All About Stoicism: (FSF Philosophy Guide)

Updated: Oct 22

By: Adianna Steinbach


What is Stoicism?


Stoicism was created as a philosophy meant to be used and lived by. It took form during a time of uncertainty and instability in terms of societal order and so Stoicism was cultivated to address this issue. Zeno constructed a framework for this philosophy that included concepts such as happiness as a product of life, logic as an instrument, physical theory directing right actions, knowledge being gained through perception, and the human duty of acting in accordance with nature. This basic framework allowed for the application of Stoicism in daily life. A true Stoic was known as one that went out and lived by their theory.

Stoicism has a strong emphasis on virtue and morally just action which in turn means living a righteous life. In addition, stoicism contended that energy should not be wasted on worrying about things out of one’s control. It posits that tranquility in life is achieved by focusing on things that one can control, like emotions and behaviors, while things out of one’s control are viewed as externalities that shouldn’t be given the power to heavily impact one’s life. By mentally reframing certain situations, Stoics hold that thoughts determine one’s experience of reality.


The History of Stoicism

Stoicism was formed during the Hellenistic Age when ancient Greece had fallen and the Roman Empire was emerging. The social disorder of this time had a strong role in the creation of Stoic philosophy in the sense that Stoicism allowed for individual structure in these uncertain times. The founder of Stoicism was Zeno of Citium, and he created a framework for Stoic thought. This framework had influence from older schools, namely Parmenides of Elea with the power of thought, Heracleitus of Ephesus with the constancy of change, Socrates with human nature, and the Cynics with an emotionless life.

In Rome, Stoicism held an emphasis on moral and religious themes while especially employing the concepts of duty and obligation. During the Roman Empire, the Stoic doctrine was turned toward moral philosophy and natural science, contributing to the practicality of the philosophy. After the fall of the Roman empire, Stoicism contributed to medieval thought. Stoicism played a role in the development of Christian institutions, like free will and the nature of good and evil. Stoic thought of human equality contributed to medieval discussions of the nature of law. During the Renaissance and the Reformation, there was a rebirth of Stoic ideas that influenced many theological formations during this time. Because of its fluid history, Stoicism is seen as being incorporated into many contemporary philosophies and modern thought.


Stoicism Philosophers & Other Contributors


Throughout much of Stoicism’s history, many philosophers have influenced the path to our modern interpretations of this philosophy. Below we will go into more detail about each contributor to the philosophy and their contributions in chronological order:

  • Zeno (334-262 BC): Zeno is the founder of Stoicism. While in Athens, he learned about the other philosophies taking form and eventually created his own centered around individual capacity and finding opportunity in misfortune. He also emphasized the importance of small wins and small changes in life.

  • Cleanthes (331-232 BC): Cleanthes of Assos was the successor of Zeno and the second head of the Stoic school in Athens. He contended that living by nature is living virtuously.

  • Chrysippus (279-206 BC): Chrysippus of Soli, Cleanthes successor, further developed Zeno’s writing in an effort to make Stoic doctrines. He held that logic and theology are both needed to determine between right and wrong. His work and development of Stoic thought gave him the name as the second founder of Stoicism.

  • Panaetius and Posionius (185-110 BC/135-51 BC): Also, a part of the Stoic school, Panaetius and his pupil Posidonius pushed for the fluidity of Stoicism, rather than the rigid thought of their fellow philosophers. Panaetius was instrumental in the popularity of Stoicism as he facilitated the spread of the philosophy between Athens and Rome.

  • Seneca (4 BC- 65 AD): Seneca was a Roman philosopher that contributed to the practicality of Stoic thought. He searched for the wisdom to navigate life and is known for inspirational speaking and philosophical thought. He also emphasized human mortality and the need to live life to the fullest.

  • Epictetus (50- 135 AD): Known for his effective teaching methods, Epictetus was instrumental in the application of Stoic thought in daily life. He stressed learning from the wisdom of others and disregarding one’s own arrogance. Further, his concept of the dichotomy of control continues to influence the modern world today.

  • Marcus Auerilius (121-180 AD): Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome, contended that virtue can be practiced in everything. He held that misfortune and obstacles in life are necessary and opportunities to improve yourself.


Stoicism in the World Today


Since Stoicism was made for a changing world, Stoic thought can be seen in many ways in the modern setting. Although there are few who follow Stoicism to the letter, Stoic influence can be seen in practices of daily life. One major aspect of Stoicism is distinguishing between the essential and the inessential. This mindset of shedding inconsequential worries is widespread, especially for those on self-improvement journeys. Another aspect of Stoicism is emotional control. Although this might not seem very common today, we can see it in practice in the American military. Stoicism is also characterized by the practice of negative visualization, which can be used to prepare for any possible misfortune. This kind of visualization is common in today’s world, like in picturing worst-case scenarios before going through with something. Finally, Stoic thought also involves the idea of focusing on only that which is in one’s control. In some ways, this is present in people that subscribe to a ‘seek discomfort’ mindset. Regardless of the practice, Stoic thought can be seen in many mindsets present in today’s world.


Key Takeaways: Stoicism


There are four main key takeaways to keep in mind to understand the main tenants of stoicism. Below are explanations of each:


  1. Don’t take time for granted: The Stoics lived by the phrase Memento Mori, or remember that you will die. Although a slightly morbid concept, this saying reminded the Stoics of their mortality and how they should value their time here on Earth and live every day as if it were their last.

  2. Live in the present: While past failures should be learned from, the Stoics held that dwelling on past experiences is fruitless and out of one’s control, therefore not worth one’s energy. Focusing on what you can control and aiming to live virtuously is how you live well, according to Stoic thought.

  3. Value the small things in life: The Stoics held that valuing small accomplishments would lead to a more gratifying life, and the small things have the potential to define the bigger questions in life.

  4. Develop Mindset Awareness and Control: By accepting thoughts for what they are and being aware of how your responses affect your mentality can allow for a more perceptive existence. Emotional awareness and control is something that the Stoics held as necessary for virtuous action.


Sources:

https://www.holstee.com/blogs/mindful-matter/stoicism-101-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-stoicism-stoic-philosophy-and-the-stoics

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Stoicism

https://dailystoic.com/cleanthes/

https://dailystoic.com/chrysippus/

https://dailystoic.com/panaetius/

https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-five-lessons/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kareanderson/2012/09/28/five-reasons-why-stoicism-matters-today/?sh=f14ae277a643

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