Twenty-First Century Stoicism

Adapting an ancient philosophy to modern knowledge and information

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How does one live in accordance with nature today?

Basic Tenets

Logic

The Stoics promoted what was considered propositional logic, a form of reasoning that based on statements, as opposed to standard, term-based logic of Aristotle. Using the relationship of contextual statements to each other, Stoic logicians made conclusions in the following manner:

  1. It is day.
  2. Therefore it is light.

Physics

The Stoics believed that the universe was something entirely material and operated according to reason. They believed the contents of the universe possessed specific properties which remained consistent, a deterministic outlook. Humans, being made of the substance of the universe, were no exception, and human will was merely a projection of the interaction of natural things and similarly deterministic.

Ethics

The Stoics believed that the key to living an ethical life was the ability to think logically and properly understand the ways of the universe. To this end, they advocated inner-awareness of one’s emotions, which may distract from proper, impartial analysis of a situation. To be free of suffering (as much as is possible), one had to achieve the kind of inner calm and eminent mindfulness that has come to characterize the Stoics. Furthermore, they believed that evil was the product of ignorance of the universe’s reason, of a lack of awareness of something fundamental in reality. From this we might derive what could be considered the Golden Rule of Stoicism: Man must seek to live in accordance with nature.

The Problem of Nature

Ancient Stoics believed that one should live in harmony with nature. There were practical as well as spiritual reasons for doing this. The spiritual reasons are where we encounter problems. Like many of those in the Mediterranean world at the time, Stoics had an animistic view of reality. They believed in the divine. Some more closely aligned with an explicit notion of the Greco-Roman pantheon of deities. Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, pursued philosophy because he believe the Oracle of Delphi had instructed him to do so. Others expressed a pantheistic vision of the universe. In general, there was a widespread view that a greater consciousness was at work behind all that is material, one that had good intentions. Marcus Aurelius, the famous Stoic Emperor of the Roman Empire, even wrote in his Meditations:

The Problem of Human Will

Many have criticized Stoicism for its notion of the “the sage,” the man who escapes all suffering by learning to accept his place in nature (hence the non-academic use of the term “stoic”). It might well be said that humans are not well designed to escape suffering. Even the sage, upon slamming his toe into a table leg, will feel pain. The Stoic focus on mindfulness, control of the will, and assuming responsibility for one’s decisions meets many obstacles in the face of modern, scientific discovery. While not all is known about the brain, we do know that every aspect of human cognition and related behavior is the product consistent, chemical processes.

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