About Stoicism

Stoicism is one of the most interesting European philosphies, and has as prominent representatives Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. It is often poorly understood due to the fact that it has not, apparently, a specifically “technical” language concerning its doctrine. The consequence is that while the texts about Stoicism that we have today are quite easy to read and understand superficially even for the casual reader, a deep and authenic understanding of them is often ignored.

The essence of Stoicism consists in distinguish between what depends on us and what doesn’t depends on us:

Depend on us: -desire or aversion (to something), -impulse to action or to non-action, -judgment (positive or negative) of our desires and aversions, impulses to action or to non action. These things depends exclusively and totally on us, we have power over them, and they may correspond morally to good or evil wether they are compliant or non-compliant to Nature.

Doesn’t depend on us: things external to us, on which our will has no power or in need of fortune to be obtained: wealth, health, fame, work, family, poverty, disease, death, etc. All that doesn’t depends on us is neither a good nor an evil but something indifferent that must be accepted as it stands, in any way it will affect our lives: it should be seen as the work of Fate/Destiny. However, Stoicism doesn’t say that we should not worry or that we should give up about these things: we should only remember that they doesn’t depend on us and then act accordingly wathever happens in relation to them.

“Among the things that exist, some depend on us, the other doesn’t depend on us. Depend on us: value judgment, impusle to act, desire, aversion, and in one word, all that are properly our business. Doesn’t depend on us the body, our possessions, the opinions that others have of us, the public positions, and in one word all those that aren’t properly our business”.

-Epictetus

“Suppress therefore the aversion that you can feel for all the things that doesn’t depend on you and transfer it to the things that, among those who depend on us, are contrary to nature”.

-Epictetus

“Equability in the face of events that come from external causes, justice in the works generated by a cause that comes from you; impulse and action only in view of a common good: this is for man to act according to nature”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“I am a mixture of body and soul: for the body the sensible things are neither good nor bad, because matter has no power to grasp the difference; for the mind, instead, are indifferent the activities not falling within its sphere of action, while those that depend on it are all under its dominion. Even these, however, affect the mind only in relation to the present, because those relating to the future and to the past are, in that moment, indifferent for it”.

-Marcus Aurelius

According to Stoicism you have to dislike exclusively what depends on us but isn’t compliant to Nature (it is not virtuous, moral, honourable…). To distinguish the things that depends on us from those that doesn’t depends on us we have to look at every object or event for what it really is, removing the represenations of the mind, the instinctive judgments that these things/events projected upon us: “The stormy sea upsets my mind. It is the stormy sea that upsets me? No, it is my judgment on it. It is not something that depends on me, therefore it is neither a good nor an evil. The stormy sea is only the stormy sea”.

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Judgments in relation to things/events that doesn’t depend on us are hard if not impossible to remove immediatly but yes, we can remove them after asking ourselves if what we are judging depends on us or not and if our judgment in relation to that particular thing/event is nothing else than a representation of the mind: at this point we can see that particular thing/event for what it really is. Therein lies Stoicism, in seeing things/events for what they really are, without representations of the mind.

“Therefore train yourself to immediately add to every painful representation: <<you are only a representation, you are not at all what you represent>>. Then examines this representation and put it to test with the help of the rules at your disposal, in first place and above all of this rule: we have to count it among the things that depend on us or among those that doesn’t depend on us? And if it is part of the things that doesn’t depend on us, keep in mind that it does not concern you”.

-Epictetus

“What disturbs men are not things, but the judges that they formulate on things. For example, death has nothing terrible, otherwise it would have seemed like that also to Socrates. But it’s the judgment we formulate about death, namely that it is terrible, to be fearsome in death. Therefore, when we encounter difficulties or are troubled or sad, we should not impute liability to another, but to ourselves, that is to our judgments: it is indicative of who has not yet been educated to impute to others the liability of his evils; it is indicative of who is at the beginning of his own education to impute liability to himself; it is indicative of who has completed his own education to not impute liability nor to others nor to himself”.

-Epictetus

“Look at things as they are, in themselves, distinguishing matter, cause and purpose”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Therefore don’t go beyond what you see and don’t add anything personal to the immediate impressions you receive from things or facts, and nothing bad will come thee”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Many are the superfluous and annoying things that you can eliminate, because they exist only in the opinion that you create about them”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Throws away the opinion, and you will be safe! Who prevents you to get rid of it?”.

