What I like and don’t like about Stoicism

I’ve written about Stoicism several times – from the colloquial sense of the word to the philosophical – and even humor.

And I’ve struggled to understand Stoicism. This post is a further elaboration of my effort to understand Stoicism as a philosophy of life.IMG_0582

A few of my many agreements with Stoicism:

  1. Learning to stay calm and not get emotionally overwhelmed is an essential skill.
  2. Everything external is beyond our control. We can walk with our lot in life or be dragged by it.
  3. Wishing the past or the current situation were different only leads to unhappiness. Be happy with what we have because craving more also leads to unhappiness.
  4. Virtue/character (excelling at our best characteristics) is most important for achieving eudaimonia (Greek for “good spirits,” or inner well being).
  5. Avoid blaming others and avoid value judgments. Describe the situation with neutral language and acknowledge the limits of your knowledge.
  6. Don’t get sucked into other people’s psychodramas.
  7. We’re all in this together, so other people’s well being is in our self-interest.

Where I struggle with Stoicism:

  1. Ancient Stoics believed that whatever happens is willed by the Whole (Zeus/God, the universe) and is good for the Whole. But that could excuse horrific things. And it seems superstitious.
    • In the modern scientific world, however, this aspect of Stoicism can be modified. Whatever happens is the result of impersonal cause and effect.
  2. Indifference:
    • I agree that external things (which are beyond my control) are indifferent toward me.
      • Money isn’t good or bad by itself. It’s how I use it.
      • A storm doesn’t consciously destroy things.
      • Even a person who consciously harms me is indifferent (i.e. not empathetic) to my suffering. They’re only focused on their self-interest – even if that self-interest is expressly about harming me.
    • However, I’m not indifferent toward these events.
      • I can’t honestly say that I’m not a slave to my passions. I try not to be. I think most Stoics would say the same thing.
      • But there is great value in accepting how I feel without perseverating, and seeking positive action to change the situation.
  3. I agree that virtue/character is necessary to be a happy, fulfilled human being. But for me at least, it’s not sufficient.
    • I also have basic survival needs such as food, water, shelter, and freedom from permanently damaging physical and psychological harm (the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). I don’t believe I can be happy without these basics.

Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

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