We can find out what Stoicism is by searching for summaries of the philosophy, reading the many books written on the subject or even listening to the podcasts now being produced regularly. There are even courses, groups and conferences at our disposal to allow us to get to the root of what we need to know.
However, Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics that seeks to make a “good life” attainable, so hearing first-hand from people, modern Stoics trying to implement these ethics, what Stoicism means to them, is invaluable.
For that reason, I always ask interview guests the following question:
In terms of what the philosophy means to you, what is Stoicism?
On this page I’ll compile all the answers as new interviews take place.
Answers from modern Stoics
Stoicism is a philosophy, which literally means “love of wisdom” — it’s a methodology, that is, for seeking practical wisdom in life. That requires working through some basic philosophical insights but also training ourselves in corresponding psychological practices. It’s a world view and set of moral values, which are designed to be consistent with reason and also happen to be beneficial for our emotional wellbeing.Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor
Picking up on one of my earlier comments, I think it’s about understanding our place in Nature, and our relative insignificance compared to the vastness of Nature. It is, if you like, an antidote to the egotism that we are all prone to from time to time. It turns out that the world doesn’t revolve around us after all, and if we are to live a smooth life, we need to learn to live in harmony with it, rather than expect it to bend to our will.John Sellars, author of Lessons in Stoicism
The idea of antifragility was what got me hooked on Stoicism. This simple idea that you can use stressors to improve, rather than just things to survive. This is captured in Marcus Aurelius’ well known line:Caleb Ontiveros, Creator Of The Stoa Meditation App
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” When someone asks, what Stoicism is, I start there. Then I move to the Stoic disciplines and the importance of virtue.
Stoicism is a philosophy that calls us to ask one very important question: “What does it mean to be a human being?” This is the question that I hope to answer every day for the rest of my life, and I have Stoicism to thank for getting me into the mindset that allows me to ask it.Simon Drew, host of The Practical Stoic podcast
Stoicism helps us decide what matters to us and who we want to be. We don’t want our character or our happiness to depend on external events. We don’t want to be reactive, disordered, or small-minded. Instead, we want to be strong, resilient, and, as Epictetus puts it, “noble-minded, great-hearted, and free.” The Stoics give us very specific guidance about how to become that sort of person. We can reach our full potential not by chasing pleasure or wealth, but by striving to become virtuous. It takes a lot of hard work, but the benefits—a sense of well-being and a meaningful life—are well worth it!Brittany Polat, Stoic Author And Blogger
Stoicism is a beautiful and pragmatic philosophy of life. As a lived philosophy, it provides answers to the questions, “What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be happy? And how can I be more of both?” Stoicism reveals that the answers to these questions lie in living and serving with integrity and intention with and for others.Scott Perry, Difference Maker At Creative On Purpose
To me, Stoicism is an “operating system for life”. A set of teachings and practices that will help to improve the quality of your life. If you follow Stoic practices to any degree, your life will definitely improve. I am not saying that practicing Stoicism today will make your life drastically better. But, by practicing Stoicism daily, you will begin to enjoy the “compounding interest” benefits. That is where the Stoic magic happens. Through daily practice and investment in yourself. I look forward to enjoying more and more “compound interest” benefits of Stoicism as I continue my daily practice.Michael McGill, Chief Information Officer with Medical Service Company
It’s a complex and rich system of philosophy, applicable to and improving of one’s life, progressively developed by some very smart people who over time can become your interlocutors, and even in a certain sense your friends. It includes, but definitely is not restricted to some key insights like the nature and importance of the virtues, treating indifferent things as indifferent, making proper use of appearances and of our faculty of choice, living in accordance with nature, developing ourselves as social beings, and of course making the distinction between what is and what is not in our control.
