Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded (308 BC) in Athens by Zeno of Citium (Cyprus). It teaches self-control and an indifference to pain or pleasure while advocating a staunch detachment from emotions. This allows one to be clear thinking, levelheaded and unbiased. In practice it is designed to empower an individual with virtue and strength and to give an individual the ability to readily refuse corruption, temptation, and help those who are in need. Stoicism also teaches independence, or more specifically, independence from society, regarding it as a chaotic and unruly entity that should be guarded against. Virtue, reason and natural law are prime directives. By mastering passions and emotions, it is possible to overcome the discord of the outside world and find peace within oneself. Greek philosophers such as Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and later Roman thinkers such as Cicero, Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus are associated with Stoicism. This philosophy is usually contrasted with Epicureanism.
Zeno of Citium
The first Stoics derived their ethical teachings from Diogenes and his fellow Cynics. Diogenes, like Socrates, favored simple living, without luxuries and tried to reduce life to its bare necessities. He is said to have lived in a clay tub, eaten raw meat and masturbated in public to demonstrate his independence.
Stoicism first appeared in Athens about 301 BC introduced by Zeno of Citium. He taught in the famous stoa poikile (the painted porch) from which his philosophy got its name. Central to his teachings was the law of morality being the same as nature. During its intial phase it was generally seen as a back-to-nature movement critical of superstitions and taboos. Their philosophical detachment also encompassed pain and sickness, good or ill fortune, as well as life or death. Zeno often challenged prohibitions, traditions and customs. Another tenet was the emphasis placed on love for all other beings.
His ideas developed from those of the Cynics, whose founder, Antisthenes, had been a disciple of Socrates. Zeno's most important follower was Chrysippus, who in fact was responsible for much of what we now call Stoicism. The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic, materialistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge, though their logical theories were to be of more interest for many later philosophers. Later Roman Stoics focussed more on the development of recommendations for living in harmony with the universe, over which one has no direct control.
Stoic ethics and virtues
The ancient Stoics are often misunderstood because the terms they used meant different things in the past than they do today. The word stoic has come to mean unemotional, because Stoic ethics taught freedom from passion by following reason and cultivating apatheia (apathy, or detachment). But the Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions, only to avoid emotional troubles by developing clear judgement.
Borrowing from the Cynics, the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: "Follow where reason leads." One must therefore strive to be free of the passions (hate, fear, pain, pleasure, distress, appetite, etc.), bearing in mind the ancient meaning of passion: "anguish" or "suffering" (http://www.bartleby.com/61/87/P0098700.html), which is different than the modern use of the word.
Old Stoa: Zeno of Citium to Antipater (d.129 BC)
Middle Stoa: Panaetius of Rhodes (185–109 BC)
Posidonius of Apamea (c.135–51 BC)
Late or Roman Stoa: Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius
The idea was to be free of passion (suffering) through apatheia (απαθεια) (Greek) or apathy, where apathy was understood in the ancient sense—objectivity or "clear judgement"—rather than "lack of concern," as apathy means today. The Stoic concepts of passion and apatheia are analogous to the Buddhist noble truths; All life has suffering (Dukkha), suffering is rooted in passion and desire (Samudaya), meditation and virtue can free one from suffering (Nirodha and Marga).
Stoic reason not only meant using logic, but was also associated with the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people. The four cardinal virtues of the Stoic philosophy are wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, a classification derived from the teachings of Plato.
Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of ignorance. If someone is unkind, it's because they're unaware of their own universal reason, and if you are unhappy, it is because you've forgotten how nature actually works. The solution to evil and unhappiness, then, is the practice of philosophy—to examine one's own judgements and behaviour and determine where they have diverged from the universal reason of nature.
Philosophy for a Stoic is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a way of life involving constant practice and training (or askesis, from which the term ascetic derives). Stoic philosophical / spiritual practices included Socratic dialogue and self-dialogue, contemplation of death, training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some forms of Eastern meditation), daily reflection on everyday problems & possible solutions, and so on.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius defines several such practices. For example, in Book II, part 1:
"Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together..."
Aurelius is not just stating a fact here, but giving the reader a practical technique: Say to yourself in the early morning... In other words, remind yourself every day, again and again, of the problems you can expect and how to solve them.
Philosophy for a Stoic is an active process of constant practice and self-reminder.
The Stoics held Logos to be the animating or 'active principle' of all reality. The Logos was conceived as a conduit for divine power that, in essence, orders and directs the universe. Human reason and the human soul were both considered adjuncts of the Logos, and therefore immortal via the continual recycling of the universe.
A distinctive feature of Stoicism is its cosmopolitanism. All people are manifestations of the one universal spirit and should, according to the Stoics, live in brotherly love and readily help one another. They held that external differences such as rank and wealth are of no importance in social relationships. Thus, before the rise of Christianity, Stoics recognized and advocated the brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings. Stoicism became the most influential school of the Graeco–Roman world, and produced a number of remarkable writers and personalities, such as Cato the Younger and Cato the Elder.
Collection of various Stoic quotes:
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