PhilosoPhactor: The Stoics
Philosophy On A Porch
This is the second in a five part series in which I have selected five
ancient schools of philosophy, each as a modern archetype for the philosophies you’ll find among people. Within these five I see a patternwork still in
evidence in the world of mankind. These are five schools whose maxims are
well known, each attempting to instruct us how to live a good life.
You may not know the source, and the maxim may have evolved into
many forms, or just an idea, but the principles are well soaked into so
called western cultures. It is not just that we find some of our ideas similar, in these schools we see our philosophical great grandfathers and mothers. My understanding, relativistic, is that each works best in specific conditions.
(by pyrrho for publishing jointly at MLW and DocuDharma)
As with most of these schools I’ll cover, the name of the school has come
to have a common modern meaning. If it’s fair or not is for someone else to
decide, as a skeptic I’m a bit biased but it seems to me the modern meaning of “stoic” get’s at the meaning of the original school better
than the Epicureans got with “epicurean”. An ancient stoic would have less objection to being called stoic in modern terms than and ancient Epicurean would being called an epicurean in the modern sense, which would offend them.
I will be using the print version of the Oxford “Dictionary of
Philosophy” to refresh myself for this series.
Links offered above may or may not have been referenced to research this
post. I may or may not believe their assertions or have been exposed to them,
but they are given to ease further your direct research should you like. I
give my own impressions of the topics within, please form your own
impressions if you are at all interested in the topics, mine include my own
simplifications and interpretations. I try to present them fairly, clearly,
but I am a skeptic myself, a relativist with opinions on all these schools,
and a tendency to eschew the doctrinaire side of each of these schools,
myself, and tend to seek and emphasize the reusable tools each has to
To be stoic is to be resolute in the face of adversity, to uphold virtue, usualy in a traditional sense of virtue. One
thing about the name, and the school, which reflects back on Epicurus’ false
reputation is that the Stoics are named after the Place where Zeno of Citium
taught, the Stoa Poikile, the Painted Porch, rather than after Zeno of
Citium. As a result, and due to a long life of the school, the stoic philosophy
various stages and had a chance to become something different from Zeno’s
philosophy. If it was a refinement or blurring is a matter of interpretation but whatever Epicurus’ self-described followers believed, his philosophy remains
a particular thing attached to his original thinking in spite of how it might be used as an excuse for
indulgence. In contrast to that, and also as a major
contemporary opponent of Epicureanism, Stoicism comes to represent a spirit. It becomes an approach, and that approach was traditionalism. That the world is knowable turns easilly into a belief that it is known, that the our leaders are the right leaders, that our traditions are not random, but sublimely reasonable.
Frankly, the Stoics are conservative in my book, but in moderation, and as such still have
some sage advice. Indeed, I often notice the stoic in the principled conservative, as the source of their misalignment with the Republican party, just a soul seeking a no nonsense strong will, sympathetic to tradition, and accepting the hardness of life as a given. Whomever you are, aometimes you have to be stoic, you ought to be. Sometimes
you owe it to someone, to civil rights, for example, and you have to stand
bravely against something hard. Sometimes such resolve requires philosophy, a philosophy where
virtue is a higher value than practicality… than fear, where hardship is a given and the mind spends no time railing against the unfairness of it all. Alternately, sometimes life is
hard, and the practical thing is in fact the stoic approach, “Don’t Panic”… and the Stoic philosophy is fairly
good at facing such natural adversity. The Stoics are
traditionalists, and take comfort in the certainty tradition offers.
If you want the details of such exchanges of control over the Stoic school and its teachings,
check out the links to the right. The final stages are dominated by an era of
“Roman Stoicism” and this philosophy represents a kind of more chaste Roman
than one might imagine from reading Gaius Petronius.
The Stoics ended up over time favoring a lot of conventional wisdom of the
sort that believes in the rules. They believe in order, it is both a
criticism and compliment to say they make apathy a virtue. I for one have more
sympathy with apathy as a value than traditionalism. Zeno held
that only living virtuously had value, all else was “indifferent”. This is
potentially the philosophy of a hardy soul. The term stoic isn’t quite fair
to that model because it implies something more resolute and less tender… so remember
the stoic of real virtue and endurance can be the noble political activist. Being
too rigid, too stoic, can be a vice when times are good, but when there is an
emergency, and a cousin has broken his leg on a family camping trip miles
from help, the family turns to the stoic members to bear their burdens and carry them through.
Stoicism is a very familiar philosophy, it can be going down with the ship with
dignity, or just as a way to endure winter without
the sort of panic and drama that besets the, well, less stoic. I’ll be honest,
appeal to me in nearly as pleasant ways as Epicureanism…
Below more technical details about the Stoics.