Stoicism is a school of
Hellenistic philosophy that flourished
throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. Zeno of
Citium founded stoicism in
Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It was
heavily influenced by certain teachings of Socrates, while stoic
physics are largely drawn from the teachings of the philosopher
Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics
informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.
According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness
for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by
not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or
our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us
and to do our part in nature's plan, and by working together and
treating others fairly and justly.
The Stoics are especially known for teaching that "virtue is the only
good" for human beings, and that external things—such as health,
wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves, but have
value as "material for virtue to act upon". Alongside Aristotelian
ethics, the Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches
to Western virtue ethics. The Stoics also held that certain
destructive emotions resulted from errors of judgment, and they
believed people should aim to maintain a will (called prohairesis)
that is "in accord with nature" (a slogan they interpreted to mean
several different things). They thought the best indication of an
individual's philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person
behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of
the natural order since they taught everything was rooted in nature.
Many Stoics—such as Seneca and Epictetus—emphasized that because
"virtue is sufficient for happiness", a sage would be emotionally
resilient to misfortune. This belief is similar to the meaning of the
phrase "stoic calm", though the phrase does not include the "radical
ethical" Stoic views that only a sage can be considered truly free,
and that all moral corruptions are equally vicious. From its
founding, Stoic doctrine was popular during the Roman Empire—and its
adherents included the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It later experienced a
decline after Christianity had become the state religion in the 4th
century AD. Over the centuries, it has seen revivals, notably in the
Renaissance (Neostoicism) and in the modern era (modern Stoicism).
2 Basic tenets
4.1 Propositional logic
5 Physics, theology and cosmology
Ethics and virtues
6.1 The doctrine of "things indifferent"
6.2 Spiritual exercise
7 Social philosophy
8 Influence on Christianity
9 Modern usage
10 Stoic Philosophers
11 See also
13 Further reading
13.1 Primary sources
14 External links
Stoic comes from the Greek stōïkos, meaning "of the stoa [portico,
or porch]". This, in turn, refers to the Stoa Poikile, or "Painted
Stoa," in Athens, where the influential Stoic Zeno of Citium
Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man,
otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper
subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that
of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each
person's own life.
— Epictetus, Discourses 1.15.2, Robin Hard revised translation
The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of
formal logic, monistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they
emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge, though their
logical theories were of more interest for later philosophers.
Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a
means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that
becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the
universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of
improving the individual's ethical and moral well-being: "Virtue
consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature." This
principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships;
"to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy," and to accept even
slaves as "equals of other men, because all men alike are products of
The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective; in regard to
those who lack Stoic virtue,
Cleanthes once opined that the wicked man
is "like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it
goes". A Stoic of virtue, by contrast, would amend his will to suit
the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, "sick and yet happy,
in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in
disgrace and happy," thus positing a "completely autonomous"
individual will, and at the same time a universe that is "a rigidly
deterministic single whole". This viewpoint was later described as
"Classical Pantheism" (and was adopted by Dutch philosopher Baruch
Antisthenes, founder of the Cynic school of philosophy
Stoicism became the foremost popular philosophy among the educated
elite in the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire, to the point
where, in the words of
Gilbert Murray "nearly all the successors of
Alexander [...] professed themselves Stoics."
Beginning around 301 BC, Zeno taught philosophy at the Stoa
Poikile ("Painted Porch"), from which his philosophy got its name.
Unlike the other schools of philosophy, such as the Epicureans, Zeno
chose to teach his philosophy in a public space, which was a colonnade
overlooking the central gathering place of Athens, the Agora.
Zeno's ideas developed from those of the Cynics, whose founding
father, Antisthenes, had been a disciple of Socrates. Zeno's most
influential follower was Chrysippus, who was responsible for the
molding of what is now called Stoicism. Later Roman Stoics focused on
promoting a life in harmony within the universe, over which one has no
Scholars usually divide the history of
Stoicism into three phases:
Early Stoa, from the founding of the school by Zeno to Antipater.
Middle Stoa, including
Panaetius and Posidonius.
