What is wrong with Stoicism ?

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What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#1  Postby Ciwan » Feb 09, 2012 9:31 am

Greetings Friends

I love reading quotes, and I find quotes from certain Stoic philosophers really appealing to me. Note, I am an absolute n00b to Philosophy, so assuming I know nothing at all on this matter would be an accurate assumption.

So a quote or two of the ones I like:

"All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature." ... by Zeno of Citium.

"Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else." ... by Marcus Aurelius.

Why have I started this thread ? I want to start a little friendly discussion on Stoicism, in the hope that you can enlighten me (and other n00bs that might stumble onto this thread in the future) .. where Stoicism fails, what are its good points, what are its bad points ... etc

Being a n00b, I would greatly appreciate replies that have no, or very little Philosophical jargon, and if Jargon is used, can you help us n00bs understand it by giving an example or context ? That would be REALLY HELPFUL.

Thank You. :cheers:

Ciwan.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#2  Postby logical bob » Feb 09, 2012 11:24 am

Stoicism generates nice quotes for sure, but it would be very difficult to be a Stoic in the modern world. Stoicism ties the whole of philosophy together in one system that includes an understanding of logic and physics that has been long superseded. It's interesting, but interesting in a historical way.

You have to put the quotes in context. The Zeno quote you have there sounds almost environmentalist, but when the Stoics talked about nature they were talking about their belief that all matter is suffused with pneuma, a sort of life force composed of fire and air, and structured by the logos or universal reason. These would not be easy beliefs to hold today.

I suppose that if you wanted a bad point it would be that Stoicism would suggest that people in bad situations should learn to accept their situation rather than change it. The social ramifications of this aren't great.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#3  Postby Ciwan » Feb 09, 2012 11:52 am

Nice !! Thank You Bob. Yes I was taking it in the Environmental sense, and you are right, I should have taken it in its original context. :)

Anything else anyone would like to add ? This is why I started the thread, I learnt a little bit more on how to think rationally :cheers:
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#4  Postby jamest » Feb 09, 2012 11:18 pm

logical bob wrote:The Zeno quote you have there sounds almost environmentalist, but when the Stoics talked about nature they were talking about their belief that all matter is suffused with pneuma, a sort of life force composed of fire and air, and structured by the logos or universal reason. These would not be easy beliefs to hold today.

Sounds like pantheism.

I suppose that if you wanted a bad point it would be that Stoicism would suggest that people in bad situations should learn to accept their situation rather than change it. The social ramifications of this aren't great.

An eye for an eye, then?
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#5  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 09, 2012 11:51 pm

logical bob wrote:Stoicism generates nice quotes for sure, but it would be very difficult to be a Stoic in the modern world. Stoicism ties the whole of philosophy together in one system that includes an understanding of logic and physics that has been long superseded. It's interesting, but interesting in a historical way.


A similar phenomenon probably has been involved when eastern religions got popular in the west. Especially Buddhism seems to be good at generating nice guotes. The specifics things you get along with buddhism may not be exactly of the same kind as in Stoicism, but there's still a large context involved in Buddhism, various forms of Hinduism, etc. Contexts that a lot of the more superficial western fans of these religions seldom have even the faintest clue about.


You have to put the quotes in context. The Zeno quote you have there sounds almost environmentalist, but when the Stoics talked about nature they were talking about their belief that all matter is suffused with pneuma, a sort of life force composed of fire and air, and structured by the logos or universal reason. These would not be easy beliefs to hold today.

One could probably reinterpret "universal reason" as "the set of laws of nature that govern things" and pneuma could easily be reinterpreted in those terms as well - but then again, we're creating a new pseudo-Stoicism, with words that mean things that are different enough not to warrant being considered proper Stoicisim.

I suppose that if you wanted a bad point it would be that Stoicism would suggest that people in bad situations should learn to accept their situation rather than change it. The social ramifications of this aren't great.

On the other hand, in some situations it is better to accept your situation than to worry about it. Personally, I kind of think failing to realize this has caused a fair bit of suffering as well - although less so than passiveness has in situations where either resistance or just work would have worked wonders.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#6  Postby logical bob » Feb 10, 2012 11:08 am

jamest wrote:Sounds like pantheism.

Yes, I think the Stoics were the original pantheists.

Zwaarddijk wrote:A similar phenomenon probably has been involved when eastern religions got popular in the west. Especially Buddhism seems to be good at generating nice guotes. The specifics things you get along with buddhism may not be exactly of the same kind as in Stoicism, but there's still a large context involved in Buddhism, various forms of Hinduism, etc. Contexts that a lot of the more superficial western fans of these religions seldom have even the faintest clue about.

