The Core Ideas of Stoicism
In this episode Simon Drew gives a concise overview of the core ideas of Stoicism. He starts with the main goal of Stoicism, which is to align with nature. He then gives an overview of the way in which we can get to that goal, and then lays out some of the best "tools and tactics" of Stoicism that can help us to live a virtuous and examined life.
1 - The goal of Stoicism is to "align with Nature". This means to understand that you are not separate from Nature. You are a part of it in the same way that a Lion is part of it, but you need to understand what your unique place within Nature is. To understand your unique place is also to understand your unique virtues as a human being. "Eudaimonia" is the phrase that Stoics used to describe our end goal, and this can be translated to "flourishing".
2 - If aligning with nature is the end goal, then virtue is our aim. To be virtuous is to be a good human, and to live a life that takes into account our own unique virtues as humans. Our most unique virtue is that of rationality and correct judgement, and the Stoics taught that we should use the faculty of reason to effectively judge how to be virtuous.
3 - The Stoics gave us a rundown of what they called the four "Cardinal Virtues". These are courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. These are our aims, and when we can fully embody these virtues then we can move closer to achieving Eudaimonia.
4 - The Stoics had many great "tools and tactics" that we can use to help us to reason our way into a better state of being. Some include:
5 - The Dichotomy of Control. This basically means that there are some things within our control, and there are many more things that are outside our control. The most effective way to live life is to focus only on what we can control, and to forget the rest.
6 - The good, the bad and the indifferent. This is the Stoic idea that there are some things that are good (virtues), there are some that are bad (vices), and there are some things that simply aren't good or bad. For example, courage is good, it's opposite (cowardice) is bad, and something like money would be indifferent seeing as it can be used for good or bad.
7 - Amor Fati is a Latin phrase that means "love your fate". This simply means that we need to learn how to accept and make use of everything that happens to us. Good and bad things will happen to you, and the most effective way to face these circumstances is to learn how to love whatever happens to you. In that way you'll be able to live as if life is happening for you, not too you.
8 - Memento Mori is another Latin phrase that means "remember death." This is a mantra that the Stoics used so that they would always know that time is not guaranteed. We could die today, next week, next month, or 80 years from now, but the fact of life is that none of us make it out alive. When we understand this we are better prepared to make use of the time we do have, which is now.
9 - Rehearse poverty. This is the exercise of practicing the things that you're afraid of. For example, the Stoics, like Seneca, would set aside a time when they would live as if they had very little. By doing this they would come to see that poverty in itself is not scary or evil at all. This is aligned with our modern understanding of psychology in that the best way to overcome a fear is to voluntarily subject yourself to the thing you're afraid of.
10 - Negative visualisation is another technique for understanding your fears and anxieties. The basic idea is that there will always be terrible things that happen, but better the devil you know than the one you don't. So imagine all of the terrible things that could happen, and you'll come to one of a few possible conclusions. For one, the thing that might happen may not be scary at all, in which case you can stop worrying. Maybe the thing you imagine has a high chance of happening, but you could prevent it or mitigate the risk, so act accordingly. Or maybe what will happen will wipe you out and there's nothing you can do, in which case you can also stop worrying!
11 - The view from above meditation. This is the exercise of imagining yourself looking down on the world and seeing just how small everything really is. In doing this we can get a better sense of just how insignificant most of our daily worries are and we can start to focus on the important parts of life.
This isn't all of the tools and tactics of Stoicism, but I hope it's a good start.