What’s the difference between stoicism and Stoicism

Simple answer: You often hear “stoic” or “stoicism” used in everyday conversation. The speaker is not often using that term in the sense that we mean, as a reference to Stoic philosophy. The Oxford English Dictionary has two definitions that capture the two senses of the term. The Los Angeles Stoics endorse only the second definition:

  1. stoicism [lower-case ‘s’]: the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.
  2. Stoicism [upper-case ‘S’]: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

More details: The following article does a more thorough job explaining the distinction than I every could: https://medium.com/stoicism-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life/the-difference-between-stoicism-and-stoicism-907ee9e35dc5 … A helpful way that the author, Donald Robertson, highlights the distinction between stoicism and Stoicism is by asking this question:

What’s the difference between these two statements?

  1. I am being very stoic about the welfare of others.
  2. I am being very Stoic about the welfare of others.

As you start studying Stoic philosophy, Robertson claims the distinction between these two statements will be “pretty obvious.” He then cites a passage from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations Bk 1 that describes what Stoicism is really meant to help its practitioners do: “to combine complete freedom from passion with the greatest human affection” (1.9.3).

What is Stoicism? What is its basic tenets?

Simple answer: Stoicism is a way-of-life that people adopt or draw inspiration from in order to be better and happier people. Its shorthand slogan for a life well-lived is a “life in accordance with nature” which, for human beings, is a life in accordance with reason and virtue.

More details: Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens at around 300 BC as an alternative to other schools of thought (such as Epicureanism, Aristotelianism, and, and Academic Skepticism). It was named after the outdoor colonnade near the town square (the ‘stoa poikile‘) where Zeno instructed his students. What distinguished Stoicism from these other schools were a few central doctrines that are still endorsed in modern Stoicism (the following is my own synthesis):

  1. Virtue is the highest good and nothing else should be exchanged for it
  2. Exercising virtue amounts to exercising rational judgment and being of service to the larger community of rational beings
  3. Only physical things exist (i.e., have real causal efficacy) and every event has a physical antecedent cause.

These doctrines lead to other claims such as their embrace of cosmopolitanism, their stance toward emotions, and their approach to things outside one’s sphere of control.

Does Stoicism ask us to suppress emotion?

Simple answer: No. The goal is to not have the kind of emotion that needs to be suppressed in the first place. Stoicism asks us to transform every unhealthy emotion (pathos) into its correlative healthy emotion (eupatheia). This may take a lot of time and effort (and patience) to accomplish. In the meantime, Stoicism may ask us to refrain from expressing our unhealthy emotions in unproductive or harmful ways, but this is not different than the standard advice we often give to one another.

More details: The APA Dictionary entry for “suppression” defines it as “a conscious effort to . . . control and inhibit the expression of unacceptable impulses and feelings.” This is distinct from “repression,” which supposedly operates at the unconscious level. Stoicism does not recommend either.

Does the Stoicism imply political quietism? Does it discourage activism?

Simple answer: Not at all. There is a well-attested history of Stoic activism and opposition to political tyranny

More details: Lawrence Becker articulates the “Axiom of Futility” as part of his discussion of Stoic normative logic. It states that “agents are not required to try to do something that is logically, theoretically or practically impossible.” Whether or not something is impossible is based on the reasoned evaluation of the agent on a case-by-case basis, but political change is rarely placed in this category. Becker and the Stoics mean “impossible” quite literally. For example, [[I will provide example of Stoic activism and how to undertake it here]]

Is Stoicism well suited for entrepreneurism?

Simple answer: Stoicism is compatible with entrepreneurism and the pursuit of wealth. But practicing Stoicism doesn’t guarantee success in business and finance.

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Can Stoicism just be used for its ‘life hacks’?

Simple answer: To an extent (as much as Buddhism or Yoga can be used in a similar way). But we wouldn’t call those who just implement these ‘life hacks’ “Stoics” or what they’re doing “Stoicism.”

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Is there an inherent connection between Stoicism and military service?

Simple answer: No. The only thing ‘inherent’ in Stoicism is its advocacy of reason and social harmony. When applied to military policies, this seems to imply the use of military intervention only in self-defense or for purely humanitarian missions. In keeping with ‘Just War’ theories, military intervention should be viewed only as a last resort when diplomacy is theoretically or practically impossible and when there is an immediate threat to innocent parties.

