Why Is Stoicism Important, And How Is It Relevant, Today?


Though the Stoic philosophers had their golden epoch for around 600 years, from 300 BCE to 300 CE, they still have an unbelievably strong fan following all across the world. After all, the Greco-Roman philosophy has always been an ideological source for ordinary people like you and me.

At its core, Stoicism is a philosophy that aims to minimize our negative reactions, thoughts, and feelings in life. And to maximize contentment, happiness, and mindfulness.

Stoicism teaches virtue-based living and comes across as a practical tool to find purpose in life and meaning in human experience. And these are pertinent queries for living successfully as of today, just as twenty-four hundred years back.

Why Is Stoicism Important Today?

Stoicism is important even today as it takes a timeless and unpretentious approach to philosophy. Its proponents conceived and propagated it in a way that people from across millennia and social classes could use it in their daily lives.

The present-day influence of Stoicism is helped by the following 4 factors:

  1. Philosophy For The Common People: The classical Stoic teachers preached in ways that the commonest of the common person could always drop by to listen. They preached from open public places and wrote books anyone could copy, quote, and distribute freely. They did not bother much about attributions or copyrights. It had the result that most of their preachings were widely printed, quoted, and distributed. And they are still available easily for just about anyone who is eager to learn and practice it.
  2. User-Friendly And Practical Approach: Their lectures were practical and easy-to-grasp. Even today, anybody at all can understand their teachings with only little effort and apply it to their daily life. Although some original masters never put down a single word for the historical record, and some of their original texts got lost or destroyed, the students of those Stoic preachers took the utmost care to preserve their teachings into books we can read today.
  3. Free To Access For All: The main Stoicism books by the ancient authors always remained free to access. More so in our internet-powered world of altruistic repositories like Project Gutenberg. Stoicism was a philosophy designed for the masses, and so it remains to this day.
  4. Backed By Modern Cognitive Science: Some core beliefs of Stoicism find evidence and use in modern science. A tenet of Stoicism turned out to be an effective solution to anxiety and depression. In fact, it became the precursor of counseling therapies like CBT (which says our negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors cause difficulties) and REBT (which says our thinking about events leads to emotional and behavioral upset).

Grab these FREE books by Stoic teachers: 5 Best Beginner Books On Stoicism

How Is Stoicism Relevant Today

Stoicism is relevant today as it helps modern men and women to put their lives in better order. A practicing Stoic today is seen as a calm, satisfied person, and is often sought for wise counsel and just advice. The ancient philosophy still inspires people to re-think and re-organize their lives to achieve eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia is a Greek word (Greek: εὐδαιμονία) that, when translated, can mean human flourishing, prosperity, and contentedness.

Successes and failures ride together in the entrepreneur world today. Any business, a startup, or a giant corporation, cannot have one of these without the other. And any businessperson, at whatever level, can get mired too deep into the feelings resulting from either success or failure, and from the pressure to stay relevant.

Recently, Stoicism has reappeared among the large and small business owners, who want their way of thinking to match the practical aspects of the ancient philosophy. So they could tackle their busy and often uncertain lives with equanimity.

The Stoics have a positive influence on people around them and help to make the world a less materialistic and more peaceful place to be. Stoicism tries to instill and fulfill two features in us: happiness and potential.

In some parts, it is like happiness science. If we think of it, achieving the goals of happiness and potential are the two things everyone is after in this life.

Stoicism taught the ultimate aim of human life was to look back on a virtuous life when dying. For a happy life, one must live with wisdom, and in accordance with nature.

For the Stoics, virtue is the highest good. A Stoic does not expect a good return for their virtuous act, because the good deed itself was the profit and the reward. Click To Tweet

The Stoics held virtue was necessary and sufficient for happiness.

What Is Dichotomy of Control

Dichotomy of Control is one of the two pillars of Stoicism. It means we can divide everything as: one, the things we can control, and two, the things we cannot. Stoics teach we should only attend to things under our control, and let others be.

Epictetus explains the concept beautifully:

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are not. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever is of our own doing. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not of our own doing.

— Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1

We could interpret it in modern terms as everything we try to do can be broken down into two components: the part that is entirely up to us — opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and one that is not up to us, although it can be influenced by us our body, our property, reputation, office.

A related question is of how we value the things we divide according to the Dichotomy of Control. The things we cannot control can be good, and in this case these are “preferred indifferent.” Things we can control can also be bad, and in this case, they are “dispreferred indifferent.”

The preferred indifferents include life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, good reputation, and noble birth. The dispreferred indifferents include death, disease, pain, ugliness, weakness, poverty, low repute, and ignoble birth. While it is usually appropriate to avoid the dispreferred indifferents, in unusual circumstances it may be virtuous to select them rather than avoid them. The virtue or vice of the agent is thus determined not by the possession of an indifferent, but rather by how it is used or selected. It is the virtuous use of indifferents that makes a life happy, the vicious use that makes it unhappy.

— William O. Stephens, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Stoics get the credit as the first philosophers to divide philosophy into three parts: logic, physics, and ethics. Logic deals with the expression of knowledge. Physics deals with the matter and principles of knowledge. And ethics with the use of that wisdom.

For them, philosophy was ‘the knowledge of things divine and human.’

The first Stoics carried forward the Socratic idea that virtue was knowledge. Further, they borrowed from Plato, a pupil of Socrates, the four cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage, and defined them as the four branches of knowledge. Against these virtues stood the four cardinal vices of Folly, Injustice, Intemperance, and Cowardice.


Final Words

We could use Stoicism to bring peace and happiness into our modern lives. As Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living, says:

Apply the dichotomy of control and the four virtues to everything you do and, as Epictetus promises, you will never be unhappy. You will be free, and you will live a life truly worth living.

— Massimo Pigliucci, aeon
Epictetus on the Dichotomy of Control - ReasonIO Online Events in May 2017

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. Writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.

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