Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy with a clear set of beliefs and values. It’s one of the few schools of ancient philosophy that has stood the test of time and is still practised by men and women today. The reason for Stoicism’s resilience to the test of time is that to its so practical and effective in helping people from all walks of life find stability, peace of mind, and calm.

“Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.”


The ancient school of Stoicism itself was founded by a man named Zeno of Citium. Zeno and his followers would talk, theorise, and debate under the porches of the ancient city. These porches are called stoa, and so Stoicism was born.

The philosophy of the Stoics held a strong belief in personal ethics, virtue, and aligning oneself with nature. Balancing these things was thought to lead to a good and happy life.

The Stoics believed that the path to happiness (which they called eudaimonia) was discovered through:

  • Accepting the world for what it is (rather that expecting it to be something it is not)

  • Being resistant to the draws of desire, addiction, pleasure, fear, or pain

  • Understanding our own nature and acting in accordance with it

  • Living with virtue (the Stoic virtues were temperance, courage, wisdom , and justice)

Stoic BELIEF of Virtue:

A core teaching of Stoic philosophy is to live with of virtue. The Stoics believed that for human beings virtue is the only good. Externals such as money, fame, reputation, material things, etc are neither good nor bad, the are simply indifferent.

The virtues of Stoic philosophy are:

  1. Wisdom – seeing things for what they are, not what we wish they would be

  2. Courage – acting in the right way despite fear or reservation

  3. Justice –  acting fairly despite pressure not to

  4. Temperance – acting with discipline and self control despite the draws of passion and greed

Stoic philosophers believed that some of our negative negative emotions are simply caused by errors in our judgement, such as:

  • Having unrealistic expectations of the world, other people, or ourselves.

  • Trying to control things outside the reach of our influence.

  • No accepting responsibility for the things within our control (our beliefs, actions, values, perspectives etc)

  • Not understanding the nature of the world or ourselves.

To combat these negative feelings, Stoic philosophy instructs us to behave in accordance with nature. Both the nature of the human being, and the nature of the world (more on this here).

All of this meant that the Stoics believed the the sign of a good person laid in how they act, rather than what they say.

Prominent Stoics like Seneca and Epictetus promoted this idea of virtue being the route to happiness. The Stoic sage was the embodiment of their philosophy.

A sage is a person who perfectly accepts the world for what it he. They see that nature will act as nature does, they do not expect it to act based on what they want it to be. As a result there is no resistance to cause suffering

The sage aligns their thoughts and actions based on their acceptance and their knowledge of virtue. The sage would be emotionally resilient to any misfortune they experience.

For example, if their house burned down they would accept that the event was outside their control. They would also accept that the nature of fire is to burn, and is is the nature of the source of the furnace to create fire.

How then can the sage be upset with fire for burning? That’s what it does, that’s its nature. In this way, the Stoic sage is resilient to hardship, accepting of turmoil, and enduring of suffering.

Basic Beliefs:

The Stoics also believed that ethics are the primary concern for human understanding. Through ethics we can find understanding and happiness, and through ethics we can learn to work for the betterment of the self and the community.

One branch of Stoic ethics promotes the development of healthy self control. This is done so that we can more easily resist the temptations of greed, lust, gluttony, power, wealth and status.

These things tug at our base desires and risk unvirtuous behaviour. They can prevent clear thinking, unrealistic expectations, and negative emotions when they are not achieved.

While these things themselves are not good or bad, they can lead to bad behaviour (especially if we lack self control) and result in paths to an unhappy life.

The ability to see the world for what it is requires discipline and self control to prevent temptation from clouding our judgement. Objectivity can also prevent negative emotions from pulling us away from the truth. Destructive feelings can cause us to see things that are not true, become paranoid, see threats that are not there, and pull us from the reality of a situation.

The Stoics believed that people who lack the ability to act with virtue are basically being blindly pulled along by whatever desires they’re feeling that day. Jealousy, greed, anger, lust, and addiction guides their actions, not choice.

Cleanthes once even said these people are:

“like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes”.

Unlike those pulled behind the cart, the Stoic recommend that we develop an ability look at the situation, examine it, and make the conscious decision about how to respond in the best possible way.

