A Philosophy of Repression?
So, what is Stoicism exactly? Is it the quiet, sullen pessimist who has a cynical perspective of the world and represses all emotional reactions and moods as irrational or rather as unhelpful? Well, not quite. Antiheroes like Wolverine are commonly described as “stoic,” but this is a stereotype; Logan detaches himself from any sort of feeling for his comrades, the X-Men, because of trauma and his own murderous animal rage, and he copes with heavy drinking and various drugs. Mostly this is out of fear, but this attitude and the word used to describe it, is a far cry from the Ancient Greek philosophical school that bears the name Stoicism. So, again what is Stoicism?
Where Did It Come From?
No it was not founded by a Vulcan, it was founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE, Stoicism was influenced by the legendary philosopher Socrates in the sense that virtue was the chief good in order to live a fulfilling life. Zeno established three things to study in order to live this philosophy which included Physics, Logic and Ethics. Physics in the ancient world meant the natural world, today this would be the findings in modern science, Logic was the study of epistemology and how to use reason to combat automatic judgement of things both external and internal. Ethics was the principle by how you led your life in “accordance with Nature.” What is meant by “Nature” is related to the Stoic’s view of the universe as orderly and rational and that human beings are by nature rational and social creatures. These three principles are interconnected so accumulation of knowledge, using one’s reason to figure out what is virtue and what is not and formulating a way of life that is beneficial not only to yourself, but to your fellow human beings. The three topics are usually bundled together as an image: Physics is the fertile soil of a plot of land, Logic is the fence or wall that protects that soil and Ethics is the fruit of that soil.
The concept of virtue has existed for millennia, and in Ancient Greece it was hailed as the chief good by which one should live their life. In Stoicism, virtue is held in high esteem and its cultivation necessary to live a eudaimonic life. Since the time of Socrates and Plato, four aspects of virtue called the Cardinal Virtues were identified as components to the good life:
- Wisdom or Prudence
- Justice; (includes how parents treat children)
- Temperance or Moderation
- Courage or Fortitude
It must be noted that these are translated from Ancient Greek terms and that you should not define these words as they are understood today. For example, according to Don Robertson, Justice is to be understood as one’s relationship to their society, parents or the gods (piety) and has two sub-virtues, kindness and fairness. We won’t delve deeply into the Cardinal Virtues in this post, but stay tuned for more articles on these essential cultivations.
These are the broad strokes of Stoicism as a school of thought, but we hope that this introduction was a good taste of what is to come from these Socratic Buffoons. Our goal with these writings about Stoicism is not to delve into its theories and whether it is the “right path” (as philosophy is not to be taken as religious dogma); our goal is to share personal experience and frame it from the Stoic perspective. In the Ancient days philosophy was used as therapy for the human psyche, not just an attempt to explain the universe or imagine what the perfect society would be, philosophy is a toolkit and we want to show you what you could do with these tools. It is through exposing our own examined pieces of life that we hope to inspire some rational inquiry into your own soul.