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What is Stoicism?

Emphasizing virtues and their philosophical relevance:

In ancient times, Stoicism established itself as one of the most influential philosophical currents in Hellenism. This school of thought originated in the Greek city of Athens around 300 BC, although its founder, Zeno, was a foreigner from Scythia (present-day Larnaca, on the island of Cyprus). The virtues have a guiding weight for the followers of the doctrine, their actions proving and evidencing it. The name of this school came from the place where this thinker met with his disciples, a courtyard in the public space used for political discussion in Athens - the agora. It leaves us with enormous literary relevance and research tools for self-knowledge and self-mastery. For the Stoics, the origin of the individual was irrelevant, only their thoughts and virtues.

Principles x Virtues x Stoicism x Actuality:

The Stoic principles are present in everyday life without most people realizing that they were instituted 2300 years ago. A quote, a stance, a thought, because they are timeless, are so current.

Therefore, in Stoicism's view (for man), true happiness would only be achieved through virtue, in other words, knowledge and values, giving up completely on "vice", which the Stoics considered an absolute evil.

Which path to take to true happiness? How do we find purpose in life? How do we deal with our emotions while overcoming deep losses? The philosophy of the Stoics can give us the answers to these questions. The popularization of Stoicism is due to the way they conducted the implementation of this philosophy, in open-air schools, where everyone's participation was valued.

A reflection is in order here, a parallel, given that contemporary life is so rude and frightening us with distortions of principles and values that are not even remotely reminiscent of Stoic values. What is the contemporary difficulty in allowing oneself to be guided by simple, real, organic values? How can we absorb cultures that reinforce themselves on the surface, in the futility of fleeting emotions?

Demystifying the formality of philosophy, adapting it to the modernity of what is essential and complete, can point the way. We know that many other philosophical schools do not exist and only remain as research references. So why does Stoicism still have such influence and followers today? Simply because it relies on practicality and reason.

The followers of the doctrine of Stoicism are guided by these philosophical principles:

Virtue is the only good and the only way to happiness:

Virtue: synonymous with: Austerity, Self-control, Self-possession, Composure, Discretion. Nowadays we behave robotically in situations where we have difficulty choosing between what is good for us and what is not. For the Stoics, they (the virtues) are the essential values in philosophy, the anchor that directs actions. "If, at any time in your life," Marcus Aurelius wrote, "you should find something better than justice, truth, self-control, courage - it must be something truly extraordinary." That was almost twenty centuries ago. The extraordinary discoveries that have emerged since then, transforming our sense of priorities - automobiles, the internet, advances in medicine - are better than being:

  • Brave?

  • What about moderation and sobriety?

  • Acting prudently and taking responsibility for your actions?

  • Understanding that Pleasure can become a wise enemy?

  • Do external feelings make human beings irrational and unbiased?

  • Understanding and truth?

  • Prioritizing knowledge and action, as long as reason is the guiding light?

  • Individuals need to live with and accept life as it is?

  • Accept that in life what happens around us obeys the law of cause and effect?

If we try to answer these questions, we may be surprised by what we find as life guidelines, hidden intentions and repressed priorities.

Will we be able to find something better at some point in our lives? I don't think so! But I believe in human development, I believe in the inner wisdom that leads us and elevates us. The principles, teachings, reflections, ponderings and thoughts that support our attitudes and come from centuries ago, prove to be more current than we imagine.

Based on these principles, it is possible to understand a stoic person as one who is not carried away by beliefs, passions and feelings that are capable of taking away a person's rationality when it comes to acting, such as desires, pain, fear and pleasure. This is because these circumstances are unfounded and irrational.

Our confrontations are the opportunity to respond with these 4 virtues:

Courage:

If we understand that life can resemble a dark romance, which mutilates the meaning and intimacy of being alive, we also understand that we will be required to have the courage to face living well. The Stoics may have approached this a little differently. Seneca would say that he pitied those who had never really experienced misfortune.

"You've spent your life without an opponent," he said, "no one can know what you're capable of, not even you."

We are labeled by categories and when we don't correspond to the stamped labels we suffer. Situations and their degree of complexity affect us in different ways and in most situations we respond with courage, or at least that's what is expected of us. We can think of them as uncomfortable, tragic, or as transforming questions that reveal who we are. The answers will be the compass for the path ahead.

Temperance:

We mustn't confuse courage with bravery, because bravery can lead to recklessness. Courage is necessary for attitudes where you don't risk yourself or others by endangering someone or some situation.