What Stoicism isn’t, I’ll add, is a “life hack” or just a set of exercises. It isn’t a bunch of “quotes” taken out of context. Probably a good half of the things I see out there in social media advertising themselves as “Stoicism” really aren’t. Some of those things can be useful for people to get started, but if they really want to get any benefit out of studying and applying Stoicism, they should plan to leave the superficial stuff for the real stuff behind sooner than laterGreg Sadler, Speaker, Author, Philosopher
In a chaotic and confusing world that seems increasingly designed to disempower the individual – Stoicism is empowerment. It can provide you with inner tools and defenses that that will last a lifetime and that no one can take away. With time it can become a lens with which you can reframe all of life’s inevitable obstacles. It doesn’t demand you follow any guru, revere any holy book or confess any sins. Its only sacred shrine is you – and your human flourishing and dignity is its only concern. Stoicism isn’t easy and it doesn’t promise instant happiness. It sets you a daily work, treats you like an adult and may require you face some difficult realities. But ultimately it will be worth it. A Stoic life will be one of intense gratitude for what you have, rather than longing for what you don’t. And far from being cold and unfeeling, Stoics are even more likely to be incredibly moved wherever they encounter beauty in a life they know to be fleeting.Gareth Harney, Twitter’s @OptimoPrincipi
I won’t answer that question as there are many people (academics and laypersons) that are much better qualified than me to answer it. However, I can tell you what it means to me to be a Stoic. For me, it is the identity I am most proud of, as I have to work every day to acquire it.Kai Whiting, Author of Being Better
Unlike others I know and deeply respect (even love in some instances), I have no qualms in calling myself a Stoic. I don’t see any ancient or contemporary Stoic as better or worse than me, as to do so is to entirely miss the point. Linked to what I said above, I am not trying to fill anybody’s shoes and I don’t think anyone should try and fill mine. Being a Stoic is about looking at your strengths and weaknesses and navigating them appropriately to be a better person and make the world a planet work living in. Being a Stoic is being comfortable in your own shoes, that is to say the path you must walk.
A liberating philosophy that at the same time holds you accountable. For anyone who has been feeling like they are imprisoned by their emotions, or feel helpless in life in general, learning Stoicism will set you free. Because your eyes will be opened that none of the external world can command or harm your inner reason. And with it, your emotions, provided you train you reason right. This should be extremely liberating to many people. But as Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. While Reason is powerful, it demands hardwork. It demands you guard your value judgment, your reason all the time. It demands you to live according to Nature, which means trying to live your virtues on daily basis. And this is why it is superior to much of today’s Self-Help teachings. While the philosophy’s promise is great, you got to put in the work. This is no quick fix.Henry Manampiring, Author of Filosofi Teras
It’s a framework for ethical self-improvement and for living a human life worth living. It’s basic tenet is that we should live according to (human) nature, meaning using our ability to reason in order to improve social living.Massimo Pigliucci, Author of The Stoic Guide to a Happy Life
Stoicism to me is a guidance system for living. To be considered a student of the school you must learn, practice and apply its teachings regularly. Stoicism allows you to control your emotional state of response, and when practiced in the long term allows for the domestication of negative emotions, which make room for critical thinking in a more positive but present and pragmatic state of mind (which we know to be the term tranquility).
For me, Stoicism represents being grateful for what I have, not over-reaching for what I want. Taking accountability for what I do in every aspect of life (it’s one of the limited things we can control) and ultimately giving me peace of mind in my choices and decisions, whether they result in favourable, negative or indifferent outcomes.
Finally, Stoicism is a form of inner strength with our ability to use reason in order to improve, this in turn allowing us the confidence to go out into the open world and deal with people from all walks of life, in the hope of acting Wise, Just, Courageous and showing Self Restraint with the majority of situations we find ourselves in.Enda Harte, The Irish Stoic
As William B Irvine said, it is a guide to the good life. I believe that Stoicism can guide us all to living a better life and also a life that is better for our community.
It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your circumstances are, Stoicism puts us all on the same level.William Mulligan, The Everyday Stoic
Stoicism is an opportunity to mentally converse with some of the greatest minds of all time, many of whom spent their life thinking about how we ought to live well and then tested their hypotheses in the arena of existence, often against great misfortune and likewise great success.
To ignore the wisdom of the Stoics, to dismiss them is to not just waste your own life, but to waste thousands of years of progress we’ve made on the art and science of happiness.Jon Brooks, HighExistence & The Stoic Handbook
Stoicism is a lifestyle that provides the tools that are necessary to create your own life’s meaning! Through virtue, understanding of the reality of the world and your interaction within it, you can find peace in the things that are not within your control.Interview With Daniel Vargas, Creator Of The Stoic Sage
Stoicism is a philosophy of life. It is a philiosophy that has brought meaning to my life and I am grateful to share it with others.Tony Otoa, International Lawyer And Professional Speaker