Unlike many philosophers, the moral stoic philosophers (part of the cosmology
branch of stoicism, but drawing from all three branches - the others being logic
, and epistemology
) do not give a grocery list of what to do each day to become a better person. Neither are the stoic philosophers telling us how to reach moral perfection
, but rather how improve.
To understand Stoic morality, one must realize some of the basic foundations of Stoicism. Please realize that some of the words do not translate perfectly from the Greek.
- Our knowledge of things that exist is solely based upon the impressions they make on our soul/perception; this includes knowledge of our mental states.
- The universe is made up of material. Material can be divided into matter that is passive and without quality, and matter that is active.
- This 'active principle' of reality is known as Logos, Reason, or God. God is a awkward translation though - this is not a personification of
a principle but rather the essential rational order and nature of the universe.
- Everything that happens, happens necessarily. This is determinism - all events are determined by prior events. To an extent they stoics are also fatalists, believing that the universe is a perfect and rational whole in which we have a place.
The ultimate goal of the stoics is how to find peace of mind. This is believed to come from understanding Logos and the universe around us. The value of what we know of nature is how it plays into helping us understand and live a life of virtue in accordance with nature.
Everything that we experience is a matter of judgment. Every evil and fault stems from a false judgment of the world that is made from ignorance. We are the ones who create our problems and difficulties. It is within our power to decide how we deal with events, objects, and people - and this is the only thing that is within our power.
Things that are beyond our control should not bother us or concern us and we should be indifferent to them. When we try to control something that is beyond our power, we get frustrated and suffer. Even things that we normally consider ours may be beyond our control. Our bodies, although we feed them and dress them, we cannot stop them from getting ill, ageing, and dying. People around us leave us. Possessions which we have may be stolen or destroyed.
The key to our happiness lies in our ability to control the things that are within our power. These things are our judgment and opinions, our desires, our adversion and our aversion.