At this point Aristotle came up with the famous metaphor of a "golden mean" or doctrine of the middle ground, using courage as the main example, being two opposite ends where on one end there was an excess of courage, which he wisely defines as recklessness, and on the other there was cowardice, which he sees as a lack of courage.

At what point in life do we wonder or reflect on the lack or excess of courage? Can we pinpoint precisely where it has been exceeded and where it has been absent?

What if, for us, our courage is defined in one way and, for others, it appears to be recklessness? What was needed, what we were asking for at the time, was an average of gold. The right amount.

Not doing anything in excess is the premise of temperance. Assertiveness, in the right measure, without excess. Because "we are what we repeatedly do", says Aristotle, "therefore excellence is not an act but a habit".

Epictetus would later say, "Ability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking, walking and running, running; therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it".

Wanting announces an intention and with focus we can be happy, successful, fulfilled, we can, without exaggerated effort or magic, make it happen.

Justice:

Not emphasizing courage in search of balance in attitudes, we know, is the virtuous structural pillar of this philosophy, but none of these virtues takes precedence over Justice, that is, doing the right thing!

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius: "Justice is the source of all other virtues". Throughout history, the Stoics have pushed for and defended justice in order to do great things and defend the people and ideas they loved.

  • "Cato gave his life trying to restore the Roman Republic".

  • "Thracianus and Agrippinius resisted the tyranny of Nero".

  • "George Washington and Thomas Jefferson formed a new nation - one that would seek, however imperfectly, to fight for democracy and justice - largely inspired by the philosophy of Cato and the other Stoics."

  • "Beatrice Webb, who helped found the London School of Economics and who first conceptualized the idea of collective bargaining, regularly re-read Marcus Aurelius."

It is well known that several other individuals linked to politics resorted to stoicism when they couldn't find a way to fight for important ideals, always truly believing that you can make a difference (stoic thinking).

In the midst of 2022, where more is always more and virtues are in turmoil, justice is a dubious topic to tackle in the face of the countless faces of the individual and the denial of doing the right thing; but I still believe in human wisdom and in the transformative power of the collective for the common good.

On the evolutionary scale, we climb steps at different times and without judgment or criticism, exercising compassion for those who have not yet become aware of the need for learning, knowledge and collectivity is a virtue.

And last but not least, wisdom. What would it be correct to define as wisdom? How does antiquity match up with the present day? Will we be able to match the wisdom of antiquity? How do we deal with all the knowledge stored in literature?

Can we mere mortals configure ancient knowledge with propriety?

Wisdom:

Wisdom, sapience or sagacity is the condition of one who has knowledge, erudition The Greek equivalent "sofia" is the term that equates to knowledge; The term finds different definitions depending on the philosophical, theological or psychological perspective.

Quality, characteristic of one who is wise or of what is wise. Great instruction; science, erudition, knowledge. These definitions come from the conventional dictionary, meaning synonyms.

But what does it mean for you to be wise? Where do you believe you have used your wisdom? To what end?

Zeno always said that man was given two ears and one mouth so that he could develop the habit of listening more than speaking. And the bonus of two eyes, so that we could watch ourselves and pay attention to what we say. The Stoics always valued wisdom, knowledge.

Nowadays, selecting what we hear, what information comes to us is essential, just as it was in the ancient world, because there is so much information for us to take in, but not all of it is reliable.

You can't learn what you think you already know, said Epictetus.

Knowing who to trust with teaching us is extremely important for the health of our learning. Reading has the power to transport us and playfully grasp the information obtained.

The aim is not just to acquire information, but the right information. These are the lessons found in Meditations and also in the writings of Epictetus. They are the key facts, standing out from the external noise, that you need to absorb.

We can honor the learning (honor Stoic wisdom) that has been available for thousands of years. Years that bring us an exuberant vision and certify that we can learn whatever we want, whatever we can achieve, whatever wisdom you need to make a difference.

Regina Nohra


Sources:

SENECA. On anger / On the tranquillity of the soul. Translation, introduction and notes by José Eduardo S. Lohner. São Paulo: Penguin Classics; Companhia das Letras, 2014.

|2|SENECA. On the brevity of life / On the firmness of the wise. Translation and notes by José Eduardo S. Lohner. São Paulo: Penguin Classics; Companhia das Letras, 2017.

|3| EPICTETO. Epictetus' Encheiridion. Translation from the Greek, introduction and commentary by Aldo Dinucci and Alfredo Julien. São Paulo: Annablume; Coimbra University Press. Available at: <http://hdl.handle.net/10316.2/32825>. Accessed on October 28, 2019.

|MARCO AURÉLIO. Meditations. Introduction, translation and notes by Jaime Bruna. São Paulo: Cultrix, 1989.

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