Getting Started With Stoic Philosophy:

Luckily for us, Stoicism and Stoic philosophy have had a resurgence in the last few decades, meaning that we have guidance and wisdom available from those ancient thinkers for those of us looking for peace of mind, resilience, clarity, and general happiness.

With this increase in popularity comes an increase in people looking for resources on how to get started, and Stoic philosophy can be a difficult subject to approach at the beginning (especially if you try and read some of the translated classics like Epictetus’ Discourses, which is my personal favorite).

The texts that have survived from ancient Greece and Rome can be a little dense, and the philosophy itself contains multiple different practices that sometimes require context, which we’ll give some clarity on below.

There are also a number of misconceptions about how Stoicism promotes a passive and emotionless way of life. These are not true, which we’ll come to see.

My intention for this article you’re reading now is to help guide you through the basics and give you a good foundation in the philosophy that’s helped so many men and women over the last 2000 years, myself included.

We’ll go over:

  1. A brief history of Stoic philosophy, their goals, and its founder

  2. The Stoic virtues that were thought to lead to a good and happy life

  3. The concept of control

  4. Acceptance and Amor Fati

  5. Stoic texts and recommended reading

  6. The application of Stoicism to real-world situations

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A brief history of Stoic philosophy:

The Founder of Stoicism:

“Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”
Zeno of Citium

Stoicism was created in the early 3rd century BCE by a man named Zeno of Citium, described in the book Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius as “lean, longish, and swarthy; hence someone called him an Egyptian vine.”

Zeno was a merchant who, while sailing the Ionian Sea close to Athens, was shipwrecked and washed ashore. Finding himself in Athens, he began to learn philosophy under the teachings of Crates, later saying of the wreck, “Fortune does well to drive me to philosophy.”

He studied philosophy for close to twenty years under various teachers until he found himself lecturing his own brand of philosophy under the Painted Porch in the bustling city of Athens. This porch, or stoa, is where the Stoics got their name.

Zeno was held in such high regard by the people of Athens that they gave him the keys to the city walls and honored him with a crown of gold and a statue of bronze.

The Aims of the Stoics:

The fundamental goal of Stoic philosophy was to find a way of life and provide questions that would allow a person to live an ethical and moral existence and ultimately reach a point of lasting and resilient happiness, which the Stoics called eudaimonia, or a state of ‘good spirit’.

To reach eudaimonia, a person has to follow a handful of core principles:

  1. Develop moral character: The Stoics believed that living a virtuous life was the key to happiness and fulfillment, and they focused on cultivating qualities such as wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline. Virtues that we’ll touch on in the next section.

  2. Living in alignment with nature: everything in the universe is governed by reason, and everything is part of the same universal nature. To reach eudaimonia, we need to learn to accept this and learn to live in harmony with it and the world around us.

  3. Accepting fate: many things are beyond our control, and everything that has happened and is happening will happen regardless of our desire for it. Therefore, we need to accept it, decide what we can control, and focus our efforts there.

“The goal of life is living in agreement with Nature.”
Zeno of Citium

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The Four Stoic virtues:

The development of moral character is a fundamental pillar of the Stoic path to eudaimonia. If we behave in ways that are unethical and unjust and do ourselves or others harm, we risk emotions such as grief, guilt, remorse, and shame. Over time, this will destroy the foundation on which we need to build a good life.

In contrast, if we act with virtue, we align our thoughts and behaviours with a way of life that we believe to be constructive and ethical, and we lay the foundations on which to build a healthy peace of mind and a good life.

To help us on our way, the Stoics outlined four core virtues:

  1. Wisdom

  2. Courage

  3. Justice

  4. Temperance


Wisdom is considered to be the most important virtue of the four. It is the ability for you and I to understand the world around us and our place within it and use that understanding to make good judgments and decisions on how to act.

The first component of wisdom is the understanding and acceptance that virtue is the only good. Everything else is either indifferent or bad. Indifferent things are those that are neither good nor bad, such as money, power, pleasure, or possessions.

While many of these things can be used to facilitate good or bad actions, they are not in and of themselves either. Examples of the bad include unethical and immoral behavior such as gluttony, sloth, harm, manipulation, theft, etc.

Secondly, wisdom includes our ability to determine what is and is not within our control. We’ll cover this in more detail later on, but when we are able to clearly distinguish what is within our control and what is not, we are better able to avoid frustration, and we are better able to focus our attention where we will be most effective.

Thirdly, we’ve already highlighted how important living in alignment with nature is to the Stoics. If we are unable to see the nature of the world around us and how we fit into it, we will find it very difficult to stay consistent and in harmony with it.

For example, the nature of the universe is change. If we do not have the wisdom to see change as a natural state in which things exist, we will find it more difficult to accept change when it happens around us, and we may even resist it, sacrificing our peace of mind in the process.

“Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?”

– Marcus Aurelius


To the Stoics, courage is our ability to face adversity and hardship without hesitation. In many cases, we may feel fear, reservation, uncertainty, or doubt, but courage will allow us to act in a way we feel is right, aligned with our values and morals, despite the headwinds that may otherwise hold us back.

