Stoicism: A very short introduction

Dec 31, 2021  │  m. Jul 29, 2023 by manuhortet  │  #brad   #inwood  

Learning → 🔖 | Reference → 🔗 | Idea → 💡

  1. Ch 1
    • 🔖 Content from the early days of the school is mostly lost. Historical tracing of the school itself and its topics exist but is still being discussed in academia.
    • 🔗 Rational emotive behavior therapy, by Albert Ellis: psychotherapy proposing negativeness come from irrational tendencies, which can be identified, controlled and replaced by rational / positive ones. Precursor of cognitive behavioral therapy.
    • 🔗 Stockdale (american navy aviator) found practical use in stoicism, which he based his character on when held captive in Hanoi.
    • 💡 Even in the absolute worst scenario, one is always free enough to choose good over bad. Honor / being truthful to one’s convictions can be a high expression of freedom.
    • 💡 It’s in our nature to cooperate, to build together. Don’t be dismissive and try to help.
  2. Ch 2
    • 🔖 Marcus’ work is not totally representative of stoicism. Sometimes his views oppose those that we know about the school from other sources (e.g. his belief in an inner self, particular and independent from the context our character is built in).
    • 🔖 OGs were Zeno of Citium, Chrysippus of Soli. Their works are lost.
    • 🔖 Stoicism was ignored for a long time. Certain works were rediscovered in the Renaissance (Marcus, Epictetus, Seneca).
    • 🔖 If Seneca’s work, more loyal to ancient stoicism, had been more popular in modern times, we would think Stoicism is more about theoretical reflection on social and political topics rather than mere self-improvement.
  3. Ch 3
    • 🔖 Stoics, close to Platonism, distanced themselves from it because of their disagreement upon Forms.
    • 🔖 Same happened to Aristotle.
    • 🔖 Aristo thought ethics to be the only important part of philosophy. Other Stoics agreed on Ethics, Physis and Logic being all relevant and necessary, but disagree on which on e was more important.
  4. Physis
    • 🔖 Stoicism physis was similar to Aristotle’s. The universe was understood as the union and mix of four elements; fire, air, water and earth. Fire was related to creation and destruction, and normally linked to the idea of God, sometimes conceived in a pantheistic way.
    • 🔖 Reality was also understood as the interaction between what is active (made of fire, air or a mix; pneuma); implying that everything that happens has a cause. This deterministic view was providential though, as they understood a purposive plan must be behind the causal network.
    • 🔖 One concern about this system was the lack of free will determinism presents. Conceiving one’s character as an always present condition to define all outputs (Compatibilism) brought capacity of decision back and validated the system in that sense.
    • 🔖 Another criticism on Compatibilism: if our character is the making of factors beyond our control, how can merit or blame be pointed at ourselves? The Stoic response: in that we are nothing but our character, what our character does is us. This deterministic view is actually positive, as no matter what our character is right now, being rational means having the capacity for improvement. This capacity implies validity for merit and blame.
    • 🔖 Marcus’ position is closer to that of an inner self, independent from context, existing and validating accountability.
    • 🔖 The responses to the problem of evil and God are weak, and close to the Christian (bad is provided to make us good) and Platonic (bad is caused not by God’s intention but by the constraint of the materials he use).
  5. Ethics
    • 🔖 Stoicism ethics are built upon the idea of human natural inclinations, being these a bias towards good, an affiliation with other humans and an attachment to reason and truth. A successful version of oneself would be one that follow and perfect these inclinations.
    • 🔖 The Greek term we normally translate as virtue is aretē which original sense would fall closer to excellence, with no moral connotation. This explains why it was not questioned if we should or not aim for virtue.
    • 🔖 The four Stoic virtues coincide with those from Plato: justice, courage, wisdom and moderation. The application of all simply correspond to choosing good over bad on different situations.
    • 🔖 Is good what comes from virtue, and is bad what comes from vice. The rest is indifferent, even if some indifferents may present themselves as positives (wealth) and some as negatives (disease).
    • 🔖 Going for positive indifferents is okay, but unconditionally commit only to achieve virtue.
    • 💡 Christianity, in its proposal and understanding of the good life, takes a lot from stoicism (or maybe directly from Platonism).
      • Praying is close in form to the stoic manner of self-reflect, and close in execution and content to journaling.
      • The intrinsic relationship between good and bad and what is natural.
    • 💡A bigger effort to validate or revitalize Christian statements (always from a pantheistic conception of God) could also discuss:
      • We are made in the image of God, if our rationality is held to be the same in kind as the one that administers the world.
      • Heaven and hell are valid concepts and is God who defines access to both:
        • We are, in the most strict formal sense, a momentary set of rules that can transform input into output; an algorithm.
        • This algorithm exist in a conceptual manner, without dependence on time nor on its biological materialization, similarly to any other formal expression.
        • If, as a moral subject, one is good (virtuous, in the Stoic frame) in a given moment, the existent algorithm representing oneself in that moment can be considered to exist in heaven: the abode of the righteous.
        • Heaven is then the state of virtue of a subject. And “access” is indeed defined by the closed system, the base rules; the pantheistic God.
  6. Logic
    • 🔖 What makes us rational is the ability to reflect on impressions (to comprehend the ghost you saw wasn’t a ghost).
    • 🔖 Antique schools were convinced of thought being an exclusively incorporeal activity, which drove them to reject Stoic’s metaphysics of the mind.
    • 🔖 Stoicism logic system resembles (and kickstarted) propositional logic.
    • 🔖 Logic brought concerns about determinism and compatibilism, and it’s there where Stoics spent most time. (Master argument, Diodorus)
  7. Closing: Stoicism then and now
    • 💡 Heavy study of the physis or logic proposed by the stoic school doesn’t have space anymore. However, the general spirit behind the school, this is, the intention to understand reality and use rationality in order to better fulfill our role in nature, can perfectly encompass our modern study of Marcus, Epictetus and Seneca.


A short introduction on stoicism does exactly as promised: it provides a concise summary of the theory and history of stoicism and the relationships with other philosophies at the time. This book is not for absolute beginners, but a nice start to read prior to starting on the ‘real’ texts.