There do seem to be surprising similarities between Stoic ethics and Buddhist ethics, both holding that virtue is found in suppressing emotion and desire.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#7  Postby chairman bill » Feb 10, 2012 11:12 am

There's nothing wrong with stoicism. Now stop wibbling about nonsense, show some backbone & a bit of good old British stiff upper lip, and just get on with it, without moaning & complaining.

Er, that's not quite what you had in mind, is it?
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#8  Postby stalidon » Feb 10, 2012 5:37 pm

long live long Terry!

There's a great book out there about stoicism: The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics

From its Introduction, by its editor, Brad Inwood:
And third, for those readers who find the central ideas of Stoicism appealing either in a purely intellectual way or in the moral imagination, the ongoing confrontation with Stoicism is one which refines philosophical intuitions, challenges both imagination and analytical talents, and leads ultimately to hard philosophical choices which, if taken seriously, define the kind of life one chooses to lead.


:plot: You probably might find it on the interwebs somewhere in pdf format.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#9  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 10, 2012 6:09 pm

logical bob wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:A similar phenomenon probably has been involved when eastern religions got popular in the west. Especially Buddhism seems to be good at generating nice guotes. The specifics things you get along with buddhism may not be exactly of the same kind as in Stoicism, but there's still a large context involved in Buddhism, various forms of Hinduism, etc. Contexts that a lot of the more superficial western fans of these religions seldom have even the faintest clue about.

There do seem to be surprising similarities between Stoic ethics and Buddhist ethics, both holding that virtue is found in suppressing emotion and desire.

Not very surprising, ultimately. It seems philosophy both on the Indian subcontinent and in Greece formed around the same central questions (whereas Chinese and to some extent Semitic philosophy formed around other questions - although Semitic philosophy had been recast towards a more Indo-European/Hellenic mold by late antiquity). To what extent this is due to the questions having been central in even earlier Indo-European thought or due to Indo-Greek contacts even prior to Hellenism proper might not be resolvable. When Buddhist and Chinese philosophers first started interacting, the Chinese philosophers apparently were quite confused by the Buddhists - the reaction, allegedly, wasn't along the lines of disagreement over the answers to these central questions, but rather disbelief at why anyone would ask those questions in the first place.

However, my observation merely was that the nice quotes-aspect (especially when intellectual context is ignored) is probably a contributing factor to the respect Buddhism has in some subcultures in the west.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#10  Postby Loren Michael » Feb 11, 2012 10:14 am

I read this book on modern Stoicism recently, and basically became a convert.

Some of the teachings are clearly outdated, insofar as we have a finer understanding of various things, or are more aware of how ignorant we are about things the original stoics had faith in. That said, the good quotes are often rooted in a reasonable way of approaching various challenges that one encounters.

I'd say the only things that are "wrong" with Stoicism is the outdated stuff (and I'd just say it needs an update) and that it's not necessarily for everyone, or at least easy for everyone, as people's brains are wired differently.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#11  Postby Loren Michael » Feb 11, 2012 10:18 am

This is the article that clued me in to the whole thing initially.

I saw this bit:

Thus, when I found myself in a predicament -- being stuck in traffic, for example -- I followed the advice of Epictetus and asked myself what aspects of the situation I could and couldn't control. I couldn't control what the other cars did, so it was pointless -- was in fact counterproductive -- for me to get angry at them. My energy was much better spent focusing on things I could control, with the most important being how I responded to the situation. In particular, I could employ Stoic strategies to prevent the incident from spoiling my day.

...and I realized that I already did that. So I thought the book had something to offer. And it did.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#12  Postby andrewk » Feb 12, 2012 9:39 am

logical bob wrote:I suppose that if you wanted a bad point it would be that Stoicism would suggest that people in bad situations should learn to accept their situation rather than change it.

Is that really what the Stoics say? I thought it was something like "change the things you can, accept the things you can't", but maybe I'm confusing them with St Francis. I haven't read any stoics first-hand.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#13  Postby Mantisdreamz » Feb 18, 2012 12:38 am

I have read a bit on Stoicism in the past. And the simplest interpretation I took from it was having the philosophy in life, to just be passive and have a sort of indifference to things going on. Kind of like, watching events pass by, without having much emotional involvement.

This song makes me think of being stoic: (the lyrics obviously)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrb1TCQwxXA[/youtube]


The only thing that bugs me about this, is that I tend to think of emotional responses as being sometimes cathartic and healthy.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#14  Postby andrewk » Feb 18, 2012 1:15 am


That's a great article. Thanks for posting it. I think I'll get his book on Stoicism, having read the article.

Having recently read a book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy ("Change Your Thinking" by Sarah Edelman), I can't help noticing there seems to be quite a strong similarity between the CBT and the Stoic approaches to dealing with misfortune, resentment and anxiety. Not surprising then that CBT is the one form of psychotherapy that has very widespread support in the medical and psychological professions, and a good track record of success.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#15  Postby Loren Michael » Feb 20, 2012 3:34 pm

andrewk wrote:

That's a great article. Thanks for posting it. I think I'll get his book on Stoicism, having read the article.

