The Philosophy of Stoicism

History, Application & Relevance to Today’s Generation

Stoicism is the branch of philosophy that demonstrates it practitioners can attain happiness through observing their life with objectivity and a reasonable acquiescence of one’s destiny by use of logic and detachment. Stoicism originated because of a widespread ideology, known as Hedonism; in which satisfaction and gratification was immediately hailed as being beneficial, while anything that was painful or harmful was considered detrimental.

Stoics believed that no event could make you happy or sad without your direct participation in that decision. A person with a certain amount of restraint could see with a perspective that would allow the user to become complacent in any situation and through any problem, by knowing it is in their approach to their feelings that brings content. Therefore whenever a person is saddened or angered by something it is caused by their own disposition in misunderstanding what is available to a persons charge and what is not.

The original Stoic was Zeno, whom founded the philosophical school in Greece around 300 BCE, although when Rome conquered Greece it later spread and matured with Roman philosophers as well. Such scholars that became most notorious in their teachings (in an ironic example of polar opposites) were a slave, Epectetus, and the other an emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antonius.  Epectetus became such a major influence in the development of Stoicism, due to his past as a slave during most of his studies. This experience allowed his comprehension that we can only control certain things and thus must assent to that of which we cannot. The Roman senator Seneca wrote Discourses and Moral Letterswhich became two of the most important doctrines of Stoicism; due in part to his ability to convey Stoicism though his literary prowess.

''The ancient Agora (looking southwest). Stoicism was first expounded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE in the stoa poikile (painted porch) on the north side of the Agora.''

”The ancient Agora (looking southwest). Stoicism was first expounded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE in the stoa poikile (painted porch) on the north side of the Agora.”

Although Epectetus decidedly never wrote anything himself, what we know of his teachings from his pupil Flavius Arrianus; whom created the Discourses, of which the infamous passages known as Enchiridion were derived. These excerpts were called the “Handbook” often times because of how Roman soldiers would literally carry them into battle, illustrating how advantageous philosophy was considered in those times.

To discover that, “our lives are not entirely our own,” was an assimilation of the Stoics to their philosophy. The balance then was to not allow this to become a negative postulation; but rather one that could create a priority in personal liability toward what is controllable. This notion then led to the discernment that the only thing possible to control is the mind and its faculties; namely that proficiency in governance of the mind would lead to complete charge over your emotions. Peace would then come to the person that adhered to the will of what the Stoics called “World Reason” or the Logos; because vexation and apprehension were thought to be minimized by true contemplation.

Owing to the fact that the Logos was neutral, if we are to model ourselves after the teachings of the Logos; then individuals should also have an unbiased and detached outlook toward our lives and our feelings toward them. Negative and positive emotions therefore are to be spurned as much as a man could feasibly do so. If these principles are met, we begin to view ourselves as part of what the Stoics called a “Cosmopolis” or a “universal human community.”

cosmopolis title card

The undertaking for the Stoic is then to determine what is within our personal authority and that which is not. This view created a hinderance for those that fail to accurately interpret the ambiguous teachings of Stoic doctrines that called for the differentiation over what we can control and what we can influence.

Since the boundaries of our control are limited to our happiness; an enlightened Stoic would be accepting of their fate, which is determined by the will of the Logos, regardless of the situation and without allowing one’s self to become aggrieved.

By understanding the basis of philosophical ethics provided by Aristitotle, one may gain insight into how the teachings of ethical Stoicism came into being. Such comprehension must first come from the detailing of one’s life’s purpose.

Considering that the majority of humanity attains for individual happiness, it could then be said that the purpose of one’s life ought to be to strive at what makes each person happy.

To comprehend what is deemed as a good thing according to Stoicism, it is also imperative to understand that whichever thing can be considered as good must also aid the owner at all times and be demonstrated as good in any situation. The things that which are neither beneficial nor detrimental to an individual are called the “indifferents” according to the Stoics.