Courage is also closely related to the trait of fortitude, whereby we can endure pain and discomfort (mental or physical) with strength and resilience. Simply put, this means shouldering discomfort without giving into hopelessness and dispair.

Viktor Frankl writes in detail about this in the fantastic book Man’s Search for Meaning, which I encourage everyone to read at least once.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

– Viktor Frankl

To develop courage, the Stoics advise us to embrace discomfort and face our fears, not avoid them. In this way, we discover that we are able to deal with and pass through the things we fear; we expand our comfort zone, and in doing so, we dissolve the power our fears have over us.

According to the Stoics, each of us has a duty to ourselves and to our community. Without the courage to do what is right, to act with virtue, and to align ourselves with the nature of the world around us, we are stunted in our ability to perform our duty.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man without trials.



Justice is the quality that allows us to act fairly, treat people equally, extend moral righteousness to those around us, and act in the best interest of the community.

Justice helps us treat people with respect and compassion and helps us remember that we are part of a larger whole in which everyone must do their part.

The virtue of justice isn’t simply about holding wrongdoers to account; it’s about recognizing that our behaviors, when looked at through the lens of virtue, can fall into the categories of right and wrong.

Justice encourages us to behave in such a way that we do the right thing for both ourselves and for the people around us.

We are responsible for the way we act, and our actions have consequences. Similar to the concept of courage, justice promotes the need to do the right thing despite pressure not to. In this context, it could be treating a person fairly even though you may have a past history, or not giving a friend an unfair advantage if you are in a position of authority.

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.”

– Marcus Aurelius


Temperance is our self-control and our ability to moderate our behavior despite the pull of desire, greed, and impulse.

The Stoics put a great deal of emphasis on self-discipline and self-restraint. They believed that when we lack these qualities, our impulses will cause us to prioritize desire over virtue and pull us further away from a life that leads to happiness and flourishing, eudaimonia.

In addition, when our behavior is controlled by our desires, we may find ourselves doing things that cause shame, regret, anger, disappointment, and general suffering. This pulls us further from the path to eudaimonia.

When we are able to moderate our behavior, we can focus on what we find important in life; we can stop procrastinating and build that business or write that book; we can put our phones down and spend more time with our children; we can quit an addiction and have more constructive relationships; and we can end bad habits and live a healthier life.

“Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future”

Marcus Aurelius

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The Stoic concept of control:

There are many practices in Stoic philosophy that can help us live better and happier lives. I won’t include all of them in this article, because it’s designed to be an introduction, but I will include the ones that I believe hold the most value.

The dichotomy of control is one that I consider to be up there with the best.

Epictetus and Stoic Control:

Epictetus was born into slavery around 50 A.D. He spent his youth in Rome as a slave to Epaphroditus, a wealthy freedman and secretary to Emperor Nero.

As a young man, Epictetus showed an interest in philosophy, and his master permitted him to study and attend lectures under the Stoic Musonius Rufus.

Epictetus was eventually freed at the age of 18 after the death of Emperor Nero, and in 93 AD he began teaching his own philosophy and instructing others on how to live a good and happy life.

He believed that a fundamental component of a resilient sense of wellbeing was our ability to focus on what is within our control and accept and let go of what is outside of our control.

This philosophy of control was central to Epictetus’ brand of Stoic philosophy, and it is something that I believe can go a long way toward helping us reach eudaimonia.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.”

– Epictetus

Epictetus explained that there are only two kinds of things in life: those we can control and those we cannot. Sometimes we can influence something, but influence and control are two different things.

He explained that within our control are our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and preconceptions. That’s it. Outside our control is everything else: the weather, the actions of others, the economy, traffic, circumstances, the laws of nature, etc.

Epictetus once said:

“There are things that are within our power, and things that fall outside our power. Within our power are our own opinions, aims, desires, dislikes—in sum, our own thoughts and actions. Outside our power are our physical characteristics, the class into which we were born, our reputation in the eyes of others, and honours and offices that may be bestowed on us. 

Working within our sphere of control, we are naturally free, independent, and strong. Beyond that sphere, we are weak, limited, and dependent. If you pin your hopes on things outside your control, taking upon yourself things which rightfully belong to others, you are liable to stumble, fall, suffer, and blame both gods and men. But if you focus your attention only on what is truly your own concern, and leave to others what concerns them, then you will be in charge of your interior life. No one will be able to harm or hinder you. You will blame no one, and have no enemies.  If you wish to have peace and contentment, release your attachment to all things outside your control. This is the path of freedom and happiness. If you want not just peace and contentment, but power and wealth too, you may forfeit the former in seeking the latter, and will lose your freedom and happiness along the way.”

When we understand the concept of control, we are better able to detach our wellbeing from external things, thereby preventing the coming and going of the world around us from dictating whether we suffer or are content. Instead, when we focus internally on what we can control and develop wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, as well as acting in a way that aligns with our beliefs and our values, we develop a resilient form of wellbeing, one we can directly control.

