Is Stoicism, an Ancient Philosophy fit for the Modern time

“All things are parts of one single system, which is called nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with nature.”

— Zeno of Citium

Zeno of CitiumEpictetusSeneca, and Marcus Aurelius

The History

During 334 BCE in the city of Citium in Modern day Cyprus Zeno was born. He is widely regarded as the founder of Stoicism, the philosophical school that would dominate the upper class of Greek and Roman societies for centuries to come until the fall of the Roman Empire and is still taught and learned well into this day. Its fascinating that a school of taught founded by a merchant of Phoenician origin would have such an impact on the centuries of Roman conquest. The base of Stoicism was in Cynicism which was much more a rigid philosophy in rejecting material possessions. Whereas stoicism emphasized that virtue is the only good, it never saw wealth and possessions inherently good or bad but saw them on which virtue is to be acted upon.

The Philosophy

The stoics firmly believes that a person’s virtue is not the one that is said but the one through which they act. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they thought everything was rooted in nature.

Many Stoics—such as Seneca and Epictetus—emphasized that because “virtue is sufficient for happiness”, a sage would be emotionally resilient to misfortune. This belief is similar to the meaning of the phrase “stoic calm”, though the phrase does not include the traditional Stoic view that only a sage can be considered truly free and that all moral corruptions are equally vicious.

“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according what others think, you will never be rich.”

― Seneca

The name stoicism originates from Stoa Poikile, a colonnade on the north side of the Agora in Athens where Zeno and his followers gathered to discuss their ideas.

Depiction of the Battle of Marathon in the Stoa Poikile (reconstitution)

The Virtue

The philosophy of stoicism focused on explaining a unified account, with ideals of logic, monism, and naturalism. This was focused on an individual to eliminate destructive emotions with the development of self-control and fortitude; these will help the individual become an unbiased thinker to allow universal reason. Its primary objective being “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature”. Its also seen that stoicism heavily emphasized on seeing all individuals as equals, as all men are part of nature. Without outright rejecting slavery the philosophy emphasized on seeing slaves as equals. It also ultimately meant that followers should be free of anger, envy, and jealousy.

The Evolution

The modern meaning of the word stoic isn’t exactly faithful to its philosophical past. The philosophy in fact meant to transform human emotions to help the person make clear judgement and inner calm contrary to the current meaning of emotionless.

“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.”

— Epictetus

For the Stoics, reason meant using logic and understanding the processes of nature—the logos or universal reason, inherent in all things. According to reason and virtue, living according to reason and virtue is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people.

Stoicism has four cardinal virtues based on the teachings of Plato they are; wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason, which leads to the conclusion of unkindness. The solution to evil and unhappiness then is to examine one’s own judgments and behaviour and determine where they diverge from the universal reason of nature.

The Conclusion

Stoicism flourished in the centuries following Zeno, with one of its leading figures being the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and remained the leading school of thought until Christianity became Rome’s state religion. It has revival in the renaissance and in the modern era because of its universal nature and cultural separation.

“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

― Marcus Aurelius


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