This then allows us to find happiness in hardship, contentment in adversity, and acceptance in loss. The development of virtue helps to cut the strings that drag along our emotions when we experience something difficult.

What Do Stoics Believe About EMotion

Unfortunately the modern use of the word Stoic has come to mean something entirely different to its ancient ancestor. These days the word “stoic” is synonymous with being unemotional, cold, and unresponsive.

This is not the case, the Stoics did not look to eliminate emotion or run from feeling, they looked to lessen the hold these things have on our peace of mind. This was achieved through reason, judgement, and self control. The use of logic, discipline, meditation, and objectivity that helped the Stoics keep their composure in times of difficulty, and remain clear headed to judge the best way to move forward.

Commonality Beliefs with The Cynics:

The founder of  Stoic philosophy, Zeno of Citium first studied with the Cynics and learned from the Cynic philosopher,  Crates of Thebes. Crates was pointed out to Zeno by a book keeper after Zeno was washed ashore following a shipwreck and making his way to Athens.

The influence that Cynicism had on Zeno meant that the two philosophies have some common ground. Both schools believe that a good life is defined by the state of the soul, rather than the luxury of the surroundings. This meant that they valued discipline and clear judgement.

Through working on the soul, the philosopher can work towards being free of suffering, like the Stoic sage. We should aim to develop a peace of mind through reason. A peace of mind that would allow us to be protected against the things that would normally cause people to suffer. The Stoics called this peace of mind, apatheia (meaning, without passion).

“Reason” for the Stoics was made up of multiple different aspects of the mind. It included using logic; to understand and examine our responses and if they are reasonable. Reason also helps us to determine whether our expectations, beliefs, values and judgements are reasonable, or if they are destructive and causing us to suffer unnecessarily.

Reason also includes our understanding of nature. The laws that govern everything around us.

After understanding both logic and nature, we can then begin to live with virtue. To the Stoics, this is the way of living in harmony with the universe, and a path to a good life.

The Stoic Belief of Evil:

Stoic philosophers thought that the path to a good life was reason and virtue. In contrast they believed that suffering and evil were a result of human ignorance.

In the Stoic text, Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.

It is not that people are bad people, most of the time it is simply that they are ignorant of what they do, and the consequences of their actions.

If someone is being destructive it is because they are acting unconsciously, and simply as a result of the passions that pull them, rather than a result of reason and understanding, like the dog being pulled by the cart.

The solution to this is in developing reason: to examine our actions and understand why we do what we do. Are our actions deliberate and conscious, or are we just on autopilot and responding to anger, jealousy, hate, fear or greed?

Stoic Belief about Control:

One of the most practical Stoic practices that help us cultivate a stable and resilient mind is the concept of control.

These days the world is a hectic and confusing place. There is comfort in the feeling of control, it makes us feel more stable, secure and safe.

However, when we over estimate the reach of our control we can suffer when we’re faced with the reality that a lot of what we think we control is an illusion. Whenever we have unrealistic expectations about the world we risk suffering when those expectations are not met. This is also true of control.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said this:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.

Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.

But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.”

Social philosophy

One of the characteristics of Stoic philosophy was the promotion of cosmopolitanism.

The Stoics believed that we were all made to live together, brothers under the same universal nature that governs each and every one of us. We are made to help one another and live in harmony. This purpose is only broken when an individual is incapable of reason, logic, and unaware of their own nature.

Diogenes of Sinope, said:

“I am not an Athenian or a Corinthian, but a citizen of the world.”

Marcus Aurelius, said:

We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.

The Stoics believed that our wealth, status, power, possession and stature are neither good or bad, and they have no social importance with respect to our relationships with one another. We are equals.

They held that external differences, such as rank and wealth, are of no importance in social relationships. Instead, they advocated the brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings. Stoicism became the most influential school of the Greco-Roman world, and produced a number of remarkable writers and personalities, such as Cato the Younger and Epictetus.

Seneca was famous for the kind matter in which he instructed his fellow countrymen to treat slaves. He wrote:

“Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.”

Amor Fati

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