In this way, we maintain our peace of mind and tranquility regardless of what happens around us.

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Acceptance and Amor Fati:

The second principle I’ll include in this article is the Stoic practice of acceptance. This means accepting the present moment for what it is without passing judgment or resisting the conditions in which we find ourselves.

The Latin phrase “Amor Fati”, or “love of fate,” is the name given to the practice of embracing whatever happens in life and seeing it as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Our ability to accept the world around us draws on the Stoic concept of control and involves us acknowledging that there are many things in life that we have no control over, whether that be the actions of other people, our health, or the economic state of the world.

Instead of resisting things that won’t change no matter how much effort we put into them, the Stoics believed that we should accept them as they are and focus only on where our efforts will have an impact.

When we learn to accept the state of the world, we remove its ability to destabilize our peace of mind and damage our wellbeing. We become resilient.

The biggest indicator that we are not accepting life as it is is when we use language like “should”. Often we expect things to go a certain way, and often those things are beyond our control.

Expectations are not always a bad thing; it’s healthy to look forward to good things in our lives, but if we’re not careful, our expectations can latch our wellbeing and happiness onto future events we have no control over, and in doing so, set us up to suffer.

Even in the face of setbacks, we can learn to accept that these kinds of events are a natural part of life.

When we experience pain, we can learn to accept that feeling as a part of being human, and if we want to feel happiness, gratitude, love, and enjoyment, we have to accept that we will, at some point, also feel pain and suffering. These two things go hand in hand.

The principle of Amor Fati suggests that we can learn to love fate and love the unraveling of events around us. While some of them may cause us pain or setbacks, they are still part of a wider experience that allows us to consciously perceive the world and all of its colors and vibrancy.

“Through Nietzsche, I discovered amor fati. I just fell in love with the concept because the power that you can have in life of accepting your fate is so immense that it’s almost hard to fathom. You feel that everything happens for a purpose, and that it is up to you to make this purpose something positive and active.”

– Robert Greene

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The application of stoicism:

Finally, let’s take a look at how we actually apply Stoicism in our daily lives.

I believe one of the main reasons why Stoicism has lasted the test of time and remained a popular philosophy for over 2000 years is because it has practical application to life.

The Stoics have given us a framework that we can use right now to improve the conditions of our minds and, by extension, our lives.

Here are some simple ways to get started in Stoicism right now:

  1. Focus on what you can control: Firstly, we can start to develop the ability to focus on what you can control and accept what you cannot. In other words, focus on our thoughts, feelings, and actions and not worry about things that are outside your control, such as the weather, traffic, or other people’s opinions and actions.

  2. Practice self-discipline: The Stoics believed that self-discipline was essential for a virtuous life. They emphasized the importance of practicing self-control, perseverance, and moderation. This means avoiding excess in all areas of life and being mindful of our desires and impulses. When we are better able to moderate our impulses, we become better at preventing being dragged into behavior that leads us further away from the person we want to be.

  3. Live in accordance with nature: As we’ve found out, the Stoics believed that we should strive to live in accordance with nature, which means living in harmony with both the natural world and our own human nature. This involves a “big picture” view of life, recognizing our place in the universe, and living a simple, honest, and humble life.

  4. Practice mindfulness: we should be mindful of the present moment and focus on what is happening right now, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness can help us develop a greater awareness and acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Mindfulness also helps us be aware of how we’re acting and thinking from moment to moment, meaning we are better able to catch ourselves when we stray from the path we want.

  5. Embrace adversity: Rather than trying to avoid or escape difficult situations, learn to accept them as opportunities to grow and develop resilience. Focus on the things you can control and take action to make the best of any situation.

  6. Embrace challenges: The Stoics believed that challenges were opportunities for growth and learning. Rather than avoiding difficult situations, we should embrace them and see them as opportunities to develop our character and become stronger.

I hope this helped you find a foundation in Stoic philosophy, and if you think it’s a helpful way of life, start down the path of the Stoics. Feel free to have a look at the other articles on the site, or if you prefer videos, we have a YouTube channel called Orion Philosophy.

Stoic texts and further reading:

Unfortunately, most of the works from the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics have been lost to time, but there are a handful of books and essays that have survived and are well worth reading.

The most popular three are:

  1. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations:

  2. Epictetus, Discourses:

  3. Seneca, Letters:

There are also:

  • Epictetus, Enchirideon (or Handbook)

  • Musonius Rufus, Fragments

  • Seneca, On Anger

  • Seneca, On The Shortness of Life

There are other works by writers who are not strictly Stoics but seem to hold Stoicism in high regard. For example, while Cicero isn’t a Stoic, several of his works are generally seen as important to the overall library of Stoic literature and history, including De Fato, De Finibus, De Natura Deorum, De Officiis, Paradoxa Stoicorum, and the Tusculanae Disputationes.

Diogenes Laertius wrote a book called Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, and while it is not a Stoic text, it does contain a great number of details about Stoic philosophers and Stoicism in general. Those of you with a good memory will notice I used my own copy to quote sections when describing Zeno of Citium in the section above.

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