Recently I ran across this Wikipedia article on Stoicism. As I read through the basic tenants it hit me: I think I’m a stoic.
Reason Over Emotion
There are a few things that ring completely true to my own way of thinking:
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 Stoicism involves 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 nature.”
This passage rings almost totally true for me. Often when I find myself boiling with anger I think to myself : “Take a step back, think clearly, logically.” I have always valued the searched for truth with unbiased data and thinking. I especially appreciate the idea of freedom from emotion to see the world clearly.
This certainly does not mean you are free from feeling emotion. Everyone feels emotion. I think the overall point is honing the ability to transcend the emotions you are feeling and examine yourself externally for the self. Almost like an objective outsider examining the facts of your own situation.
The Stoics believed that knowledge can be attained through the use of reason. 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 (sunkatathesis)—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 achieve 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.
This idea also seems naturally true to me. How many times has an eye witness been wrong based on misinterpreted data they “thought” they saw or experienced? True answers, it seems to me, come from data and examination. Emotions are important, but they are subject to error and manipulation by ourselves and external forces.
My wife and I have arguments all the time because she says I’m emotionless and too logical while I accuse her of being overly-emotional. She will laugh or cry easily while I can’t remember the last time I felt emotion strong enough to cry. It’s hard to feel an emotion strong enough to take action if you naturally take the “I need to think this through” approach.
My natural inclination is to stop, wait, and examine the facts.
Ethics and Morality
Even my natural deriving of morality seems to be borrowed from Stoicism.
…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.” 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—somewhat different from the modern use of the word…The eupatheia are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment.
The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια) or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion’), 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…
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.
These ideas are beautiful. Recognize the “common reason and essential value of all people”. I wonder why the Greek people were such sophisticated thinkers? It’s kind of amazing to think people had these brilliant thoughts a thousand years ago, but they are still applicable today. It seems human’s haven’t changed all that much.