More details: Recalling passages from Epictetus’s Enchiridion helped Admiral James Stockdale endure terrible conditions as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for over seven years (during the Vietnam War). This was highlighted during his vice-presidential campaign in 1992 (with Ross Perot) and documented in his autobiography, Courage Under Fire, that was published the following year. Marcus Aurelius is usually cited as justification for the tight connection between military service and Stoicism. But, it is important to note that Marcus was in many ways forced into his role as commander of the Roman military and he was often pushing towards diplomatic solutions. On the Eastern Front, he delegated military command to his co-emperor, Lucius Verus, until the latter died and Marcus was declared sole Emperor. At that point, he stopped all military campaigns in Mesopotamia and focused his attention on defending the border territories in Germania against the so-called “Gothic Invasions.” At times, he experimented with allowing Germanic tribes to settle within Roman territory, but ultimately decided to hold the line against ‘invasion’. Not to apologize for Marcus, but he was also dealing with a potential civil war instigated by Avidius Cassius and also with a deadly pandemic (perhaps smallpox or measles). The bottom line is that war is horrible and should be only resorted to with caution and prudence— though the soldiers should be admired when displaying courage in such horrible conditions, war itself should never be glorified.

Is Stoicism feminist?

Simple answer: Yes, in the sense that Stoicism is compatible with feminist views and easily lends itself to feminist movements.

More details: The common argument against women’s advocacy in antiquity and—astonishingly—up through the modernity is that women are irrational or possess a lesser degree or quality of rationality. We find this argument in Aristotle’s Politics and this is the text that was often cited as philosophical justification for sexist and racist policies. Stoicism explicitly rejects this argument.

Is Stoicism anti-racist?

Simple answer: Yes. Following Ibram X. Kendi, “antiracist” doesn’t just mean “not racist.” An antiracist philosophy would be one that actively produces, normalizes, and helps sustains racial equity. Stoic cosmopolitanism normalizes equity among all rational beings regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion.

More details: Likewise, the term “racist” describes something that normalizes racial inequity and can be used (legitimately) to support policies that produce or sustain racial inequity. (How to be an Antiracist, pp. 20-21). Though some contend that ‘race’ as it’s interpreted today did not crystallize as an aspect of one’s social identity until the 16th century, the idea of ‘the Other’ is as old as mankind. And Stoicism is categorically against dividing human beings in such ways.

Can/do Stoics believe in God?

Simple answer: Yes, Stoics can believe in God; many have and still do articulate their commitment to reason (logos) in theistic terms. But the God articulated by Stoics like Cleanthes and Epictetus may not be compatible with more anthropomorphic conceptions of God in the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim faith.

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Is Stoicism a religion?

Simple answer: It depends on your definition of religion, but the simple answer is ‘no’. It is better described as a way-of-life.

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Does Stoic conception of Fate undermine free will?

Simple answer: No, though ‘free will’ is not clearly articulated in Ancient Greek or Roman Stoicism, it is not problematized either.

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What is Stoicism’s position on “natural law”?

Simple answer: The Stoics popularized the notion of “natural law” in their use of the term nomos. In context, it is clearly meant to articulate a natural law that is distinct from conventional law. The former is the normative ideal for the latter. For humans, natural law is a standard of behavior which is rational and which promotes social living.

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Does Stoicism require the endorsement of specific political positions?

Simple answer: Not necessarily. The Stoics value individual judgment or choice (prohairesis) and exercising that choice with wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.

More details: The overarching goal of public policy is to help people develop their human nature: for Stoics, this mean to help them be rational and sociable. Being rational means that there are good reasons that you can present as justifications for your choices. So policies should encourage (or be compatible with) public discourse, free communication, equitable education, and institutional transparency. Being sociable means …

What’s wrong with fear?

Simple answer: Fear is irrational.

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What’s wrong with anger?

Simple answer: Anger is irrational.

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What’s wrong with delight?

Simple answer: For the Stoics, delight is often wrong because it comes from some irrational assessment of your circumstances. On the other hand, there is as similar emotion translated as “joy” that the Stoics condone.

More details: According to Stoic psychology, ‘Delight’ (hedone) is an emotion prompted by a belief that an external thing is good. For Stoics, this is irrational because no external thing should be considered inherently good. The only thing that is inherently good is the exercise of reason. If we shift our belief in the good from the external thing to this internal thing, then ‘delight’ turns into ‘joy’ (chara). There’s nothing wrong with this—quite the opposite. You might think that it’s a matter of semantics and that these emotions are basically the same thing and that may be true in one sense—the experience of these emotions are probably very similar—but the basis for these emotions are different and this makes one more stable and secure than the other.

What’s wrong with sympathy? compassion?

