Stoicism as Symptom

by Chris Horner

The general terms ‘true’ and ‘good’ or ‘wisdom’ and ‘virtue’, with which stoicism is stuck, are on the whole undeniably uplifting, but because they cannot in fact end up in any kind of expansion of content, they quickly start to become tiresome. —Hegel [1]

Stoicism seems to be everywhere at the moment, on Tiktok, Instagram, YouTube (‘The Daily Stoic’) and in plenty of best selling books on how to be a Stoic. But why would a philosophy from the Ancient world be found so appealing to so many, right now? I think I can at least give a partial answer to that. And I also want to raise some of the problems of this Neostoicism. In what follows I will be less concerned with the details of the philosophy as it was taught in ancient times, the developments it went through or the logic and metaphysics it involved, than with the way it has been received in the 21st century. Stoicism is a symptom of a malaise, a problem in the modern world, rather than any kind of solution to its ills. But first – what is, or was,  Stoicism? [2]

Originally associated with Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BCE, It is a philosophy focused on developing self-control, fortitude, and reason as a way to overcome destructive emotions and to achieve inner peace, and resilience, by  focusing on what is within one’s control, (one’s own feelings, thoughts) while letting go what is outside one’s control. External events and other people’s actions should not disturb one’s inner tranquility. Rather, one cultivates an attitude of calm and detachment from external events. Stoics believed in the importance of reason, logic and self-discipline as essential for leading a fulfilling life, based on following Nature, which has a logos, an order with which we must harmonise our thoughts, feelings and actions.

 It was a philosophy that developed and changed during the ancient world, but these main points can be held to be true to the philosophies of such famous Stoics as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Read more »