Stoic philosophy is less about the nature of reality (metaphysics) or what can or cannot be known (epistemology) but rather, on how to live (ethics). The focus of these philosophers is to pursue what Aristotle called eudaimonia. Offten translated as “happiness” the meaning of the word is closer in meaning to “human flourishing.” Aristotle believed that the human being is fulfilled only when he satisfies his purpose, or ends, or “telos.” The stoic philosophers believed that this is accomplished through a “way of being” in the world; a way of acting and behaving that was in accordance with the virtues. Only in a life lived completely aligned with “the good,” in companionship with God, would the human being fulfill his destiny.
As for philosophy, Epicurus said, “Vain is the word of that philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man.” I think this sums up the stoic aim very well. Our study is not to win a victory or to have correct ideas merely; this kind of study is more practice than discourse; this kind of study is done not so much to win an argument, but so that in living our lives we may fulfill our destiny. As such, it often focuses on the sins of man which keep him from his destiny. It is this that the spirit of Socrates’ words are developed, for as he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Such a life would be a life devoted to pleasure, much like the life of a cow. Such a life would not fulfill the destiny of the human being, which is to flourish in companionship with God.
Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are some of my favorite stoic philosophers:
* All cruelty springs from weakness.
* A physician is not angry at the intemperance of a mad patient, nor does he take it ill to be railed at by a man in fever. Just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant.
* Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.
* It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.
* We should every night call ourselves to an account: what infirmity have I mastered today? what passions opposed? what temptation resisted? what virtue acquired? Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift.
* Wisdom allows no man to be happy but he that needs no other happiness than what he has within himself.
* Success is not greedy, as people think, but insignificant. That is why it satisfies nobody.
* Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.
* Consider, when you are enraged at any one, what you would probably think if he should die during the dispute.
* Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.
* God is the universal substance in existing things. He comprises all things. He is the fountain of all being. In Him exists everything that is.
* It is more fitting for a man to laugh at life than to lament over it.
* The first step in a person’s salvation is knowledge of their sin.
* You learn to know a pilot in a storm.
* One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
* The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.
* It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.
* If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.
* To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.
* It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
* There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.
* If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.
* The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.
* Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.
* There is nothing good or evil save in the will.
* Unless we place our religion and our treasure in the same thing, religion will always be sacrificed.
* Maintain a constant mildness of temper and a tranquility of mind in all things.
* Remain abstinent from mean and evil thoughts.
* Refrain from fault-finding.
* Practice a constant benevolence in nature.
* Look carefully after the interests of friends.
* Do not esteem yourself too highly; skill in expounding philosophical principles is the smallest of merits.
* Do not be opinionated.
* Tolerate ignorant persons.
* Be accommodating without false flattery.
* Never show anger or any passion.
* Be affectionate.
* Give to others readily.
* Cherish good hopes.
* Listen generously.
* Do not criticize.
* Be ready to forgive.
* Seek an agreeable humor.
* Avoid sarcasm and cynicism and all ironies.
* Nurture a love of labor and vigorous action.
* Perseverance against arrogance, pedantry, sophistry and pride.
* Be satisfied in all occasions, and cheerful.
* Throw away thy books; no longer distract thyself… cast away the thirst after books, that thou mayest not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and from thy heart thankful to God.
* Put yourself in mind, every morning, that before that night you will meet with some meddlesome, ungrateful and abusive fellow, with some envious or unsociable churl. Remember that their perversity proceeds from ignorance of good and evil; and that since it has fallen to my share to understand the natural beauty of a good action and the deformity of an ill one; since I am satisfied that the disobliging person is of kin to me, our minds being both extracted from the Deity; since no man can do me a real injury because no man can force me to misbehave myself; I cannot therefore hate or be angry with one of my own nature and family. For we are all made for mutual assistance, no less than the parts of the body are for the service of the whole; whence it follows that clashing and opposition are utterly unnatural.