Late Stoa, including Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus
No complete work by any Stoic philosopher survives from the first two
phases of Stoicism. Only Roman texts from the Late Stoa survive.
Diodorus Cronus, who was one of Zeno's teachers, is considered the
philosopher who first introduced and developed an approach to logic
now known as propositional logic, which is based on statements or
propositions, rather than terms, making it very different from
Aristotle's term logic. Later,
Chrysippus developed a system that
became known as Stoic logic and included a deductive system, Stoic
Syllogistic, which was considered a rival to Aristotle's Syllogistic
(see Syllogism). New interest in Stoic logic came in the
20th century, when important developments in logic were based on
Susanne Bobzien wrote, "The many close
similarities between Chrysippus' philosophical logic and that of
Gottlob Frege are especially striking."
Bobzien also notes that "
Chrysippus wrote over 300 books on logic, on
virtually any topic logic today concerns itself with, including speech
act theory, sentence analysis, singular and plural expressions, types
of predicates, indexicals, existential propositions, sentential
connectives, negations, disjunctions, conditionals, logical
consequence, valid argument forms, theory of deduction, propositional
logic, modal logic, tense logic, epistemic logic, logic of
suppositions, logic of imperatives, ambiguity and logical
Main article: Stoic categories
The Stoics held that all being (ὄντα) – though not all things
(τινά) – is material. They accepted the distinction between
Abstract and concrete bodies, but rejected Aristotle's belief that
purely incorporeal being exists. Thus, they accepted Anaxagoras' idea
(as did Aristotle) that if an object is hot, it is because some part
of a universal heat body had entered the object. But, unlike
Aristotle, they extended the idea to cover all accidents. Thus if an
object is red, it would be because some part of a universal red body
had entered the object.
They held that there were four categories.
The primary matter, formless substance, (ousia) that things are made
The way matter is organized to form an individual object; in Stoic
physics, a physical ingredient (pneuma: air or breath), which informs
somehow disposed (πως ἔχον)
Particular characteristics, not present within the object, such as
size, shape, action, and posture
Make for yourself a definition or description of the thing which is
presented to you, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing it is
in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell
yourself its proper name, and the names of the things of which it has
been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so
productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically
and truly every object that is presented to you in life, and always to
look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe
this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what
value everything has with reference to the whole.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iii. 11
Somehow disposed in relation to something (πρός τί πως
Characteristics related to other phenomena, such as the position of an
object within time and space relative to other objects
The Stoics propounded that knowledge can be attained through the use
Truth can be distinguished from fallacy—even if, in
practice, only an approximation can be made. According to the Stoics,
the senses constantly receive sensations: pulsations that pass from
objects through the senses to the mind, where they leave an impression
in the imagination (phantasia) (an impression arising from the mind
was called a phantasma).
The mind has the ability to judge (συγκατάθεσις,
synkatathesis)—approve or reject—an impression, enabling it to
distinguish a true representation of reality from one that is false.
Some impressions can be assented to immediately, but others can only
achieve varying degrees of hesitant approval, which can be labeled
belief or opinion (doxa). It is only through reason that we gain clear
comprehension and conviction (katalepsis).
Certain and true knowledge
(episteme), achievable by the Stoic sage, can be attained only by
verifying the conviction with the expertise of one's peers and the
collective judgment of humankind.
Physics, theology and cosmology
Main article: Stoic physics
See also: De Mundo
According to the Stoics, the
Universe is a material, reasoning
substance, known as
God or Nature, which the Stoics divided into two
classes, the active and the passive. The passive substance is matter,
which "lies sluggish, a substance ready for any use, but sure to
remain unemployed if no one sets it in motion". The active
substance, which can be called Fate or Universal
Reason (Logos), is an
intelligent aether or primordial fire, which acts on the passive
The universe itself is
God and the universal outpouring of its soul;
it is this same world's guiding principle, operating in mind and
reason, together with the common nature of things and the totality
that embraces all existence; then the foreordained might and necessity
of the future; then fire and the principle of aether; then those
elements whose natural state is one of flux and transition, such as
water, earth, and air; then the sun, the moon, the stars; and the
universal existence in which all things are contained.
— Chrysippus, in Cicero, De Natura Deorum, i. 39
Everything is subject to the laws of Fate, for the
according to its own nature, and the nature of the passive matter it
governs. The souls of humans and animals are emanations from this
primordial Fire, and are, likewise, subject to Fate:
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one
substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to
one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all
things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating
causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning
of the thread and the structure of the web.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iv. 40
Individual souls are perishable by nature, and can be "transmuted and
diffused, assuming a fiery nature by being received into the seminal
reason ("logos spermatikos") of the Universe". Since right Reason
is the foundation of both humanity and the universe, it follows that
the goal of life is to live according to Reason, that is, to live a
life according to Nature.
Stoic theology is a fatalistic and naturalistic pantheism:
never fully transcendent but always immanent, and identified with
Abrahamic religions personalize
God as a world-creating
God with the totality of the universe;
according to Stoic cosmology, which is very similar to the Hindu
conception of existence, there is no absolute start to time, as it is
considered infinite and cyclic. Similarly, the space and
neither start nor end, rather they are cyclical. The current Universe
is a phase in the present cycle, preceded by an infinite number of
Universes, doomed to be destroyed ("ekpyrōsis", conflagration) and
re-created again, and to be followed by another infinite number of
Stoicism considers all existence as cyclic, the cosmos as
eternally self-creating and self-destroying (see also Eternal return).
Stoicism, just like
Indian religions such as Hinduism,
Jainism, does not posit a beginning or end to the Universe.
According to the Stoics, the logos was the active reason or anima
mundi pervading and animating the entire Universe. It was conceived as
material and is usually identified with
God or Nature. The Stoics also
referred to the seminal reason ("logos spermatikos"), or the law of
generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active
reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a
portion of the divine logos, which is the primordial Fire and reason
that controls and sustains the Universe.
Ethics and virtues
The ancient Stoics are often misunderstood because the terms they used
pertained to different concepts in the past than they do today. The
word "stoic" has come to mean "unemotional" or indifferent to pain
because Stoic ethics taught freedom from "passion" by following
"reason". The Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions; rather, they
sought to transform them by a resolute "askēsis" that enables a
person to develop clear judgment and inner calm. Logic,
reflection, and concentration were the methods of such
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."[citation
needed] One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing
in mind that the ancient meaning of "passion" was "anguish" or
"suffering", that is, "passively" reacting to external events,
which is somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A
distinction was made between pathos (plural pathe) which is normally
translated as passion, propathos or instinctive reaction (e.g.,
turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and
eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage (sophos). The eupatheia
are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way that
passions result from incorrect judgment.
The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek:
ἀπάθεια; literally, "without passion") or peace of mind,
where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being
objective or having "clear judgment" and the maintenance of equanimity
in the face of life's highs and lows.
For the Stoics, reason meant not only using logic, but also
understanding 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 (aretai) of Stoic philosophy is a
classification derived from the teachings of
Plato (Republic IV.
Wisdom (σοφία "sophia")
Courage (ανδρεία "andreia")
Justice (δικαιοσύνη "dikaiosyne")
Temperance (σωφροσύνη "sophrosyne")
Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the
results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is
unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason,
which leads to the conclusion of kindness. The solution to evil and
unhappiness then is the practice of Stoic philosophy: to examine one's
own judgments and behavior and determine where they diverge from the
universal reason of nature.
