Stoicism was a philosophical school of thought founded by Zeno of Citium (not to be confused with Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher perhaps best known for his paradoxes). Zeno of Citium was a pupil of Crates of Thebes (among others). Considering the fact that this Crates was a Cynic, it’s not surprising that many aspects of Cynicism – the idea of living a virtuous life, for instance, as well as the rejection of material wealth – were absorbed into Stoic philosophy.

Stoicism became immensely popular in both Greece and Rome, with many illustrious thinkers refining and defining it over the years. The central focus of Stoicism lies in the idea of always maintaining a will that “works in accordance with nature”. According to the Stoics, a person who does this can be considered virtuous and should be able to overcome suffering and thereby live a happy life. So what, exactly, does it mean to have such a will? Well, the Stoics had a deterministic view on nature, and felt that it was inevitable that things should occasionally not go our way. If a person accepts this fact, and doesn’t get angry when it happens (which rarely does any good anyway), they have managed to cultivate a will that does, indeed, work in accordance with nature. In other words (and I do hope I’ve got this right); “go with the flow”. It’s important to note, however, that Stoicism was more than just a bit of theory, it was a way of life. It can be compared to forms of spirituality like Buddhism, and involved a lot of practical elements such as daily meditation and self-reflection. It’s not enough to force yourself to stay calm when bad things happen if you want to call yourself a Stoic – there’s much more to it than that.

Much like the Cynics, the Stoics placed more emphasis on what people did than what they said. It’s easy enough to say that you’re not going to throw a fit the next time you end up in a traffic jam, but it’s considerably harder to actually keep your cool when the theoretical traffic congestion becomes a reality.

P.S. Unlike the term “cynic”, the modern definition of “stoic” hasn’t deviated too far from the origins of the word. The Stoics felt that happiness could be obtained not by fulfilling desires but by removing them, and so a slight lack of passion is characteristic of the practicing Stoic. Stoicism does not, however, have anything to do with repressing emotions.

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2 responses »

  1. Stoicism is making a huge comeback. It helps you with your life immediately, is accessible to the unitiated, and doesn’t offend religious sensibilities. If I could buy shares in Stoicism, I’d be a rich man in ten years.

    • Haha, I think that would be a sound investment! It’s definitely a great way to improve the overall quality of your life, and a really neat “trick” for dealing with anger and frustration.

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