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STOICISM 
Living according to Nature
WHO WERE THE 
STOICS? 
• Zeno founded the Stoic school of 
philosophy in Athens around 300 BC. 
• Seneca, Roman statesman ...
WHAT IS STOICISM? 
Three central ideas that are at the heart of 
Stoic philosophy: 
• Value 
• Emotions 
• Nature and the ...
STOIC VALUE 
• The most important thing in life and the only 
thing with real value is ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence 
of charact...
EMOTIONS 
• Popular misconception: A Stoic is 
someone who denies or represses their 
emotions in a potentially unhealthy ...
NATURE & THE COMMUNITY OF 
HUMANKIND 
• We ought to live in harmony with Nature. There 
is nothing to be gained from tryin...
WHAT IS IN OUR POWER? 
• Having a Stoic attitude means completely 
accepting that things outside of your 
control are outs...
STOIC SIMPLICITY 
• One major challenge we face in life is 
excessive desire for wealth, or 'more 
stuff’. 
• We should pr...
STOIC ACCEPTANCE & ACTION 
• Stoic acceptance means recognising that some 
things are outside of your control, and that if...
WISE INTENTION QUALITIES 
• Should be undertaken “with a reserve clause”, an 
attitude of somewhat detached “indifference”...
STOIC MINDFULNESS 
• Essentially means developing more self-control over our thoughts and 
judgements. 
• Involves continu...
EPICTETUS’ ADVICE 
• Most importantly, ask yourself whether the impressions 
that upset you are about things under your co...
PRAEMEDITATIO FUTURORUM 
MALORUM • Strategy of anticipating future catastrophes and preparing 
to face them in advance by ...
STOIC LOVE 
• Stoics should love others as though they could be 
taken from us at any moment, i.e., without any trace 
of ...
STOIC LOVE 
• As others are external to us, though, we can only 
“prefer” that they flourish, while accepting their 
imper...
SOME STOIC QUOTES
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this 
and you will find strength.” 
–Marcus Aurelius
“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I might meet with 
people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, tre...
“Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for 
events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly...
“To lose someone you love is something you’ll regard as the 
hardest of all blows to bear, while all the time this will be...
“When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, What can this man 
want? If he did not want something which is not in his ...
“To reduce your worry, you must assume that what you fear may 
happen is certainly going to happen.” 
– Seneca
“They are amusing fellows who are proud of the things which are 
not in our power. A man says, I am better than you, for I...
“Stop fantasizing! Cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing 
like a puppet. Draw a circle around the present moment...
that you have no need of office: when you see another rich, look 
what you have instead. If you have nothing instead, you ...
“Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that 
they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy ...
“Don't be prideful with any excellence that is not your own. If a 
horse should be prideful and say, " I am handsome," it ...
STOICISM CLASSICS 
from Marcus, Epictetus and Seneca.
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Stoicism: Living according to nature

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Stoicism presentation based on the Stoic Week 2013 Handbook.

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Stoicism: Living according to nature

  1. 1. STOICISM Living according to Nature
  2. 2. WHO WERE THE STOICS? • Zeno founded the Stoic school of philosophy in Athens around 300 BC. • Seneca, Roman statesman and tutor to the Emperor Nero. • Epictetus, a slave originally from Asia Minor whose Roman master freed him. • Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD.
  3. 3. WHAT IS STOICISM? Three central ideas that are at the heart of Stoic philosophy: • Value • Emotions • Nature and the Community of Humankind
  4. 4. STOIC VALUE • The most important thing in life and the only thing with real value is ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence of character’. Traditional virtues including moderation, courage, justice, and wisdom. • An excellent mental state is ultimately the only thing that really matters; it is the only thing that is really good and it is the only thing that can bring us wellbeing or happiness. • All external things that people often pursue for the sake of happiness – a good job, money, success, fame, and so on – cannot guarantee us happiness.
  5. 5. EMOTIONS • Popular misconception: A Stoic is someone who denies or represses their emotions in a potentially unhealthy way. • Emotions are the product of our judgements about what is good and bad in life. • Emotions are typically within our control, even if it might not feel like it some of the time.
