The Stoic sage refers to the person who is perfect in their practice of Stoicism.
The sage, for example, meets the high Stoic standard of always acting according to virtue.
As such, the sage achieves a state of happiness (eudaimonia) and isn’t susceptible to harm from unpredictable workings of Fate.
Rather than being a concrete reality that can be reached, however, the Stoic sage was understood to be an inaccessible ideal that one could use for guidance
The fact that becoming a sage is impossible is not a problem to Stoics.
The sage is merely a target to aim at, a ruler we can use to measure ourselves against.
While Stoics will do their best to adhere to it’s model, they also accept that human limitation (the fact that we’ll inevitably fall short at times) makes perfection unattainable.
A little progress every day, getting closer and closer to the ideal, is enough.
Today, you might not achieve perfect virtuous goodness but that shouldn’t stop you in your quest toward becoming good. It shouldn’t stop you trying.
It might be helpful to use Plotinus’s analogy and think of yourself as a continual work-in-progress:
But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue…Plotinus, Enneads 1.6.9
It’s pretty cool that practicing Stoicism gives us access to the same set of mental tools that ancient philosophers found to be so effective more than two thousand years ago.
While we may not perfect our use of such resources like the Sage, we can always improve our own application of them.
In his book The Philosophy of CBT, Donald Robertson describes this centuries-old set of resources as “an extensive armamentarium, or toolbox, of practical exercises for specific therapeutic purposes, including mental imagery (visualization) and verbal cognitive techniques resembling those found in both modern self-help and psychotherapy.”
It’s a powerful realization that you’re building your own toolbox and that through your practice you’re developing your skills with each tool a little more every day.
As your ability to apply each Stoic technique improves, you’ll find it easier to reach into that toolbox and extract exactly the right tool for the circumstance you’re facing.
Until then, however, it might seem a bit overwhelming.
You might feel that learning a whole collection of techniques is too much and that you won’t get to a position of proficiency with them all.
But no aspiring craft worker picks up a toolbox for the first time and attempts to master the whole thing at once.
Instead, they pick one tool and focus on it. They practice with it, get to know it, and feel encouraged by their tiny bit of progress. The next day they might move on to another tool and repeat the process.
Through repetition and gradual increases in difficulty, they build confidence and prove to themselves that they’re capable of wielding the tools that will enable them to carry out their craft.
The object of our craft of course is our character.
Getting better at applying these tools produces the happy side-effect of a more virtuous character and a step forward on the journey toward eudaimonia.
By drawing on the exercises, imagery, and techniques that Donald Robertson refers to, I try to ensure the content I produce, especially The Micro Morning Meditations, focuses on one idea, one tool, at a time.
As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote in his second letter to Lucilius, one idea a day is enough for an aspiring philosopher to work on:
Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day.Seneca, Letters 2.4
By contemplating that one idea each day, by reminding yourself of it, by journaling about it, by digesting it, and by practicing it, you can build an ever-expanding philosophical toolbox that you can carry with you on each day of the rest of your life.