What Is Stoicism? A Short Introduction to the Ancient Philosophy That Can Help You Cope with Our Hard Modern Times

The word “sto­ic” (from the Greek stoa) has come to mean a few things in pop­u­lar par­lance, most of them relat­ed direct­ly to the ancient Greek, then Roman, phi­los­o­phy from which the term derives. Sto­ic peo­ple seem unmov­able. They stay cool in a cri­sis and “keep calm and car­ry on” when oth­ers lose their heads. For sev­er­al, per­haps obvi­ous, rea­sons, these qual­i­ties of “calm, resilience, and emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty” are par­tic­u­lar­ly need­ed in a time like ours, says Alain de Bot­ton in his School of Life video above.

But how do we acquire these qual­i­ties, accord­ing to the Sto­ics? And what philoso­phers should we con­sult to learn about them? One of the most pro­lif­ic of Sto­ic philoso­phers, the Roman writer and states­man Seneca, advised a typ­i­cal course of action. In a let­ter to his friend Lucil­ius, who feared a poten­tial­ly career-end­ing law­suit, Seneca coun­seled that rather than rest­ing in hopes of a hap­py out­come, his friend should assume that the worst will come to pass, and that, no mat­ter what, he can sur­vive it.

The goal is not to make Deb­bie Down­ers of us all, but to con­vince us that we are stronger than we think—that even our worst fears need­n’t mean the end of the world. Seneca’s sto­icism is a thor­ough­go­ing real­ism that asks us to account for the entire range of pos­si­ble outcomes—even the absolute worst we can imagine—rather than only those things we want or have pre­vi­ous­ly expe­ri­enced. In this way, we will not be caught off-guard when bad things come to pass, because we have already made a cer­tain peace with them.

Rather than a pes­simistic phi­los­o­phy, Seneca’s thought seems entire­ly prac­ti­cal, a means of pierc­ing our pleas­ant illu­sions and com­fort­able bub­bles of self-regard, and con­sid­er­ing our­selves just as sub­ject to mis­for­tune as any­one else in the world, and just as capa­ble of endur­ing it as well.

To par­take of Seneca’s wis­dom your­self, con­sid­er read­ing this online three-vol­ume col­lec­tion of his let­ters, The Tao of Seneca. And for a longer list of Sto­ic thinkers, ancient and mod­ern, see this post from Ryan Hol­i­day of the Dai­ly Sto­ic, a blog that offers use­ful Sto­ic advice for con­tem­po­rary peo­ple.

Relat­ed Con­tent:   

Three Huge Vol­umes of Sto­ic Writ­ings by Seneca Now Free Online, Thanks to Tim Fer­riss

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Philo­soph­i­cal Recipe for Get­ting Over the Sources of Regret, Dis­ap­point­ment and Suf­fer­ing in Our Lives

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Epi­cu­rus and His Answer to the Ancient Ques­tion: What Makes Us Hap­py?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • LuisG.Sanz.P says:

    El esto­icis­mo pro­por­ciona un mas sano y mejor crec­imien­to, desar­rol­lo y evolu­ción de la con­cien­cia, rein­te­gran­do la per­son­al­i­dad humana a la iden­ti­dad cós­mi­ca y uni­ver­sal; trascen­di­en­do al indi­vid­uo en su ser colec­ti­vo, por cada niv­el alcan­za­do en el conocimien­to de si mis­mo…

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  • Michael Kuwani says:

    To learn about sto­icism

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