The philosophy of Stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci


You’ve been stranded thousands
of miles from home with no money or possessions. Such a predicament would make many
people despair and curse their awful fate. But for Zeno of Cyprus, it became the
foundation of his life’s work and legacy. The once wealthy merchant lost everything
when he was shipwrecked in Athens around 300 BCE. With not much else to do,
he wandered into a book shop, became intrigued by reading about Socrates, and proceeded to seek out and study
with the city’s noted philosophers. As Zeno began educating his own students, he originated the philosophy
known as Stoicism, whose teachings of virtue, tolerance,
and self-control have inspired generations of thinkers
and leaders. The name Stoicism comes
from the Stoa Poikile, the decorated public colonnade where Zeno and his disciples gathered
for discussion. Today, we colloquially
use the word stoic to mean someone who
remains calm under pressure and avoids emotional extremes. But while this captures important
aspects of Stoicism, the original philosophy was more
than just an attitude. The Stoics believed that
everything around us operates according
to a web of cause and effect, resulting in a rational structure
of the universe, which they called logos. And while we may not always
have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over
how we approach things. Rather than imagining an ideal society, the Stoic tries to deal
with the world as it is while pursuing self-improvement
through four cardinal virtues: practical wisdom, the ability to navigate complex situations
in a logical, informed, and calm manner; temperance, the exercise of self-restraint
and moderation in all aspects of life; justice, treating others with fairness even
when they have done wrong; and courage, not just in extraordinary circumstances, but facing daily challenges
with clarity and integrity. As Seneca, one of the most famous
Roman Stoics wrote, “Sometimes, even to live
is an act of courage.” But while Stoicism focuses on
personal improvement, it’s not a self-centered philosophy. At a time when Roman laws considered
slaves as property, Seneca called for their humane treatment and stressed that we all share
the same fundamental humanity. Nor does Stoicism encourage passivity. The idea is that only people
who have cultivated virtue and self-control in themselves
can bring positive change in others. One of the most famous Stoic writers
was also one of Rome’s greatest emperors. Over the course of his 19-year reign, Stoicism gave Marcus Aurelius the resolve
to lead the Empire through two major wars, while dealing with the loss of many
of his children. Centuries later, Marcus’s journals would
guide and comfort Nelson Mandela through his 27-year imprisonment during his struggle
for racial equality in South Africa. After his release and eventual victory,
Mandela stressed peace and reconciliation, believing that while the injustices
of the past couldn’t be changed, his people could confront them
in the present and seek to build a better,
more just future. Stoicism was an active school
of philosophy for several centuries in Greece and Rome. As a formal institution, it faded away, but its influence has continued
to this day. Christian theologians,
such as Thomas Aquinas, have admired and adopted its focus
on the virtues, and there are parallels between
Stoic Ataraxia, or tranquility of mind, and the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. One particularly influential Stoic
was the philosopher Epictetus who wrote that suffering stems not from the events in our lives,
but from our judgements about them. This has resonated strongly
with modern psychology and the self-help movement. For example, rational emotive
behavioral therapy focuses on changing
the self-defeating attitudes people form about
their life circumstances. There’s also Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy. Informed by Frankl’s own time
as a concentration camp prisoner, logotherapy is based on
the Stoic principle that we can harness our will power
to fill our lives with meaning, even in the bleakest situations.

100 thoughts on “The philosophy of Stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci”

  1. Very nice Tedx talk ! I have a blog about Stoicism and it helped me to understand some Stoic concepts : https://unregardstoicien.com/

  2. there was another great video from this channel
    about dicotomy of control stoic archer and its missing.

  3. Ποικίλη Στοά, the name of the ancient public colonnade the Stoic school of Philosophy came from, is certainly not pronounced this way! The correct pronunciation is Pee-kēe-lee Stoāh.

  4. I gotta record this, I'm more into that thing described above. This thing is visionary for me. I'll connect in this same thread after a year. You better believe me! ( Like Naruto).

  5. Mandela was a monster, he would soak tires and gasoline, place them around someone's neck and light them on fire… They called that necklacing, the man was no hero he was a monster!

  6. This is more like vipassana meditation:see reality as it is without any judgments… Remain Equanimus Whether the situation is good or bad! ??