  6. 6. NATURE & THE COMMUNITY OF HUMANKIND • We ought to live in harmony with Nature. There is nothing to be gained from trying to resist Nature’s larger processes. Resisting them produces frustration, anger, and disappointment. • We ought to embrace Nature on its own terms and accept our place within it as limited, finite beings, with limited power and a limited lifespan – but also as parts of something much greater than us. • The ‘self’ in Stoic thought is intrinsically a ‘social self’. From this natural affection stems the Stoic ideal of the ‘community of humankind’.
  7. 7. WHAT IS IN OUR POWER? • Having a Stoic attitude means completely accepting that things outside of your control are outside of your control. • It also means taking fuller responsibility for those things under your control, and viewing these as what’s ultimately most important in any situation. • Only our own voluntary actions are ultimately “up to us” or under our direct control – everything else is, at least to some extent, in the hands of fate.
  8. 8. STOIC SIMPLICITY • One major challenge we face in life is excessive desire for wealth, or 'more stuff’. • We should practise enduring discomfort, such as the fatigue of exercise, when it is useful and healthy for us to do so. We should also practise renouncing our craving for empty pleasure. • For Stoics, the benefits that self-discipline and endurance have for our character are all that really matter.
  9. 9. STOIC ACCEPTANCE & ACTION • Stoic acceptance means recognising that some things are outside of your control, and that if those events have actually happened, this must be acknowledged and accepted. • Stoic serenity comes from “accepting reality” or “accepting the facts” – but not giving up! • Stoics focus on acting with virtue in the “here and now”, insofar as that is within their sphere of control, from moment to moment. • In order to act as well as possible, the Stoic focussed on ensuring he was cultivating wise intentions for action.
  10. 10. WISE INTENTION QUALITIES • Should be undertaken “with a reserve clause”, an attitude of somewhat detached “indifference” toward the actual outcome. • Should be “for the common welfare” of mankind, which perhaps comes closest to what we mean nowadays by saying that something is “ethical” – taking into account the wellbeing of others as well as our own, as if all of mankind were part of a single family. • Should be “according to nature”, meaning that some things are naturally worth pursuing and preferring over other things, both for ourselves and others, such as physical health, although these things are not considered intrinsically “good” in Stoic ethics.
  11. 11. STOIC MINDFULNESS • Essentially means developing more self-control over our thoughts and judgements. • Involves continual mindfulness of our thinking processes, which the Stoics called prosochê or “attention” to yourself. Avoiding “rashness” or being “carried away” by our thoughts and feelings. • Being able to see our thoughts as merely thoughts, rather than confusing them with facts or external events. • Modern cognitive therapy calls this “psychological distancing” or “cognitive distancing”. Before we can learn to challenge unhealthy patterns of thinking, we have to first spot them, and place our thoughts in question. • Don’t allow yourself to be carried away by irrational feelings, whether through force of habit or because they arise unexpectedly. Remember that you are upset by your own thoughts and value-judgements rather than by external events.
  12. 12. EPICTETUS’ ADVICE • Most importantly, ask yourself whether the impressions that upset you are about things under your control or not and if they’re not under your control, accept this fact, and remind yourself that external things are “indifferent” with regard to your own flourishing and virtue. • Ask yourself what someone perfectly wise and virtuous person would do when faced with the same problem or situation. This is the 'Stoic Sage', whom the Stoics treated as an ideal for imitation. • Ask yourself what strengths or resources nature has given you to master the situation, e.g., do you have the capacity for patience and endurance? How might using those potential virtues help you deal with this problem more wisely?
