Philosophy Phocus: Stoicism

Issue #16 — 5.0 minute read

👋 Hey phi-lazy-phers

(As mentioned in the Existentialism post a few weeks back, we’ll occasionally do a high-level overview of a particular philosopher or philosophical movement. This is one of those issues.)

Friends is a TV show that was popular for a long time, influenced many of the shows we watch today, and, after being on a hiatus, recently made a comeback.

Stoicism is like Friends.

It’s been around for a while and has always been quite popular. It influenced schools of thought we still see around us today, including Christianity and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. And, after some time away from the spotlight, it’s gaining popularity once again…despite looking a little different.

So what is Stoicism? It can be summed up with 4 themes:

  1. Wisdom to separate what we can control from what we cannot.

  2. Temperance from getting too high or too low by accepting the challenges & gifts thrown at you. Amor Fati, meaning “love your fate.”

  3. Courage to acknowledge death and misfortune as natural parts of life. Memento Mori, meaning “Remember you will die.”

  4. Justice. As Epictetus said, “Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.”

Laid out like that, it sounds pretty nice, right? As with all philosophies, though, Stoicism can get distorted. Especially in today’s society when the first theme is often twisted to avoid the fourth theme. But true stoics speak up and fight for those in need even if they deem the problem out of their control.

Alright, enough TV show comparisons. Let’s hear from a few actual stoics.


Epictetus

So in life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control.

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Epictetus

Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.

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Seneca

This is our big mistake: To think we look toward death. Most of death is already gone. Whatever time has passed is owned by death.

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Seneca

How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?

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Marcus Aurelius

Think of the life you have lived until now as over and, as a dead man, see what’s left as a bonus and live it according to Nature. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?

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Marcus Aurelius

External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.

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Viktor Frankl

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

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Viktor Frankl

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.

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Dr. Martha Nussbaum

To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame.


After 10 days visiting family in Ohio and Arkansas, my partner and I were flying back to Portland this past Sunday. Our first flight was delayed three hours due to storms and once we arrived, we had but five minutes to get to our connecting flight on the opposite end of the airport. It was the last flight to PDX, so if we missed it, we’d have to stay in Houston for the night. As soon as we got off the plane, we sprinted as fast as we could. 11 minutes after our plane was supposed to leave, we made it to the gate, sweating and breathing heavily. The plane hadn’t left yet. Phew! Right after boarding, we were informed the flight was going to be delayed another hour…

The point is this: the weather, gate assignments, and delays were all out of our control. We could only control our attitudes and how fast we sprinted 😅 so that’s what we chose to focus on.

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✌️ Until next week, happy philosophizing.


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