  7. Mandela's was a terrorist who pleaded guilty to killing women children in churches .dinners and malls he pleaded guilty to planting over 60 bombs… he didn't deny violence after his release he kept on singing for the killing of white people

  8. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in a nutshell Stoicism is finding a core set of virtues for self-improvement, and only when those virtues have been obtained can you change the world around you?

  9. Live like a thing that can die and have not any fear about this.
    The stoicism is much more than the ^n philosophy of existence.
    Educative video.

  10. I’ve seen this video about 5 times, not only to help myself understand this concept,m. But also because I love this narrator and can listen to him all day

  11. All this is GREAT! I'm a normal world … not in one like ours.
    In the life you are imagining… effort ends paying.
    In ours, you try, try, try, and end worse than the first time.

  12. Wow! I just found out about stoicism and didn't even know what it means but thankfully I've already been doing it on my own life.

  13. Quid opus est partibus vitae quod doleret? Ex eo enim totus lacrimis vocat. Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears. Lucius Annaeus Seneca

  14. Wow! How about the philosophy of my dead cat? Or the Philosophy of a puddle of water after a thunderstorm?

    Or, is Philosophy being literate?

  15. I’m having a little trouble to truly understand the final quote.

    “we can harness our willpower to fill our life with meaning, even in the bleakest situations”

    Does this mean that we should control our feeling of NEED to do certain things because just because we THINK we need it we probably don’t and in us doing this we would begin fill our life with meaning?

  16. Im trying to learn more about stoicism in my quest to find some help for my Adhd. Thanks for the brief but quality video!

  17. Sounds a lot like the modern trend of 'positive thinking' that's universally promoted in mental health circles without examining its limitations.

    I do see how challenging your outlook on life can change how you perceive things and improve self-confidence in some cases, but it can be frustrating when it's promoted in mental health circles as some naively optimistic, 'think-yourself-better' cure. There's only so much changing your outlook can do. It supposes that changing your outlook is possible and desirable as well as beneficial. I agree that it's healthy to challenge your assumptions and beliefs about the world, but challenge only results in change if you conclude that your existing beliefs are false. Beliefs aren't a choice but a consequence of what you're convinced is the truth. I can say I believe something but unless I'm convinced then I'm just lying to myself, which I don't think is helpful. Neither is believing something that's false solely because it makes you feel good. Depression may be triggered by the events in the news, the madness of the world we live in and it's upsetting nature. Being told to 'think positively' about this seems like asking me to delude myself with mental gymnastics. This is frustrating as it's offered as a 'cure' by pretty much any mental health treatment provider these days, regardless of the root of someone's problems.

    Even with a positive, hopeful outlook, it's not always enough. It might help you get through hard times somewhat, but hope alone doesn't translate into better real-world outcomes. It almost feels like 'The Secret' – the claim that you can basically visualise things into existence. We see the successes these methods have produced but not those who tried unsuccessfully. In any population there are some people for whom things will improve in a given time period, regardless of what they do. That's just basic statistics, as people's states vary even without treatment. Positive thinking can help if it motivates you to act and create the changes you want to see, but alone it assumes mental health problems occur in isolation from the world outside your mind. Realistically, there's only so much you can possibly do, which this doesn't seem to recognise.

  18. some people comment like aw yeah it is my philosophy i don't care any thing just stoicism." but actually it is not something like that. it is closer to POZITIVIZM through 4 Virtues

  19. Stoicism doesn't work when you are swarmed by liberals, they just blame you for what the other white men did anyway.
    Bye bye civilization.

  20. Yet this Philosophy was not perfect, Stoicism was used by the 'Optimate' or 'Conservative' political faction in the Roman Republic as reasoning for why the Senate should keep hegemony over the Plebeian Assemblies and more generally why the Aristocracy should continue to suppress the Proletariat masses. Just look at Cato the Younger, or Metellus Scipio, who attempted to block and curtail the Grain Dole, starving the impoverished, by calling this process 'un-stoic', because it dissuades individuals from pursuing the Stoic goals of Temperance and Courage. I wouldn't be so quick to heap praise upon this school of thought, while interesting it is by no means perfect as many in the comments seem to think.

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