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The Athenian philosopher Zeno of Citium founded Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy, in the third century BCE. [1] It emphasized the possession of a will that acted in accordance with nature. Essentially, as Epicetus, a first century CE Greek Stoic philosopher, stated, a Stoic could be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy”. According to Stoics, there are classes of things: passive (matter), and active (reason). Stoics believe that nearly everything is a part of nature, which is out of humans’ control. Since reason is the basis of the universe and society, to live a life of virtue and reason is the greatest goal for Stoics.

Contrary to widespread belief, Stoics do not advocate a lack of emotion, merely a transformation of emotion through reason. In this sense, the modern usage of “stoic” as a person unconcerned with emotion is true perhaps only by virtue that emotion is contrary to reason.

However, Stoicism does not exist only as a philosophy of the past. Modern Stoics drop the “follow nature” slogan in favor of a philosophy of “following the facts”. Finding facts can be accomplished through numerous means, including science, and in this regard, Stoicism is admirable as a philosophy of facts. [2]

My Thoughts on Stoicism:

I admire Stoicism as understood as a philosophy of following logic and reason and having a “will” in accordance with the facts. After all, rationality is the best way to solve any problem, since objective understanding of an issue provides the most facts, and the best arena in which to interpret the facts and draw logical conclusions from them.

However, where I have an issue with Stoicism is in the definitions. What is defined as a “fact” and how does our cognition find or deduce these facts? In addition, what distinguishes between an emotion and a fact, or a thought?

For instance, if an attacker were to verbally abuse you, before attacking you and ripping your jacket, it would be a fact that you would likely be angry. If we suppose that you are angry, then it is a fact, something that you ought to have a will according to. There appears to be no distinction between “thoughts” and “emotions” as they are both merely electrochemical impulses. In this regard, I interpret stoicism as regarding all facts, not merely emotional facts, before drawing a conclusion.

What people label as “being emotional” is merely taking an incomplete set of facts, or placing a disproportionate bias upon one’s short-term personal thoughts compared to thoughts and perceptions of the external world. What we define as “analytical” is the opposite; examining one’s perceptions of the external world. If Stoicism is what I equate it to, then Stoicism is therefore the examination of the external world, and action according to that. It is like science in this regard.


[1] John Sellars. Stoicism, p. 32.

[2] Becker, Lawrence (1997). A New Stoicism. Princetion University Press.

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