Ours is not a philosophical age, much less an age of Stoicism


Stoic holism offers a refuge from individualism, the intrinsic faith of our age, and its petty, exhausting calculations. Through Marcus’ writings, individual self-interest and concern for others become mutually supporting ends: The well-being of others and my own well-being are one and the same. And so my happiness consists in orienting my actions toward others and the good of the whole, rather than in pursuing the endless vagaries of earthly desire-sex, fame, fine things, the love and approval of peers-the Goblin Market cravings (to borrow a term from the poet Christina Rossetti) that contemporary society usually encourages us to indulge as the means to self-fulfillment. Have more orgasms, we’re told, wear spiffier outfits, watch another movie, speak more assertively, and the longings, the sense of something missing, will abate. Stoicism says just the opposite: Stop indulging illusory physical and emotional longings and see your real happiness outside of yourself, your body, your emotions. As McLynn points out in his explanation of Marcus Aurelius’ intense popularity in the Victorian era and increasing neglect in our own, ours is a culture more interested in rights and entitlements than in duty, while Stoicism is only interested in duty, and duty understood to be synonymous with virtue and happiness. But it is a duty that liberates-a duty that teaches us to transcend the tyranny of the emotions and the body and that insists that contentment is ours for the having whenever we summon the strength to push away the things of the world that obscure it.

more from Emily Colette Wilkinson at In Character here.