Stoicism: An Introduction and Collection of Resources

This page contains an organized collection of links to beginner friendly videos, podcasts and articles on Stoicism. To get started, simply choose a topic from the list below.

What is stoicism?

“Stoicism was one of the most influential schools of philosophy in antiquity and its influence has persisted to the present day. Originating in Athens around 300 bce, it proved especially popular in the Roman world, while more recently it has influenced thinkers as diverse as Montaigne, Kant, Nietzsche and Deleuze. Stoicism offers a distinctive and challenging view of both the world as a whole and the individual human being. It conceives the world materialistically and deterministically as a unified whole, of which we are all parts. It presents the human being as a thoroughly rational animal, for whom violent emotions are actually the product of errors in reasoning. In the popular imagination it is now mainly associated with the ideas of emotionless calm and heroic endurance in the face of adversity. As we shall see, like so many popular images this one is based on an element of truth combined with an unhappy distortion.” – Excerpt from Stoicism by John Sellars.

Additional Resources:

Who were the stoic philosophers?

“The most important of the Roman Stoics—and the Stoics from whom, I think, modern individuals have the most to gain—were Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The contributions these four made to Roman Stoicism were nicely complementary. Seneca was the best writer of the bunch, and his essays and letters to Lucilius form a quite accessible introduction to Roman Stoicism. Musonius is notable for his pragmatism: He offered detailed advice on how practicing Stoics should eat, what they should wear, how they should behave toward their parents, and even how they should conduct their sex life. Epictetus’s specialty was analysis: He explained, among other things, why practicing Stoicism can bring us tranquility. Finally, in Marcus’s Meditations , written as a kind of diary, we are privy to the thoughts of a practicing Stoic: We watch as he searches for Stoic solutions to the problems of daily life as well as the problems he encountered as emperor of Rome.” – Excerpt from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.

Additional Resources:

Seneca:

  • Audio: Anger Management: Seneca – History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps [22:08]
  • Article: Seneca – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Article: Seneca – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Epictetus:

Marcus Aurelius:

Stoic Ethics

“Central to the Stoic system of ethics was the view that what was morally perfect, virtue (Areté in the narrow sense of the word) and acts and persons that were virtuous, belonged to a class of its own, incomparable with anything else; that to be virtuous was the same as to be happy; that ‘good’ (agathon) was an absolute term applicable only to moral perfection. This alone always had effects of which a wise man would approve: everything else which ordinary speech called good, e.g. wealth, health, intelligence, might be used for bad purposes, to commit wicked acts. Virtue, too, was an absolute term : it was a state such that its possessor would always do what was right, and this was possible only if he always knew what was right: hence the virtuous man must be a wise man, and virtuous because he was wise. By a symmetrical process of reasoning the word ‘bad’ (kakon) must be restricted to what was morally imperfect, and most of the things that were in ordinary speech called ‘bad’, e.g. death, ill-repute, and ugliness, should not be given that name, since they did not necessarily lead to wickedness, but might be the material for virtuous action. All such things like those that were popularly called ‘good’ were per se morally indifferent (adiaphora).” – Excerpt from The Stoics by F. H. Sandbach.

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Stoic Metaphysics and Epistemology

“The fully developed Stoic physical system can be summarized as follows. Once upon a time, there was nothing but fire; gradually there emerged the other elements and the familiar furniture of the universe. Later, the world will return to fire in a universal conflagration, and then the whole cycle of its history will be repeated over and over again. All this happens in accordance with a system of laws which may be called ‘fate’ (because the laws admit of no exception), or ‘providence’ (because the laws were laid down by God for beneficent purposes). The divinely designed system is called Nature, and our aim in life should be to live in accord with Nature.” – Excerpt from A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

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Why is stoicism worth studying?

“Thus, if someone asked me, “Why should I practice Stoicism?” my answer would not invoke the name of Zeus (or God) and would not talk about the function that humans were designed to fulfill. Instead, I would talk about our evolutionary past; about how, because of this past, we are evolutionarily programmed to want certain things and to experience certain emotions under certain circumstances; about how living in accordance with our evolutionary programming, although it may have allowed our evolutionary ancestors to survive and reproduce, can result in modern humans living miserable lives; and about how, by “misusing” our reasoning ability, we can overcome our evolutionary programming. I would go on to point out that the Stoics, although they didn’t understand evolution, nevertheless discovered psychological techniques that, if practiced, can help us overcome those aspects of our evolutionary programming that might otherwise disrupt our tranquility.

Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence. By practicing Stoic techniques, we can cure the disease and thereby gain tranquility. What I am suggesting is that although the ancient Stoics found a “cure” for negative emotions, they were mistaken about why the cure works.” – Excerpt from: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.

Further Reading

If you’re new to Stoicism, the following books are a good place to start:

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

Miscellaneous Resources

Entertainment

Videos

Podcasts

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


If you are interested in the ideas of the Stoics, the following pages may also be of interest: