Like A Rock
Stoicism could probably be called the most influencial doctrine
to inhabit the Western world before the rise of Christianity
. After the fall of Alexander the Great
it was taken up by the fallen Greeks
and the reigning Romans
Risen From The Ashes
Stoicism was founded by a man named Zeno (not to be confused with Zeno of Elea and his famous paradox). Zeno presented his ideas during the third century BCE from his porch. Stoicism gets its name from this porch for "stoa" is Greek for "porch."
The followers of Stoicism were like the Cynics in their sadnesss and despair over the fall of the Greek city states and the Alexandrian Empire. Thus their philosophy was essentially advice to the individual for gaining personal salvation in a fractured world, specifically to learn to be indifferent to external influences.
Epictetus, a famous Stoic, rose from being a slave to holding an office in the Roman government. Epictetus' discourse "Progress or Improvement" was a strong arguement for Stoicism. Good and evil depend on oneself in the view of the Stoics. Other men and other forces control the external world--if a man can be indifferent to these external forces, no one but he will have control over himself. If a man can have a good will--for Epictetus virtue lies in the will and that only the will can be good or evil--his character cannot be damaged by external occurances. When man is indifferent to outside forces he is free, for he is independent of the world.
A Basis in Metaphysics
Stoicism cannot be fully understood without a slight understanding of the reigning metaphysics of the time--specifically predestination. At that time most felt that all was preordained by the Gods and that no one could go against this divine plan. Virtue was to be in harmony with this plan--if a man can accept his of lack of control he was virtuous. Freedom comes from understanding this inability to change things and slavery comes from constantly trying to change things. As such Stoicism pointed towards a freedom from passions and desires. The Stoics did not live like "dogs" like the Cynics, they had no difficulty living a life of comfort and power--so long as they were not trapped and controlled by these things.
The Critique of Stoicism
There are three main criticism
s of Stoicism:
The logical paradox of the Stoic theories of predestination and freedom.
The societal consequences of indifference and its tendencies to go against common sense.
The difficulty of seeing Stoicism as a universal philosophy, not just one for special circumstances.
It Has Been Written
If the Stoics believed that all things were preordained, that nothing was changeable how is it that one could become indifferent. How could one change one's mindset if one's mindset has already been predetermined? It is a logical impossibility. To look at this problem in a different arena, some people feel that most criminals are victims of their circumstances, that because of poor family lives they have a predisposition towards crime. If this is true to the extent that they have no control over their actions how could we punish them for their actions? We couldn't. The reason we do punish people is because we believe they can change their circumstances--although they are predisposed to crime they do have a choice in the matter.
What would a world of Stoics look like? If indifference was the most important virtue would a man show any emotion when his wife died? Would a man be accused of doing something wrong if he killed a man, but did it with indifference? Society could not work if Stoicism was the prevailing thought. Men would live callous lives and murder might be an everyday occurence.
A World Unlike Our Own
Stoicism had its birth in the trying times of the fall of the Alexandrian Empire. It was a philosophy for a people whose worldview was crumbling. Stoicism could help if one was told that he was going to be tortured--to steel oneself for the encounter--but it would not be really viable in a normal world. If you ask a person whether or not when things are good they should enjoy themselves the sane person says "yes," but the Stoic says "no."
Looking Towards The Future
In the end the Stoicism's contribution to ethics was the idea that it is the individual's responsibility to become a good or bad person, not society's.
Stoicism also gave much to what would come to be known as Christianity--that perseverance in this world would reap great fortunes in the next--but Stoicism was not to be a philosophy with staying power.
Source - Philosophy Made Simple by Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll