What’s the Difference Between Ancient and Modern Stoicism?

What’s the Distinction Between Historic and Trendy Stoicism?


Because the creator of a ebook on Stoicism, I’m all the time requested, “What’s the distinction between historical Stoicism (with a capital ‘S’) and fashionable stoicism?” The distinction issues as a result of individuals ordinarily assimilate the 2 and dismiss the primary on account of the second.


The Stoics argued that, like ants and bees, human beings are profoundly social animals.

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On the coronary heart of historical Stoicism (with a capital ‘S’) is the notion that human beings should act in accord with their nature, which implies two issues.

First, we’re social animals designed to work collectively “like arms, toes, or eyelids.” “Human nature,” stated the Stoic instructor Musonius (d. 95 CE), “could be very very similar to that of bees.

A bee is just not capable of reside alone; it perishes when remoted. Certainly, it’s intent on performing the widespread job of members of its species—to work and act along with different bees.” After we behave with bare selfishness, we’re not being human—and it is just by being human, that’s, by cooperating for the larger good, that we will be comfortable and fulfilled.

Second, whereas ants and bees, and possibly even wolves, could also be extra social than human beings, we’re by a rustic mile probably the most rational of all animals, in order that that cause may be our distinctive or defining operate. Simply as leopards should excel at operating if they’re to rely pretty much as good leopards, so human beings should excel at reasoning if they’re to rely pretty much as good.

If we purpose as an alternative to excel at operating or swimming or earning profits, we’ve got not adequately understood what it means to be a human being. Thus, of 1 who boasted of his diving, Aristippus requested, “Are you not ashamed to be pleased with that which a dolphin can do?”

As human beings, we ought at each second to be rational and social. Sadly, we’re all too readily waylaid by unwise attachments and the damaging feelings to which they offer rise. These attachments dangle the promise of delight or happiness however actually provide solely slavery—whereas, if solely we may see it, nothing results in pleasure and happiness as certainly as cause and self-control.

Immediately, most individuals’s conception of Stoicism is colored by fashionable stoicism, that’s, the easy suppression or closeting of feelings. This deceptive fashionable derivation originated within the sixteenth century and shouldn’t be confused with the a lot older philosophical motion. The Stoic is just not with out feelings, however, ideally, with out painful or unhelpful feelings resembling anger, envy, and greed.

To be with out emotion, have been that even attainable can be to be lowered to the inanimate state of a tree or a rock, whereas the Stoic seeks, quite the opposite, to exist and excel as a human being. Thus, the Stoics invited optimistic and prosocial feelings resembling compassion, friendship, and gratitude, which poured out of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Already in E-book 1, Marcus praises his tutor Sextus of Chaeronea for being “free from ardour and but full of affection.”

Immediately, these aware of Stoicism typically got here to it in a disaster however quickly uncover that it’s about way more than firefighting and even longer-term resilience constructing.

Whereas I used to be writing Stoic Tales, a buttoned-up surgeon put me on the spot by asking how stoicism, the trendy disposition, differs from Stoicism, the traditional philosophical motion. I ventured in reply: “Trendy stoicism is about sustaining a stiff higher lip, whereas historical Stoicism is about looking for to take care of the last word perspective on every part, which then raises many attention-grabbing questions.”

Not like many fashionable interventions, Stoicism is just not merely about feeling higher however about being higher—which is, all thought-about, the surest method of feeling higher, and never simply higher however higher than ever.


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