-Marcus Aurelius

Whereby, what disturbs men are not the things/events but the judges that they formulate on these things/events. The proof of this is the fact that not all men would express the same opinion about things that doesn’t depend on us. Not all men would be disturbed by the stormy sea. Not all men would be disturbed by poverty. Not all men would be happy about their wealth. Not all men would be happy about their fame. Not all men would be disturbed by their disease. Not all men would be disturbed by the premature and/or accidental death of their son/daughter/wife. Not all men would be disturbed by the approach of their death (so the ancient European warrior had a stoic attitude towards death), etc.

It means that the things/events can’t be the real cause of our reactions, that must be found inside us: our reaction depends on the individual structure of our minds, although it may seem that it’s the thing/event itself to determine our positive or negative reaction towards it.

These examples and all the other countless things/events that doesn’t depend on us should be considered by the stoic man, as it was intended to be, neither a good nor an evil but indifferently, if these happen to him: what is not under our control should be seen as something that is not under our control.

On the other hand, concerning the things that depend on us, there is no man that would do something that depends on him but that is not compliant to Nature without having the same awareness of having done something bad/wrong, whether he likes it or not. If you think about it, it’s indeed impossible for that to happen.

A man must judge the situation he faces and act accordingly using his skills, he must survive doing all that is in his power (this depends on him), but this doesn’t mean that he should blame something that doesn’t depend on him or project personal opinions on a certain thing/event in relation to his situation: e.g. he shouldn’t judge the stormy sea differently only because HE is on a ship in the middle of it, the stormy sea doesn’t change in relation to that…it doesn’t become good or bad in relation to its role in a man’s vicissitudes. The stormy sea doesn’t depend on us and it remains always and exclusively only a stormy sea, both for the pilot and the observer who doesn’t risk anything.

If you keep in mind these stoic precepts you’ll find new meanings, depth and rigidity in the texts of the philosophers cited above. Stoicism as it was intended to be was much more challenging, demanding and even extreme than it is commonly perceived, remaining in any case among the most important and suited classical philosophies for the European man, possibly in an “attenuated” form in relation to a certain type of events!

25 thoughts on “About Stoicism

  1. Pingback: Words of Wisdom #27 | Ancestor's Voice

  2. Reblogged this on Thulean Perspective and commented:
    Just remembered the reblog button. So I reblog this post, with the recommandation to all my readers that they subscribe to this excellent blog. See his older posts as well. Everything on this blog is super.

    Best,

    V.

    Liked by 3 people

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  4. 1) The stormy sea doesn’t much bother the man who stands safely on the shore.

    2) My will guides me ( albeit regrettably ) to the gym and therefore I enjoy good health.

    3) “Stoic” and “attenuated” are mutually exclusive concepts.

    4) Man judges. Animals merely react. It is therefore impossible for man to see things “for what they really are”, removing judgments, etc.

    5) According to your argument, not all men would be ( disturbed, happy ) by ( fill in the blank ). Of course. And we call these individuals ( mentally retarded, psychopathic, degenerate ). In other words, they are, or have become, unable to make meaningful judgments.

    6) Poverty, disease, and death are neither good nor evil? Exchange “good” with “high quality” and “evil” with “low quality” and reconsider your argument.

    6) Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

    You seem to be mixing postmodernism with mysticism and ( a dash of Google ) and calling the result stoicism. I don’t buy it. The point of your stormy sea is not that it is merely a mental construct to be deconstructed vis a vis stoicism, but that it truly is a stormy sea and must sometimes be endured as such.

    Your friend Varg ( the comment deleter ) Vikernes is not much of a stoic these days, as he refuses to tolerate challenges from non-teenagers, and so here I am beating you over the head. Sorry for that but I believe it to be my duty.

    I recommend you put away the Greeks and read The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, for starters.

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    • 1) You know the feelings of every man? You think every man has the same reaction in front of the stormy sea, even if on the shore? A stormy sea is a stormy sea. It may be beautiful FOR YOU, frightening FOR ME, but it is neither the one nor the other: it is only a stormy sea. There are men frightened by insects, by darkness, by blood, by dogs, by thunders, etc. Others not, i.e. these things are neither good nor evil and doesn’t depends on us. Our opinions in relation to them are only “representations of the mind”.

