The Difference between stoicism and Stoicism

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Against being unemotional and the case for a “Passionate Stoicism”

I do not withdraw the wise man from the category of man, nor do I deny to him the sense of pain as though he were a rock that has no feelings at all. — Seneca, Letters, 71

Stoicism has become a quite trendy over the past couple of decades. When I first began writing about it, roughly 25 years ago now, things were very different.

Until recently, there were very few popular books about the subject and they weren’t very widely-read. There were not many articles on websites. Now, though, new books and articles appear every day. That’s a good thing because Stoicism has a great deal to offer people. It’s the original philosophical inspiration for cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading form of modern evidence-based psychotherapy. Perhaps more importantly, it offers a way of building emotional resilience, which may reduce the risk of developing anxiety or depression in the future.

Put bluntly, Stoicism is not the same thing as stoicism. Virtually all modern academics capitalize the name of the Greek philosophy to highlight the difference…

However, the downside is that when as idea becomes more and more popular it can become oversimplified and distorted. Often a good idea can become a victim of its own success. The glaring example of that with Stoicism, the Greek philosophy, is the widespread tendency for people to confuse it with stoicism (lowercase) the unemotional coping style. When people talk about lowercase stoicism they mean things like “have a stiff upper-lip”, “suck it up”, “boys don’t cry”, etc.

Read the rest of this article on Medium.

1 comment

  1. It is an odd thing, I started learning back in October of last year and I started with this exact mentality. I thought of stone-faced people who could stare down a charging bull. But after reading and re-reading Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and Seneca you start to see these were not people trying to eliminate emotion. Some of the passages in Meditations literally weep with emotion if you know the story and history behind them. No, these were men (and women in sparse cases) who were trying to take emotions apart and reassemble them so that they were appropriate and not disproportionate to what generated them. If your friend is dead, be sad but don’t throw yourself in the grave. If you lose every dime you had, you actually have lost very little in the grand scheme of things (and may have actually benefited if you look hard enough).

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