Having recently read a book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy ("Change Your Thinking" by Sarah Edelman), I can't help noticing there seems to be quite a strong similarity between the CBT and the Stoic approaches to dealing with misfortune, resentment and anxiety. Not surprising then that CBT is the one form of psychotherapy that has very widespread support in the medical and psychological professions, and a good track record of success.


I hope you enjoy it. I just read through the Wikipedia article on CBT and I think your comparison sounds accurate.

That also reminded me of this article I read by Jonah Lehrer a while back, on Russian coping tendencies (relative to Americans):

What explains these cultural differences? Grossman and Kross then asked students in Moscow and Michigan to “recall and analyze their “deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding a recent anger-related interpersonal experience”. Then, the subjects were quizzed about the details of their self-analysis. They were asked to rate, on a seven point scale, the extent to which they adopted a self-immersed perspective (a 1 rating meant that they “saw the event replay through your own eyes as if you were right there”) versus a self- distanced perspective (a 7 rating meant that they “watched the event unfold as an observer, in which you could see yourself from afar”). Finally, the subjects were asked about how the exercise made them feel. Did they get angry again when they recalled the “anger-related” experience? Did the memory trigger intense emotions?

Here’s where the cultural differences became clear.* When Russians engaged in brooding self-analysis, they were much more likely to engage in self-distancing, or looking at the past experience from the detached perspective of someone else. Instead of reliving their confused and visceral feelings, they reinterpreted the negative memory , which helped them make sense of it. According to the researchers, this led to significantly less “emotional distress” among the Russian subjects. (It also made them less likely to blame another person for the event.) Furthermore, the habit of self-distancing seemed to explain the striking differences in depressive symptoms between Russian and Americans. Brooding wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was brooding without self-distance


The book dispels a lot of misconceptions about Stoicism. My understanding is that it's a collection of lot of mental hacks to better live one's life, much like how Russians (apparently) deal with depression.

Mantisdreamz wrote:I have read a bit on Stoicism in the past. And the simplest interpretation I took from it was having the philosophy in life, to just be passive and have a sort of indifference to things going on. Kind of like, watching events pass by, without having much emotional involvement.

The only thing that bugs me about this, is that I tend to think of emotional responses as being sometimes cathartic and healthy.


I think that's accurate in a limited sense. One is definitely discouraged from flipping out over every little thing, and the Stoics are very keen on getting over things like anger and sadness quickly. I think detachment is a better one-word description if we're fishing for those, and I'm not sure that's entirely appropriate. Caring about the things we can affect is encouraged. Dwelling on the stuff we can't is seen as being really dumb.

I'm personally skeptical of the hydraulic theory of anger. I don't think having more catharsis in my life would be an improvement. As it is, don't really do catharsis, ever. And I feel great. I prefer a "strangle the anger in the crib" attitude.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#16  Postby logical bob » Feb 20, 2012 10:17 pm

I'm sceptical about the idea of modern Stoicism. The pantheism and the Greek physics and logic were an integral part of Stoicism. As has already been pointed out, the modern version seems to owe more to CBT and the 12 Step Programme. I suspect that dressing it up as ancient wisdom is a marketing gimmick.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#17  Postby andrewk » Feb 21, 2012 1:27 am

Loren, what about catharsis for sadness rather than anger? Many people say they feel much better after 'having a good cry'. That is not inconsistent with getting over things quickly, maybe it even could assist it. I have sometimes thought that women were fortunate in that crying in general comes more easily to women than to most men.

Bob, what about Seneca? Don't you find the courage and equanimity with which he met his death just a bit inspiring?
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#18  Postby Teuton » Feb 21, 2012 3:36 am

"Perception does not exhaust our contact with reality; we can think too." – Timothy Williamson
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#19  Postby Mick » Feb 21, 2012 4:19 am

Christianity has some Stoic elements to it. Early Christians had no philosophy of their own, so they kinda borrowed from pre-existing ones to make sense of their faith and win converts. You'll see other forms of Greek philosophy there too.
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Re: What is wrong with Stoicism ?

#20  Postby Loren Michael » Feb 21, 2012 8:15 am

logical bob wrote:I'm sceptical about the idea of modern Stoicism. The pantheism and the Greek physics and logic were an integral part of Stoicism. As has already been pointed out, the modern version seems to owe more to CBT and the 12 Step Programme.


Why do you feel that pantheism and "Greek physics and logic" are integral to Stoicism? I assume you're essentially saying that modern understandings can't be integrated with Stoic ideas.

I think it's less that the modern version "owes" anything to CBT and 12 Steps - particularly given that Stoicism was around first - and more that it has elements in common.
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