What is a Stoic?
Stoic Philosophy as a Way of Life
I see in myself, Lucilius, not just an improvement but a transformation.(Seneca, Moral Letters 6.1)
What is a Stoic? Briefly stated, we are people who have chosen to adopt Stoicism as an
Art of Living
.This answer, of course, leads to another question. What is Stoicism? Why choose to study thisphilosophy instead of others, or none at all? Stoic philosophy can provide a person with a sense of profound tranquility, a cheerful and joyful lifefilled with gratitude, effectiveness and a sense of meaning. These however are not the goals or aims of Stoicism but rather some of the benefits of living life well. Stoicism is the study and practice of living a complete life based on reason and relationship, one wherewe explore and express our best selves, where we flourish to the best of our abilities in all places andcircumstances. Stoics reach for personal excellence in all the domains of our lives, privately and publicly,to benefit ourselves and our communities. This is the true purpose of studying the Stoic Art of Living. It isa long road, one of constant improvement and focus. We do this through the use of our minds and insights, through study and observations of the world we livein and the people we interact with. We do this through reflection, self-examination and deep involvementwith the world around us. We do this through the study of Stoic writers, meditation on Stoic principles andthe active practice of Stoic exercises.Stoicism is the practice of gradually changing the way we look at life, finding new and improvedperspectives on our specific concerns, to arrive eventually at a point where our baseless worries aredefeated, or our paralyzing fears abolished, our violent passions tempered, our childish selfishnessturned to generosity and compassion, and in effect, our empty lives given new meaning and purpose.This process of discovery, and the attempt to live by the insights we gain, is what it means to be a Stoic.
How to Learn to live the Stoic Philosophy
There are literally hundreds of books and articles regarding ancient Stoicism. Some are very accurate,others wildly speculative (I have attached a completely optional Recommended Reading list to theend of this note). Stoic philosophy, practiced as it was created to be, is more than a matter of readingbooks to understand and appreciate the views of their authors (and to examine and challenge thoseviews, just as philosophers have always done). It is a way of living, of discovering our inner potential anddeveloping consistent habits of mind and body to uncover and realize it. This process of discovery, andthe attempt to live by the insights we gain, is what the ancients called living as a philosopher, or ‘lover of wisdom.’ We don’t claim to be ‘wise’ (
), but we are in active pursuit of the Art of Living well. Theterm ‘philosopher’ was not reserved so much for the teacher or author, but the person aiming to live thephilosophical life.In ancient times it was the job of the philosopher-teacher to show the student how this could be done.The teacher would do this simply by living the philosophic life, which the student could witness on a dailybasis simply as they attended their daily lessons and through personal contact at other times. Indeed,some schools accepted residential students who would actually have lived with their philosopher-teacher throughout the duration of their studies. Thus the students would have been able to see how their teacher managed their everyday affairs, how they coped with crises and lesser troubles, and how they faced thesorts of trials that in some shape or form eventually touch the lives of everyone. In short, the teacher was