Simple answer: If sympathy and compassion literally means experiencing fear or distress when others feel fear or distress, then it’s irrational and unhealthy and counterproductive to actually helping others. But if sympathy and compassion means being receptive to the suffering of others without actually experiencing that suffering, then there is nothing wrong with them.

More details: The etymology of both “sympathy” and “compassion” may belie how these terms are used in English. The Latin term compassio is a calque translation of the Greek term sympatheia–– they both refer to the experience of feeling a pathos (an unhealthy emotion) together with or at the same time as someone else. If this is how these terms are actually used in English, then there is something wrong with them. For Stoics, it would be irrational to actually experience the suffering that others are experiencing since A) this would imply that something ‘bad’ is happening when it is not (unless that person is upset at your poor character) and B) this would be counterproductive to actually addressing the source of suffering. But if sympathy and compassion means that we are receptive to the unhealthy emotions or suffering of others without actually experiencing that suffering, then there is nothing wrong with them. Here’s Massimo Pigliucci discussing sympathy and empathy: https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/sympathy-empathy-and-how-a-stoic-should-relate-to-other-peoples-emotions/

What’s wrong with empathy?

Simple answer: There’s nothing wrong with empathy according to its definition and its common usage. According to Merriam-Webster, “With empathy, you can imagine or understand how someone might feel, without necessarily having those feelings yourself.”

More details: See this helpful article on the difference between sympathy and empathy: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/sympathy-empathy-difference.

Seriously, do the Stoics really believe that my pain and suffering, or the pain and suffering of my loved ones is not “bad”?

Simple answer: Yes. Trying to resolve this paradox is part of Stoic education and requires learning some technical terms. We recognize that it’s provocative and controversial, but we still insist that it’s correct.

More detail: This claim is a product of our strict use of the terms good (agathon) and bad (kakia). To resolve the confusion, it’s often helpful to translate these terms as “inherently good” and “inherently bad.” The fact that there are circumstances in my pain and suffering is considered good (say, when I’m sacrificing myself for others) implies that what makes something good depend on the circumstances.

Does Stoicism discourage optimism?

Simple answer: Stoicism discourages unreasonable optimism but it also discourages unreasonable pessimism. Simply put, it insists that human beings should aim towards realism if they are to be better happier people.

More details: Stoicism opposes the pollyanna ‘optimism’ —that we must “accentuate the positive” and “eliminate the negative.” …

Stoicism also opposes the ‘power of attraction’ optimism that claims our positive thoughts can directly influence our external circumstances and bring about positive outcomes. Of course, positive thoughts do have an affect on our internal state-of-mind, our attitude, and our body’s internal functioning (e..g., nervous system, immune system, digestive system). But beyond this, it is important to emphasize the role of rational decision-making and virtuous action informed by reason. Reason functions best with accurate information about the world. Thus, pessimism and optimism is discouraged in favor of a ardent realism.

What’s wrong with the artistic/Dionysian spirit?

Simple answer: There are risks involved.

More details: Artists often say they must tap into their non-rational aspects of their mind in order to express their emotions in art. The concern that Stoics have with this is similar to the concerns we have with overindulging in alcohol or drugs. Once you’ve started, you don’t have the wherewithal to stop when it would be rational to do so. Stoics also express concerns about the repetition of these incidences becoming habit. Similarly, this is what distinguishes those that partake in alcohol from alcoholics.

How is Stoicism related to Nietzsche btw?

Simple answer: Nietzsche was no Stoic, though there are some similarities between his views and Stoic philosophy.

More details: There are three obvious similarities.

  • Modern Stoics make a big deal of “amor fati” which is not found in any Stoic writings, but in Nietzsche’s Ecce homo (“Why I am so Intelligent,” 10) and his Nietzsche Contra Wagner (“Epilogue,” I). Pierre Hadot first drew comparisons between these passages and the Stoic ‘Discipline of Desire’ (see Hadot’s The Inner Citadel (1998), Ch. 6).
  • Modern Stoics sometimes mention the so-called “Eternal Recurrence/Return [of the same events]” as articulated by Nietzsche in The Gay Science (§285 and §341) and most cryptically in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Part III, §2 and §13). Taken literally, one could draw comparisons between Nietzsche’s Eternal Return and the early Greek Stoic’s cosmology. Taken figuratively, as an imaginative exercise, it can allow one to adopt the amor fati that seems important to the Stoic ‘discipline of desire’—to imbue the present moment and the ostensibly mundane decisions therein with immense moral significance.