The Stoics: What did they really stand for?

If this isn't your first visit to our blog, or if you're already interested in philosophy, you've probably come across the school of stoic philosophy before. But what does stoic mean anyway? In this post, we'll get to the bottom of that question.

Stoic philosophy can be traced back to Zeno of Kition. He was a scholar in ancient Athens, where he philosophized with like-minded people in the marketplace at a portico (called: Stoa) about what constitutes a good life.

As time went on, Zeno found more and more followers and the name of the Stoa established itself out of a kind of pragmatism. Which in itself is very stoic, as you will see later. But the term was also chosen because there was a certain foundation on which the philosophy stood. Pillars, then.

In short:
The Stoa were followers of a philosophical school, which was founded around 300 BC in ancient Athens and existed until about 200 AD. Mainly they were concerned with how to lead a happy and contented life through inner mastery - regardless of external circumstances.

For a Stoic, it is important to find and take one's place in the cosmological order of the universe. When one knows one's place in this universe, through practice one is able to control oneself and one's emotions. When one has learned this, no matter what external events befall one, one does not let them upset one's self. It is important to be able to determine one's own inner life regardless of external influences. We ourselves cannot determine what happens to us, but like We are responsible for the way we react to this.

Another important point of Stoicism is the logos (or the logoi). A logos is in principle, a representation of any reason. Mostly, however, the superior logos is meant. The logos is, so to speak, the understanding of how things are, the knowledge of how they should be as well as the corresponding action. So all that in which the Stoics practiced themselves. You can find here a complete Logos articles.

Famous Stoics

Among the better known Stoics are Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Annaeus Seneca like Epictetus.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor, general as well as a stoic. He belongs to the later Stoics, yet his views are stoic through and through. Aurelius was of the opinion that it is important to put one's own existence in relation to the size of the universe, so that everyone can keep in mind how small and insignificant our existence is and thus also our problems and fears.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was not only a philosopher but also a politician and naturalist. Most of his speeches have perished in the course of time. However, the material that has survived to us today is sufficient to assign him to the school of the Stoa. Seneca was one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the Roman Empire at the time. This power and wealth ensured even then that he was criticized for not living what he preached, yet the core statements of his philosophical views are no less true just because he did not live by them.

Epictetus offers a contrast to Seneca, for Epictetus came to Rome as a slave, where he came into contact with Stoic philosophy. Epictetus is considered one of the most influential late Stoa. After he was expelled from Rome, he founded a school of philosophy in Nicopolis. He himself taught at this school until his death. His teachings are largely about ethical and moral issues, how to keep chastity before marriage and showed a very liberal attitude.

The surviving followers of Stoicism are:
Zeno of Kition, Kleanthes, Chrysippus, Ariston of Chios, Zeno of Tarsos, Diogenes of Babylon, Polybius, Antipater of Tarsos, Panaitios of Rhodes, Poseidonios, Cicero, Sotion, Seneca, Gaius Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

Stoic views

Marcus Aurelius once said that hardly anything material is needed to live a happy life - if you understand existence. Aurelius, like other Stoics, often talked about occasionally sleeping on a rug in the kitchen, rather than in one's bed. He said one should drink rainwater from a dog's bowl or put on old clothes. Since you are deliberately exposing yourself to a lower standard of living in these situations, it would strike you that you don't need as much as you usually assume.

Another stoic doctrine is the negative View, in which one should not hope too much. Rather, we should expect bad events, events such as betrayal, theft, disgrace, greed, humiliation, or violence. By expecting these negative events, we keep our expectations low and try not to be disappointed so often.

Many Stoics also believed that one should occasionally eat like an animal. You should not even use your hands but simply press your mouth into the food on the plate like a pig. This can be done at home, of course, but also in a restaurant. Through this exercise we should learn to give less to the opinion of others. Since we are often very big on the opinion of others, it may be that we become dependent on this opinion.

As already mentioned at the beginning of the article, it is also helpful to consider one's own life in relation to the entire universe. Because when we become aware of how small our role is on this planet, we notice that our problems are also very small. Maybe your car broke down yesterday, but at least it wasn't the local power plant, or (if we're going in that direction) the not-so-local but elemental power plant of the planet: the sun.

For the Stoics, it was also extremely important to practice self-control. Only when one can ignore one's own desires is one able to take life as it comes. If one pursues one's desires and dreams, it can happen that one chooses morally reprehensible ways. However, if you are able to put your desires aside, you can focus on doing what is right rather than what you want.

Now you should have a good idea of Stoicism - one of the most popular philosophical schools around even today.

Simon and I have a collection of articles here if you're interested in the topic in more detail:

List of contributions to the Stoics

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius: How to escape fear

Quotations Explained: Marcus Aurelius on Appreciation and Desire

Marcus Aurelius on Perspective and Truth

Marcus Aurelius' Most Relevant Quotes for Modern Life

"Our life is what our thinking makes it" (The Meaning Explained).

Quotes Explained: Marcus Aurelius on Acceptance and Destiny

Marcus Aurelius on the pursuit of recognition

"Death smiles upon us all, ..." - Marcus Aurelius

"...from the thoughts the soul takes its color" - Marcus Aurelius

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Quotes explained: Seneca about Multitasking and FOMO

The meaning behind quotations: The racing time - Seneca

Seneca explains: Navigating through life the right way

"Fill your life with color" - What Seneca meant by it

How to reduce suffering - Seneca explains

The Meaning Behind Quotations: Aurelius on Pride and Sorrow

Seneca on the true nature of death

Seneca about the rough sides of life

Seneca About How to Grow With Each Day

Seneca About Daring and Procrastination


Quote Meanings: What do I want to be - Epictetus

The opinion of others - Epictetus explains

Epictetus on the Necessity of a Goal - Have One to Prosper

Epictetus on True Wealth and Frugality

Why we find it difficult to learn new things

Other stoa

The time of the present is limited - Zeno

What makes a healthy soul: Ariston of Chios on virtue

Pleasant are the completed works - Cicero about procrastination

Death is not the worst thing - Plato explains

Knowing that you know nothing - Socrates explains

"He who is not content with that..." - Socrates about contentment

Simply Explained: What a logos is

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