A very nice “Intro to Stoicism” was brought to my attention the other day that I wanted to share with folks here. NJLifehacks “10 Stoic Core Principles” is an interesting and handy read on the subject. One of the most interesting aspects of stoicism (besides the fact that it is widely misunderstood) is that it is NOT an academic pursuit, but a method of achieving what the Greeks called “eudaimonia.” For reasons that have long mystified me, this term is generally translated as “happiness,” but a vastly superior translation would be “living well.”
The “eu” in “eudaimonia” is the Greek particle meaning “well,” but it also translates as “healthy”. Thus, if you’re a dog owner, you’re probably aware of the dog food Eukanuba. Since “kanuba” comes from the Greek root meaning “dog,” the brand name literally translates as “healthy dog.” The “daimonia” in eudaimonia means something like “spirit,” though in a different sense from the Greek word “pneuma.” So eudaimonia means something like “healthy spiritedness” or, as already noted, living well. That is a little like happiness, as long as we don’t confuse happiness with pleasure. Being a stoic does not mean a life of giggles, kittens, and carnival rides.
Since the “10 principles” above covers the topic of stoicism itself, I just want to add a few remarks here about stoicism as a dynamic method of inquiry, as opposed to a rigid set of static rules to be “obeyed.”
Stoicism is often popularly misrepresented as a kind of “suck it up,” discipline yourself, quit-yer-bitchin’-and-soldier-on kind of rejection of any joy in life. This is as far from the truth as the popular misrepresentation of epicureanism (from which we get our term “epicure”) as meaning sensuous indulgence. Stoics are fully permitted to enjoy the pleasures of life, just as epicureans were expected to exercise moderation and discipline.
What stoicism presents us with is a method of inquiring into our lives and the world around us, and to discover those best ways of engaging those lives and that world so as to live in a manner that is most fully and completely human. Much of that fullness involves coming to full acknowledgement of our frailties as humans, and the indifference of the world to our wants and desires. So, yes, insofar, stoicism does require honesty and discipline of us, but that is that we may more accurately face the world as it is. When we wrap ourselves up in myths and denials, we cease being as fully human as we can be. We might delude ourselves into a kind of “pleasure in ignorance,” but it makes us less than human when we do so. And being human, when we live in a fashion that is less than human, we are no longer living well. We are not, in the Greek sense, genuinely “happy.”
The principles of stoicism set out the kinds of questions we need to ask in order to live well: not as children, not as animals, but as adult human beings.
My favorite primary text for stoic philosophy is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Even though stoicism itself emerged in the Roman world, it is every bit as much a Greek attitude (hence my focus on Greek terms). Insofar as both the Greek and Roman philosophers were concerned with what it means to be a human being, their philosophies retain a currency that many other philosophical systems can seem to lack.