Why Choose Stoicism?

“No school of philosophy is more gentle and kind, none is more full of love towards man or more anxious to promote the happiness of all, seeing that its maxims are, to be of service and assistance to others, and to consult the interests of each and all, not of itself alone.”

Seneca, On Clemency, Book 2.5.

As you might know Stoicism is a philosophy that was founded around 300 B.C. by Zeno of Citium a Phonecian, who settled in Athens. Zeno attended lectures from various teachers across different schools- it is said he studied under Polemo the head of Plato’s school, Stilpo the Megarian and Crates the Cynic. Zeno was clearly influenced by some of the greatest thinkers of the ancient Greek world including, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Heraclitus.

Given the broad range of influences that make up Stoicism, we might expect the philosophy to be a hodgepodge of random ideas weakly fused together, but this is far from the case. The Stoics had a comprehensive philosophy, which could be described under the three streams of ethics, physics and logic. Stoicism is a type of eudaimonic virtue ethics and differs in important ways to the other schools it vigorously debated with in the ancient world-

-Stoicism is eudaimonic; following Socrates it believes that all rational beings (humans) seek their happiness and that happiness is found in living in accordance with Nature. In part, this involves knowing what the nature is of a rational being and aligning oneself with it.

-Stoicism regarded all humans as part of a rational whole and therefore bound by a shared kinship. They were less interested in subjective differences and more interested in what humans have in common, seeing us as parts of a much greater living organism, whose lives were best lived when meeting our obligations to others and considering the greater purpose of the collective whole.

-Stoicism views Virtue as the only true good, and by living a virtuous life one finds a special kind of rational happiness. This is so, because virtue is both a kind of knowledge and also the perfected character and use of reason that a human can have. Virtue is excellence, and not merely in a competitive sense. It is an excellent understanding of what it means to be a rational being AND the knowledge of how to apply such an understanding in every situation. It is the perfect rational end that all human activity should aim for.

-Stoicism emphasises our rational freedom, stating that, although what happens is often not up to us, the view that we take of what happens is always up to us. It offers a powerful defence against our feelings of insecurity and response to misfortune as it emphasises our rational autonomy and direction toward virtue (as the right use of reason) which minimises and ultimately frees us from painful and distressing feelings that arise from valuing external things.

In a nutshell Stoicism is a philosophy that has a complex and systematic view of the cosmos and place in it. It is not based on faith, but rather is a practical and rational philosophy and therefore can be methodically studied and learnt. Stoicism emphasises rational freedom, the power of personal volition, and the interconnectedness of all rational beings. It seeks to transform subjective and highly personal interpretations of good and bad and to offer in their place objective and rational judgements about what is actually good for us or bad for us. Such an approach is an obvious critique of a secular, sometimes overly individualistic and consumer oriented society. It challenges us to reform our opinions away from what we subjectively desire, to, instead what would objectively be good for us, individually and as a whole.