      2) Yes, but your health doesn’t depends on you according to Stoicism. You can care about it but that’s it. If it depended on you it would mean that your health would be totally under your control, i.e. if you wanted to stay healthy you would be able to stay health, without external factors that could alter your condition or factors inherent to your body on which you have no power. Unfortunately, that’s not how health works. It doesn’t depends on us according to Stoic’s meaning of “doesn’t depends on us”. Still, no one says that we should not care about it: we should only remember that it doesn’t depends on us and then act accordingly if we happen to be healthy or unhealthy.

      3) I made it clear what I was referring to and that I expressed a personal opinion.

      4) You can’t remove judgments, that’s not what Stoicism tells. Judgments in relation to things that depends on us are a duty. Judgments in relation to things that doesn’t depends on us are hard if not impossible to remove immediatly but yes, we can remove them after asking ourselves if what we are judging depends on us or not and if our judgment in relation to that particular thing is nothing else than a representation of the mind: at this point we can see that particular thing for what it really is.

      5) No, just no. You are twisting every meaning. Please, re-read my article and my point 4. By the way, that type of people are not compliant to Nature so they have nothing to do with Stoicism’s doctrine.

      6) I don’t even answer to that because it means you understood nothing of my article and then about Stoicism. Don’t waste my time.

      What I see (or hope to see) here is simply a man that doesn’t understand Stoicism.

      I’m sorry to tell you that my article is strongly inspired by the work of Pierre Hadot, by far the major authority about Stoicism. Too bad, right? You should read his analysis of Epictetus’s Enchiridion or other works by him. Rather, have you ever read the work of Epictetus or you base your opinions on Wiki? I’m really in doubt because my article makes perfectly sense in relation to the writings of Epictetus that we possess.

      Why should I leave the Greeks? Because YOU have leaved them?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Finally, a man who defends his blog! Needless to say, I am a modern man arguing against (attempting to understand) an ancient set of ideas, interpreted by another modern man (you). Naturally, I question your presentation, Troll that I am. So here it goes …

    1) Of course I, as a man in full compliance with nature, do not need to know the feelings or reactions or relation of (every other hypothetical man in the universe of this discourse) to our stormy sea, in order to develop some meaningful (and objective) value judgments to it. Nice try, rhetorically speaking, but ad hominem just won’t do here. Lol.

    Please recall that man judges, animals merely react. I judge that it is of high quality to stand on a shore admiring the overwhelming power of nature in the form of a stormy sea. I also judge (speculatively) that it is, or would be, of low quality indeed to be piloting a rickety old fishing boat attempting to make it back to port in such conditions. Furthermore, I claim that all nature-compliant (non pathological) men would judge our stormy sea likewise, given these two viewpoints.

    My point is that there is no such thing as “only a stormy sea”. The experience of the pilot is not a “representation of the mind” any more than that of the storm watcher. The pilot experiences a (depends-on-us) sea while the storm watcher experiences a (doesn’t-depend-on-us) sea.

    A pilot who casts away his hard earned (depends-on-us) judgment and skill in favor of cleansing his mind of “representations” is not nature-compliant for the simple reason that survival is virtuous, and moreover the poor fellow is now guilty of liking exclusively what (depends-on-us) but isn’t compliant to nature, namely suicide.

    A storm watcher who (safely) stands paralyzed with fear of the stormy sea is not nature-compliant, for he is reacting (as an animal), not judging (as a man). Consequently, he is now guilty of disliking exclusively what (doesn’t-depend-on-us), namely the condition of the sea.

    Finally, is the term “stormy sea” not a judgment (projection) in itself? “Stormy” suggests challenge, danger, evil. How about “undulating mass of salt water”. Hahaha. Help me understand where all this un-projecting ends.

    The Stoicism you present seems fraught with many (obvious) contradictions, and I question it’s authenticity. Those Greeks are real nit-pickers after all.

    2) I was attempting to point out the interplay of (depends-on-us) and (doesn’t-depend-on-us). I can improve my health (doesn’t-depend-on-us) by going yo the gym (depends-on-us). An Olympic athlete is not immune to cancer. Obvious contradictions, where have I gone wrong?

    3) Perhaps I was being a bit anal.

    4) This sounds too close to fatalism, at least given the examples you cited. Fatalism to me is a form of “giving up”, not something I associate with Stoicism, in any form.

    5) So we agree that Stoicism excludes degenerates (those who are not compliant to nature). But indifference to the death of family is not compliant to nature, as survival is virtuous. Your examples are lacking on this one.

    6) What I’m saying here is that Stoic man, as you have presented him, seems a bit too stoic. Lol. I don’t buy it. Something seems missing. Something relating to survival.

