Stoicism, or Stoic philosophy, is a philosophy of personal ethics and a methodology for seeking practical wisdom in life. A key principle of the ancient Stoics was the belief that we don’t react to events; we react to our judgments about them, and the judgments are up to us. They also advised that we should not worry about things beyond our control as everything in life can be divided into two categories – things that are up to us and things that are not.

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens around 300 BC. The name is derived from the “Stoa Poikile” (“Painted Porch”) where Zeno taught from. Stoicism was one of the major schools of philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era. The history of Stoicism is usually divided into three phases: Early Stoa (3rd century BC), Middle Stoa (1st and 2nd century BC), and Late Stoa (1st and 2nd century AD).

The four cardinal virtues of Stoicism are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

  • Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness.
  • Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness.
  • Temperance is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control.
  • Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing.

In modern day application,
Stoic techniques which William B. Irvine describes particularly well in his popular book, such as:

  • Negative Visualization; The Stoics recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value. That our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would.
  • Dichotomy of Control; distinguishing between the things over which we have complete control and the things over which we have no control at all.
  • Internalize Goals; Stoics found a way to retain their tranquility despite their involvement with the world around them: They internalized their goals. Their goal was not to change the world, but to do their best to bring about certain changes. Even if their efforts proved to be ineffectual, they could nevertheless rest easy knowing that they had accomplished their goal: They had done what they could.
  • Fatalism towards the Past & Present; The Stoics advocated for fatalism towards the past and present, there are things you can change and act on in the future. The past has already happened, it can’t be changed. You don’t have complete control over the present in this very moment.
  • Self-Denial; As an extension of negative visualization, “Besides contemplating bad things happening, we should sometimes live as if they had happened.”

This causes confusion in that people often wrongly think that Stoics seek to be passive and unemotional. Stoicism was not an elitist philosophy only intended for powerful Romans – it was embraced by people from many different walks of life. Stoicism is not an individualistic philosophy focusing only on self-discipline. It focuses on the social responsibility of loving one’s neighbour, forming virtuous relationships, and helping others.

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