What Does Life Mean To A Stoic: Meaning of Life In Stoicism

What is the meaning of life, if at all, life has meaning?

Some people believe there is a predetermined meaning to our existence. Some think there is no inherent meaning to life in the larger sense of the universe.

It’s also a matter of personal conviction whether our existence has a purpose. We are free to find our own purpose in life.

As Emperor Caracalla, also known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (not Emperor Marcus Aurelius who wrote “Meditations”) said,

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Emperor Caracalla

What do the Stoic philosophers think the meaning of life is?

After all, we are a pale blue dot.

What is the Stoic meaning of life?

The Stoic meaning of life is to live guided by reason and virtue, accept events as natural order, and be dedicated to their duties. Their purpose is to focus on what they can control, live in the present, and improve themselves. Self-control and moral integrity are their existential cornerstones.

Meaning of life as a Stoic

Their peace in life comes from not letting emotions overwhelm them, not trying to control external events or other people, and not over-indulging in worldly comforts.

The Stoics believed that the cosmos is governed by a rational principle or logos.

A Stoic reaches a state of eudaimonia – a life of ultimate goodness – by living in accordance with the natural laws of the cosmos.

They held that the purpose of human life is to understand the cosmos and live in harmony with its principles.

Stoics believe in focusing on the process of the task at hand, working at it with complete awareness and devotion, without worrying too much about the outcomes.

They stay firmly moored in the present, as they fully realize that they are powerless to rewrite the past or influence the future.

We, too, can naturally live happy and good lives by applying these principles to our thoughts and actions.

“What is the meaning of life, Marcus Aurelius?”

“The fruit of this life is good character and acts for the common good.”

– Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE), born as Marcus Annius Verus, given the name Verissimus (‘most truthful’).

Marcus Aurelius was not a pure Stoic, but rather an eclectic Stoic, with influences from Cynicism and Epicureanism.

His book “Meditations” revolves around the following three Stoic ideas:

  1. Our beliefs about what is valuable or attractive have a direct influence on our emotions and desires.
  2. A virtuous life is the same as a happy life, and all that is needed to secure happiness is Virtue. Health, money, success, and even the well-being of one’s family and friends are all unimportant for happiness; they are known as “indifferents” or “matters of indifference.”
  3. We have an inborn tendency to help and benefit others. This tendency, when fully realized, lets us both engage with family and society and see all human beings as forming a “brotherhood” or cosmopolitan city.

What is the meaning of death to a Stoic?

To a Stoic, death is simply the end of life. It is not something to be feared or avoided, but rather to be accepted as a natural part of existence. Stoics believe that we should not worry about death, since it is outside our control, and instead, focus on living a good life and making the most of the time that we have.

A Stoic does not fear death, because they realize that Death has already claimed whatever days we have lived up to this point. The best course of action is to take the time we are left with and practice a life of virtue.

Stoics feel we should accept things as they are, without coloring them with our judgments.

This means accepting death as a natural part of life, and not trying to fight against it. Stoics believe that we should embrace death with dignity and courage.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca sums up the Stoic view of death:

“Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death is not, and when death is, we are not.”

— Seneca

Of course, death can be a difficult topic to think about. But Stoics believe that we must contemplate our deaths.

This is the principle of memento mori—there‘s a fascinating story behind it that I love to read again and again.

By contemplating the meaning of death, we can boldly face our mortality, better appreciate the value of life, and live each day to the fullest.

Marcus also advised us, and himself, on the futility of fearing death.

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.11

Marcus asks us to live our lives like we could die at any moment. That we should live each day to the fullest because we never know when our time here will end.

  • He argues that if there are gods, they wouldn’t want us to suffer, so they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us.
  • And if there are no gods, or if they don’t care about us, then why would we want to live in a world without them, a world that is empty and meaningless?
Stoic Quotes On Death

What is the meaning of a good life according to Stoicism?

Most modern Stoics would hold the idea that the goal of the good life is to align ourselves with reason and virtue. This means using reason to understand the universe and to make decisions that are in accordance with virtue.