The Stoics believed that no material thing can be in itself a good thing, therefore only certain virtuous qualities of the mind must be considered as good. Such realizations account for Cicero’s Stoic Paradoxes, which states that only righteous virtues are to be practiced which will then bring about happiness. Responding to the paradoxes of the Stoics is to differentiate that which is considered good and that which has value or merit for our lives.

Stoics believe that the impulses of man originate in the “movement of the soul toward an object,” that which is befitting of the person. However, impulses are not unfailingly in accordance with that which makes you feel good because it is not always the same as what is suitable for another individual. Since Stoicism is a philosophy that is best understood through the experience of life and its circumstances; that which is naturally amounted to what is suitable for a being changes as the being matures. Being healthy over sick should be desired, yet all other factors of living should be considered as the equivalent to each other. Therefore if all things go as is according to the will of the Logos we will ascend from being adept to that which we are inclined to for nutritive reasons, to inclinations toward social growth and finally toward the appreciation of moral virtues.

If we then fixate ourselves on the attainment of such virtues, we must remain cognizant of the ability and thus the possible inclination toward the lesser impulses; of which we must try to avoid altogether. For attaining these virtues along with tendencies of reaching toward materialistic, monetary and social abundance; you will end up procuring neither and will surely be unhappy because of lack of personal virtues. Since we are compelled to obtain that which we want and that we try to elude that which we do not; it is superlative for our being that we try to impound our detestations to the items that which are opposed to our ordinary abilities.


In contemplating the objects of our desire, we should consider its heterogeneity and by contrast be grateful for the realization that you are in actuality only fond of the general idea of the object or some part of its relation to yourself and thus can be accepting of its loss by remembering that other objects have similarities that you may also be just as fond.

When undertaking any effort we must also conceive of all of the possible situations that may occur because of or in response to that action. In doing this we can remain at peace with all externals during the efforts toward an action as long as we remember that our mind is the only thing we can be sure of; so if we keep our mind at ease then we will not be bothered at things outside of our direct intention. The things that disturb us are not inherent in the thing themselves, but in the idea of it; so if things happen that displease us we are wise to remember that it is not the event itself that is displeasing, but in the notion of the affair that impedes upon the mind. This acceptance will allow us to not feel the need to place accountability on either ourselves nor the external event that may have caused the displeasure to begin with.

With any tragedy we should ask ourselves what we can learn from such an event or how we can make the result of the misfortune work for our own betterment. In the shift of perception towards the idea that all we have to do is change our attitude about such an event, we can then come away from these incidents with a maturity that looks past appearances and notions alone.


If you want to refine yourself then you should be able to be satisfied by the thought that any personal idiocy concerning external factors is not in itself a bad thing. If you are wishful of things which are not by nature possible or plausible; such as to live beyond your time, or for something which is not supposed to be yours, you are being foolish and will be disappointed by the results.

We all have a role to play in our life and that role is dictated by forces in which we cannot control. Because of this we should remain neutral in our emotional reaction toward which role we are given, whether one of glamour or one of a pauper, for the only part of the role that we have control over is how we play it.

In observing another we may notice that the individual is suffering over some decision over how they react to an event in their life and making this distinction is important; for it is the impression of the person’s reaction that we first take notice. However it is in this observation we should make clear to ourselves that they are indeed suffering because of a personal attachment to a certain factor of the event and not to the event itself; for if this event were to possibly happen to another, they may react to it differently.

If one tries to obtain a Stoic philosophy about one’s attitude and demeanor toward life, one should expect or at least ready one’s self for the likelihood of others to react to this as if it were humorous and doubtful of where these realizations have arisen from. Yet one should not let this reaction hinder their path, if it is that which is best suited for one’s self it is therefore preordained by God.

Eric Anthony Crew
Originally written 2010

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Stoic Emblem-lowres

The Stoic Emblem: Click here for site and explanation…



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By Eric Anthony Crew