, and often in ways that we end up regretting later.

In contrast, when we learn to use reason despite our emotions, we do not allow the world around us to control what we think, do, or say but instead decide the best course of action defined by our values and virtues.

In this way, we align ourselves with virtue, we align ourselves with our values, and we are much less likely to regret our decisions later on.

Are Stoics passive?

The idea that Stoics are passive is another misconception that’s common when people first learn about the Stoic concept of acceptance, or amor fati. The Stoics instruct us to accept what we can’t control and focus on what we can control. This is not the same as being passive or defeatist; it’s simply recognizing that there are many things in life that will not change regardless of how much emotional or physical energy we put into them.

To the Stoics, it is better to accept these things as they are and look to focus our time and energy on what we can control—our thoughts and actions.

Who were the main Stoic philosophers?

The most notable Stoic philosophers were Seneca the Younger, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Their teachings have been preserved in essays, letters, and meditations, which are still widely read today.

How can Stoicism be used in daily life?

Stoicism can be used in daily life to:

  • Manage stress and reduce anxiety by accepting what you cannot change.

  • Improve decision-making by basing choices on rational thought and virtue.

  • Enhance resilience in the face of hardship by viewing obstacles as opportunities for growth.

  • Foster better relationships through empathy and understanding others’ perspectives.

How does Stoicism differ from other philosophies?

Stoicism is distinct in its emphasis on practical ethics, and its idea that all external events are determined by fate and are thus beyond our control; however, individuals are responsible for their own actions. Stoicism also uniquely promotes the concept of apatheia, aiming for a state where negative emotions are significantly diminished.

How can I practice Stoicism in my work life?

In your work life, you can practice Stoicism by:

  • Focusing on the task at hand: Concentrate on your own work and efforts, and don’t worry about factors beyond your control.

  • Maintaining professional relationships: Treat others fairly, and don’t let personal emotions interfere with professional interactions.

  • Accepting setbacks: View failures as a natural part of life and learning opportunities, rather than as insurmountable problems.

Can Stoicism help with anxiety and depression?

While Stoicism is not a replacement for professional mental health treatment, many find its principles helpful in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression. The focus on accepting what cannot be changed and working towards virtue can provide a framework for dealing with challenging emotions.

Is Stoicism a religion?

No, Stoicism is not a religion. It is a philosophy that can be practiced by anyone, irrespective of their religious beliefs. It provides a way of life and a set of ethics grounded in logic and personal virtue.

How do Stoics view emotions?

Stoics do not advocate the repression of emotions but rather the transformation of them through rational examination and alignment with nature. They distinguish between ‘passions’ which are irrational and destructive impulses, and healthy feelings, which are considered natural and not detrimental to reason.

How can Stoics remain calm under pressure?

Stoics remain calm under pressure by focusing on what is in their power to control, accepting what is not, and maintaining a perspective that separates their core self from external events. They prepare for adversity through regular reflection and mental exercises.

Is it possible to be a Stoic and still pursue personal goals and success?

Absolutely. Stoicism does not oppose the pursuit of personal goals or success, as long as it is done with virtue and a rational approach. Stoicism teaches that the outcome should not be the ultimate measure of success but rather the virtue exhibited in the pursuit.