Some modern Stoics may also focus on the idea of living in the present moment and finding peace and fulfillment by practicing Amor Fati & Memento Mori.

Most of them would hold that our choices in the present moment are what we are in complete control of.

Why do Stoics need to do purposeful work every day?

The principles of carpe diem and memento mori are both relevant to why Stoics need to do purposeful work every day.

  • Carpe diem means “seize the day” or “live in the present moment.” Stoics believe that we should make the most of our time on Earth and live each day to the fullest. This means doing work that we find meaningful and that contributes to the world positively.
  • Memento mori means “remember that you will die.” Stoics believe that this reminder can help us to focus on what is truly important in life and to live in the present moment. When we think about our own mortality, it can help us to appreciate the time that we have and to make the most of it.

When we do purposeful work, we are using our time and talents to make a difference in the world. We are also contributing to our own well-being, because we are feeling fulfilled and satisfied with our lives.

A Stoic would advise that you should select a goal, but you should not seek it to turn out exactly as you want.

What is the meaning of Stoicism?

Keep in mind the story of the Stoic archer while setting a goal: An archer can focus on the target, but cannot fully will the arrow to strike exactly where he wants to. And if the arrow misses the target, they must accept it rather than view it as a source of anger or frustration.

What would better work is to pick up the arrow and rework his skill with dedication and passion.

So, a Stoic seizes the day, making every effort to be useful to others until their time is over, as fate decides.

You cannot say for sure if something is outright good or bad because it depends on how you see it from your moral perspective.

Your life, and all your riches, are preferred indifferents.

What they hold is that while human life is precious, your life is not meaningful in itself. Its meaning lies in what you do with it.

Whether a king (Marcus Aurelius), a water-bearer (Cleanthes), or a slave (Epictetus), you have the power to choose what to do right now.

FAQs

What do Stoics value the most?

Stoics regard Virtue and The Four Cardinal Virtues as the most important value in life. Their idea was that a virtuous life is identical to a happy life, and that virtue is all that is needed to ensure happiness. If a person is nothing else than a person of virtue, then it is sufficient to keep them happy.

What are the core principles of Stoicism?

Stoicism is built on three main pillars: wisdom, courage, and justice. It teaches us to live in harmony with reason and virtue, focusing only on what we can control. The Stoic aim is to achieve a state of tranquility and moral integrity through disciplined living.

How do Stoics approach challenges and difficulties?

Stoics see challenges as opportunities for growth. They practice “amor fati,” or love of fate, accepting whatever happens as part of the natural order. By focusing on their own actions and reactions, they navigate difficulties with a sense of calm and purpose.

How can one practice Stoicism in daily life?

Practicing Stoicism involves daily reflection on and being mindful of one’s deeds. Practices like journaling, premeditatio malorum, and the “Stoic Fork” (distinguishing between what you can and can’t control) are useful. The goal is to live intentionally, making choices aligned with Stoic principles.

Read this guide: How To Be A Modern Stoic In Modern Times?

Is Stoicism compatible with other philosophies or religions?

Stoicism is often compatible with other belief systems. Its focus on virtue and ethical living can align with various religious teachings. However, its emphasis on rationality may clash with beliefs that prioritize faith or emotional experience.

What are some criticisms of Stoicism?

Critics argue that Stoicism can seem emotionally detached or overly rational, potentially leading to indifference. Some also say it places too much emphasis on individual responsibility, which might overlook systemic issues.

Final Words

So, instead of asking “What is the meaning of life?” a Stoic would rather ask himself, “What can I do now to make my life more meaningful?”

To make their existence purposeful, Stoics would use the freedom of their minds to select what to do in the here and now. Accept full responsibility for their decisions and actions, embrace the uncertainties of the future, and live in virtue.

The Stoics believed that the universe has predestined all of us to have a purpose or meaning.

The Epicureans, on the other hand, believed that the universe had no meaning since it was a random collection of atoms.


Written and researched by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.

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