Four ways we may stumble in attempting to live Stoically

Have you encountered these difficulties in attempting to live Stoically?

(Living philosophically?)

After a conversation I had, some time ago, about living as a Stoic philosopher, I found myself wondering what pitfalls and stumbling blocks a person is likely to encounter when they try seriously to integrate Stoic teachings and practice into their life. Four things came to mind almost at once. I’m going to list these below, very briefly, and then elaborate on each in a series of follow-up posts (see the links).

Four difficulties:

1. Being unfeeling like a stone: Trying not to experience or display feelings or emotions, thus becoming or appearing to be “unfeeling like a stone.” (Elaboration)

2. Providentialism: Reliance for equanimity on providentialistic arguments and beliefs. (Elaboration)

3. Jumping to Sagehood: Trying to act or feel as a sage would, prematurely. (Elaboration)

4. Philanthropy: There perhaps being a noticeable lack of effective exercises, for cultivating philanthropy (love of humanity), in what we know of the Stoic tradition. (Elaboration 1) (Elaboration 2)


I’d also like to ask the reader:

(1) Have you ever experimented with Stoic exercises and living, or do you know anyone who has?

(2) Did you encounter any of these four difficulties, and have you observed anyone else encounter them?

(3) How did you or others respond to these difficulties?

Related post: Philosophy as an Art of Living.

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9 thoughts on “Four ways we may stumble in attempting to live Stoically

  1. I have a strong appreciation for Stoic thought, and try to live up to many of the ideals as best I can, without worry too much about how close I am following the philosophy.
    From the four points you noted above, numbers 1 and 4 have come up for me, and are related.
    When I first encountered Stoicism and hadn’t yet read much about it, I assumed that my attitude at the time was in line with the philosophy. I was trying to keep myself from experiencing strong emotions, and would often be the one in the group who was unmoved and nonreactive. After many other life turns, as well as much more reading from Stoic writers, I came to realize that what I was displaying was not in line at all. What the unfeeling reactions belie is actually a very harmful and dangerous blockage of experience, a walling off from the world. I was trying to protect myself by building a shield from everything outside of what I felt I could control. Stoicism doesn’t teach that at all, it simply points out that we must be aware of what really impacts our lives, and the true consequences of those impacts. It cautions us against jumping to conclusions and reacting based on prejudice and assumptions. No where does it say that we shouldn’t be able to experience the emotions of life, rather it helps us to take them as they come in their proper context, so that they won’t drive us. There is nothing wrong with being sad, or angry or joyous. In fact, not allowing ourselves to feel those things is to cut ourselves off from true experience. Number 4 ties into that, because if we are not allowing ourselves empathy, and the ability to feel and interact with others, then we have not chance of cultivating philanthropy or any sort of meaningful love of those around us, at all scale. This is likely where many Stoics fall into a myopic trap of self-focus, which limits our capacity for the other.
    I have come to think of Stoic practice as surfing, rather than fortress building. There is nothing we can do about the waves, either the gentle ones or the tsunamis, but having right perspective and tools will help us to ride those waves and explore the ocean, as opposed to sitting in what we believe to be a safe submarine below the waves, but unable to experience the wider world or anyone else.
    As for number 2 on your list, I’d love to hear you expand a bit more on it since I feel like I’m just not getting your meaning.

    1. Andy, thanks very much for your detailed and thoughtful response. I appreciate your explanation of what this unfeelingness really is, and of the wise and also more genuinely Stoic alternative to it. You also make me think I should explore the interrelation of points 1 and 4.

      Is the issue with number 2 the word “providentialism”? I would like to expand on that point in future posts.

      1. I had a bit of trouble untangling the sentence, and I think “providentialism” was part of it. I will be excited to hear you expand that idea out a bit so that I can get my head around it better.

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