    Anyhow, my only literary exposure to Stoicism is through Plutarch. My main objection to your presentation is that you make the stoics seem like suicidal Postmodernists. I’m surprised. I’m shocked and outraged. I’m drunk too. This is interesting to me and I’ll look into it. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1) There is only one way to look at the stormy sea for what it really is and obviously knowing other men opinions in relation to that is as uselss as giving a personal opinion to the stormy sea.

      “I judge that it is of high quality to stand on a shore admiring the overwhelming power of nature in the form of a stormy sea. I also judge (speculatively) that it is, or would be, of low quality indeed to be piloting a rickety old fishing boat attempting to make it back to port in such conditions.”

      In both cases you are judging something that would have depended on you and that’s a good thing. I don’t see here judgments in relations to things that doesn’t depend on you.

      “The experience of the pilot is not a “representation of the mind” any more than that of the storm watcher. The pilot experiences a (depends-on-us) sea while the storm watcher experiences a (doesn’t-depend-on-us) sea. A pilot who casts away his hard earned (depends-on-us) judgment and skill in favor of cleansing his mind of “representations” is not nature-compliant.”

      What he is experiencing is not a “representaion of the mind” but his judgment of the stormy sea it is. He must judge his situation and act accordingly (using his skills), that depends on him…on the other hand that doesn’t mean that the stormy sea is different only because HE is on a ship in the middle of it (the situation he faces must be judged but the stormy sea doesn’t change in relation to that…it doesn’t become good/bad in relation to his position). The stormy sea doesn’t depends on us, it always and exclusively remains only a stormy sea, both for the pilot and the storm watcher. That’s Stoicism, to see things for what they really are without representations/projections of the mind. It doesn’t mean that one should give up and die, absolutely.

      “A storm watcher who (safely) stands paralyzed with fear of the stormy sea is not nature-compliant, for he is reacting (as an animal), not judging (as a man). Consequently, he is now guilty of disliking exclusively what (doesn’t-depend-on-us), namely the condition of the sea.”

      He is simply projecting on something that doesn’t depends on him a representation of his mind. That also if he was on a ship in the middle of it. He must survive and do all that he can (it depends on him) but this doesn’t mean that he should blame something that doesn’t depends on him or project personal opinions on a certain thing in relation to his situation. I would call that a form of Anthropocentrism, that is always despicable.

      “Finally, is the term “stormy sea” not a judgment (projection) in itself? ”

      No, just no. It’s simply an adjective intended as a condition of the sea, a name if you prefer. If you think about it, it doesn’t imply a judgment, positive or negative that it is. It seems as you say only because often people (including you) coincide the term with something negative. Far from all people however.

      2) “I can improve my health (doesn’t-depend-on-us) by going yo the gym (depends-on-us)”.

      Yes, and still your health doesn’t depends on you. How you act depends on you, always.

      4) Yes, we can say that according to Stoicism what doesn’t depends on us but can influence our existence should be seen as the work of Fate. Personally, I believe that even what depends on us falls within the concept of Fate. The Will to Power is the moving image of Fate: I put it in this way, “quoting” Plato. See here: https://ancestorvoice.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/words-of-wisdom-12/

      Considering what is not under your control as something that is not under your control means that you are giving up?
      According to Stoicism: Depends on us: -Desire or Aversion (to something), -Impulse to Action or to Non-Action, -Judgment (positive or negative) of our Desires and Aversions, Impulses to Action or to Non-Action.

      This is not giving up.

      5) “But indifference to the death of family is not compliant to nature, as survival is virtuous.”

      I have yet said that the doctrine in its full form and with all that this entails is extreme. Death doesn’t depends on us so it is nor good/positive nor evil/negative. That’s why Marcus Aurelius had problems in the application of the doctrine.

      6) I answered above.

      Your drunkness makes you more intelligent than 99% of the people I know. Lol.
      Unfortunately I don’t find an english version of Hadot’s commentary of the Enchiridion. Maybe you can try this, I have read it and he explains well Stoicism in this book (but I prefer his work on the Enchiridion): https://www.amazon.com/Inner-Citadel-Meditations-Marcus-Aurelius/dp/0674007077/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471566862&sr=1-3&keywords=pierre+hadot

      Like

    • No problem, I also thank you: I have included in the post some useful arguments who came out from our discussion. The profit is mine.

      Like

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