The Stoics accepted that suicide was permissible for the wise person
in circumstances that might prevent them from living a virtuous
Plutarch held that accepting life under tyranny would have
compromised Cato's self-consistency (constantia) as a Stoic and
impaired his freedom to make the honorable moral choices. Suicide
could be justified if one fell victim to severe pain or disease,
but otherwise suicide would usually be seen as a rejection of one's
The doctrine of "things indifferent"
Main article: Apatheia
See also: Eudaimonia
In philosophical terms, things that are indifferent are outside the
application of moral law—that is without tendency to either promote
or obstruct moral ends. Actions neither required nor forbidden by the
moral law, or that do not affect morality, are called morally
indifferent. The doctrine of things indifferent (ἀδιάφορα,
adiaphora) arose in the Stoic school as a corollary of its diametric
opposition of virtue and vice (καθήκοντα kathekon,
"convenient actions", or actions in accordance with nature; and
ἁμαρτήματα hamartemata, mistakes). As a result of this
dichotomy, a large class of objects were left unassigned and thus
regarded as indifferent.
Eventually three sub-classes of "things indifferent" developed: things
to prefer because they assist life according to nature; things to
avoid because they hinder it; and things indifferent in the narrower
sense. The principle of adiaphora was also common to the Cynics.
Philipp Melanchthon revived the doctrine of things indifferent during
Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Roman emperor
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
"askēsis"). Stoic philosophical and spiritual practices included
Socratic dialogue and self-dialogue, contemplation of death,
training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some
forms of Buddhist meditation), and daily reflection on everyday
problems and possible solutions.
Philosophy for a Stoic is an active
process of constant practice and self-reminder.
In his Meditations,
Marcus Aurelius defines several such practices.
For example, in
Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful,
violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of the 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...
Prior to Aurelius,
Epictetus in his Discourses, distinguished between
three types of act: judgment, desire, and inclination. According
to French philosopher Pierre Hadot,
Epictetus identifies these three
acts with logic, physics and ethics respectively. Hadot writes
that in the Meditations, "Each maxim develops either one of these very
characteristic topoi [i.e., acts], or two of them or three of
Seamus Mac Suibhne has described the practices of spiritual exercises
as influencing those of reflective practice. Robertson's The
Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy details at length parallels
between Stoic spiritual exercises and modern cognitive behavioral
Stoics were also known for consolatory orations, which were part of
the consolatio literary tradition. Three such consolations by Seneca
A distinctive feature of
Stoicism is its cosmopolitanism: All people
are manifestations of the one universal spirit and should live in
brotherly love and readily help one another according to the Stoics.
In the Discourses,
Epictetus comments on man's relationship with the
world: "Each human being is primarily a citizen of his own
commonwealth; but he is also a member of the great city of gods and
men, whereof the city political is only a copy." This sentiment
echoes that of
Diogenes of Sinope, who said, "I am not an Athenian or
a Corinthian, but a citizen of the world."
They held that external differences such as rank and wealth are of no
importance in social relationships. Instead, they advocated the
brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings.
Stoicism became the most influential school of the Greco-Roman world,
and produced a number of remarkable writers and personalities, such as
Cato the Younger
Cato the Younger and Epictetus.
In particular, they were noted for their urging of clemency toward
slaves. Seneca exhorted, "Kindly remember that he whom you call your
slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies,
and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies."
Influence on Christianity
See also: Neostoicism
In his Introduction to the 1964 Penguin Classics edition of
Meditations, the Anglican priest Maxwell Staniforth discussed the
Stoicism had on Christianity. He claimed the author of
the Fourth Gospel declared Christ to be the Logos, which "had long
been one of the leading terms of Stoicism, chosen originally for the
purpose of explaining how deity came into relation with the
St. Ambrose of Milan's Duties, "The voice is the
voice of a Christian bishop, but the precepts are those of
Zeno." Regarding what he called "the Divine Spirit",
Cleanthes, wishing to give more explicit meaning to Zeno's 'creative
fire', had been the first to hit upon the term pneuma, or 'spirit', to
describe it. Like fire, this intelligent 'spirit' was imagined as a
tenuous substance akin to a current of air or breath, but essentially
possessing the quality of warmth; it was immanent in the universe as
God, and in man as the soul and life-giving principle. Clearly it is
not a long step from this to the 'Holy Spirit' of Christian theology,
the 'Lord and Giver of life', visibly manifested as tongues of fire at
Pentecost and ever since associated—in the Christian as in the Stoic
mind—with the ideas of vital fire and beneficient warmth.
Regarding the Trinity, Staniforth wrote:
Again in the doctrine of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical conception of
Father, Word, and
Spirit finds its germ in the different Stoic names
of the Divine Unity. Thus Seneca, writing of the supreme Power which
shapes the universe, states, 'This Power we sometimes call the
All-ruling God, sometimes the incorporeal Wisdom, sometimes the holy
Spirit, sometimes Destiny.' The Church had only to reject the last of
these terms to arrive at its own acceptable definition of the Divine
Nature; while the further assertion 'these three are One', which the
modern mind finds paradoxical, was no more than commonplace to those
familiar with Stoic notions.
The apostle Paul met with Stoics during his stay in Athens, reported
in Acts 17:16–18. In his letters, Paul reflected heavily from his
knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors to
assist his new
Gentile converts in their understanding of
Christianity. Stoic influence can also be seen in the works of St.
Ambrose, Marcus Minucius Felix, and Tertullian.
Fathers of the Church
Fathers of the Church regarded
Stoicism as a "pagan
philosophy"; nonetheless, early Christian writers employed
some of the central philosophical concepts of Stoicism. Examples
include the terms "logos", "virtue", "Spirit", and "conscience".
But the parallels go well beyond the sharing and borrowing of
Stoicism and Christianity assert an inner freedom in
the face of the external world, a belief in human kinship with Nature
or God, a sense of the innate depravity—or "persistent evil"—of
humankind, and the futility and temporary nature of worldly
possessions and attachments. Both encourage Ascesis with respect to
the passions and inferior emotions such as lust, and envy, so that the
higher possibilities of one's humanity can be awakened and developed.
Stoic writings such as
Marcus Aurelius have been highly
regarded by many Christians throughout the centuries. The Eastern
Orthodox Church and
Oriental Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church accept Stoic ideal of
dispassion to this day.
Roman Stoics taught that sex is just within marriage, for unitive and
procreative purposes only. This teaching is accepted by Catholic
Church to this day.
Ambrose of Milan was known for applying Stoic philosophy to his
The word "stoic" commonly refers to someone indifferent to pain,
pleasure, grief, or joy. The modern usage as "person who represses
feelings or endures patiently" was first cited in 1579 as a noun, and
1596 as an adjective. In contrast to the term "Epicurean", the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on
Stoicism notes, "the
sense of the English adjective 'stoical' is not utterly misleading
with regard to its philosophical origins."
Main article: List of Stoic philosophers
Zeno of Citium
Zeno of Citium (332–262 BC), founder of
Stoicism and the Stoic
Academy (Stoa) in Athens
Aristo of Chios (fl. 260 BC), pupil of Zeno;
Herillus of Carthage (fl. 3rd century BC)
Cleanthes (of Assos) (330–232 BC), second head of Stoic Academy
Chrysippus (280–204 BC), third head of the academy
Diogenes of Babylon (230–150 BC)
Antipater of Tarsus (210–129 BC)
Panaetius of Rhodes (185–109 BC)
Posidonius of Apameia (c. 135 BC – 51 BC)
Diodotus (c. 120 BC – 59 BC), teacher of Cicero
Cato the Younger
Cato the Younger (94–46 BC)
Seneca (4 BC – AD 65)
Musonius Rufus (1st century AD)
Rubellius Plautus (AD 33–62)
Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus
Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus (1st century AD)
Lucius Annaeus Cornutus (1st century AD)
Epictetus (AD 55–135)
Hierocles (2nd century AD)
Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180)
Glossary of Stoic terms
Ekpyrosis, palingenesis, apocatastasis
Ekpyrotic universe (cosmological theory)
List of Stoic philosophers
Plank of Carneades
Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta
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Baltzly, Dirk. "Stoicism". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia
"Stoicism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
"Stoic Ethics". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Philosophy of Mind". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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The Stoic Library
The Rebirth of Stoicism
Stoic Logic: The Dialectic from Zeno to Chrysippus
Annotated Bibliography on Ancient Stoic Dialectic
"A bibliography on
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