  13. 13. PRAEMEDITATIO FUTURORUM MALORUM • Strategy of anticipating future catastrophes and preparing to face them in advance by imagining them, as if they were happening already. Typical examples include bereavement, poverty, exile, illness, and, perhaps most importantly of all for the Stoics, one’s own death. • By repeatedly picturing future “catastrophes” as if they were already happening, the Stoic could reduce anxiety about them in a similar way to how 'exposure therapy' in CBT today can reduce anxiety attached to a specific situation. • We know from modern research that the best way to overcome anxiety is to actually “expose” yourself to the feared situation in reality, repeatedly and for sufficiently prolonged periods. Picturing the same event in the mind,
  14. 14. STOIC LOVE • Stoics should love others as though they could be taken from us at any moment, i.e., without any trace of clinging attachment, because their presence in our lives is ultimately not “up to us” but lies partly in the hands of fate. • We should desire only to love others, while accepting that it is ultimately “indifferent” whether they reciprocate, as again, this is not “up to us” but to them. • To love others is to wish them to flourish and for Stoics that means ultimately to attain virtue, rather than health, wealth, or reputation – so our love for
  15. 15. STOIC LOVE • As others are external to us, though, we can only “prefer” that they flourish, while accepting their imperfection, folly, and vice, as inevitable and beyond our direct control – with the Stoic “reserve clause”, in other words. • We should not discriminate between others, but should aspire to expand our sense of natural affection to encompass the rest of humanity, an attitude sometimes called Stoic “philanthropy” or love of mankind. • The Sage is not obsessed with anyone, in part, because he loves everyone as much as he is able and does so while accepting that they are
  16. 16. SOME STOIC QUOTES
  17. 17. “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” –Marcus Aurelius
  18. 18. “Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I might meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious and unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Not can I be angry with my fellow human being or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1
  19. 19. “Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly.” – Epictetus, Handbook 8
  20. 20. “To lose someone you love is something you’ll regard as the hardest of all blows to bear, while all the time this will be as silly as crying because the leaves fall from the beautiful trees that add to the charm of your home. Preserve a sense of proportion in your attitude to everything that pleases you, and make the most of them while they are at their best. At one moment chance will carry off one of them, at another moment another; but the falling of the leaves is not difficult to bear, since they grow again, and it is no more hard to bear the loss of those whom you love and regard as brightening your existence; for even if they do not grow again they are replaced. ‘But their successors will never be quite the same’ No, and neither will you. Every day, every hour sees a change in you, although the ravages of time are easier to see in others; in your own case they are far less obvious, because to you they do not show. While other people are snatched away from us, we are being filched away surreptitiously from ourselves.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
  21. 21. “When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, What can this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious?” – Epictetus
  22. 22. “To reduce your worry, you must assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen.” – Seneca
  23. 23. “They are amusing fellows who are proud of the things which are not in our power. A man says, I am better than you, for I possess much land, and you are wasting with hunger. Another says, I am of consular rank. Another says, I am a Procurator. Another, I have curly hair. But a horse does not say to a horse, I am superior to you, for I possess much fodder, and much barley, and my bits are of gold and my harness is embroidered: but he says, I am swifter than you. And every animal is better or worse from his own merit (virtue) or his own badness. Is there then no virtue in man only? and must we look to the hair, and our clothes and to our ancestors?” – Epictetus
  24. 24. “Stop fantasizing! Cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing like a puppet. Draw a circle around the present moment. Recognize what is happening either to you or to someone else. Dissect everything into its causal and material elements. Ponder your final hour. Leave the wrong with the person who did it.” – Marcus Aurelius, 7:29 (The Emperor’s Handbook)
  25. 25. that you have no need of office: when you see another rich, look what you have instead. If you have nothing instead, you are miserable, but if you have this—that you have no need of wealth— know that you are better off and have something much more valuable. Another has a beautiful wife, you have freedom from desire for a beautiful wife. Do these seem to you small matters? Nay, what a price the rich themselves, and those who hold office, and who live with beautiful wives, would give to despise wealth and office and the very women whom they love and win! Do you not know what the thirst of a man in a fever is like, how different from the thirst of a man in health? The healthy man drinks and his thirst is gone: the other is delighted for a moment and then grows giddy, the water turns to gall, and he vomits and has colic, and is more exceeding thirsty. Such is the condition of the man who is haunted by desire in wealth or in office, and in wedlock with a lovely woman: jealousy clings to him, fear of loss, shameful words, – Epictetus shameful thoughts, unseemly deeds.”
  26. 26. “Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even of good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them.” – Seneca, on Providence
  27. 27. “Don't be prideful with any excellence that is not your own. If a horse should be prideful and say, " I am handsome," it would be supportable. But when you are prideful, and say, " I have a handsome horse," know that you are proud of what is, in fact, only the good of the horse. What, then, is your own? Only your reaction to the appearances of things. Thus, when you behave conformably to nature in reaction to how things appear, you will be proud with reason; for you will take pride in some good of your own. ” –Epictetus
  28. 28. STOICISM CLASSICS from Marcus, Epictetus and Seneca.

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