The Inherent Problems of Stoic Philosophy – A Critique of Stoicism

Is stoicism wrong?

In this article, we’ll put stoicism to the test.

Every philosophy can be criticized, However, we should be careful in that attempt since many critics can miss the essence of what that philosophy entails. In order to criticize something, one must be quite familiar with the subject in question. So in order to create a solid argument I’ll try to name a few overlooked difficulties stoicism encounters.

Keep in mind though, that this doesn’t negate Stoicism’s inherent value. Nor does it limit its potential to be a theoretical powerhouse or practical guide. So, you should think of it as a possibility for further improvement. Because this is the ultimate purpose of criticism, to realize the shortcomings of an argument in order to strengthen it.

So without further ado, below we’ll go through a variation of three opposing arguments that a Stoic may encounter. 

1. Rationality of the Universe and Rational Faith

The main cosmological principle of stoic philosophy is that the universe is led by God or Logos. Logos has about 50 different meanings, but the most important of those are: order, reason, law, word, and more.

The point is clear, matter can organize itself – matter needs God (world-soul) to be put into motion and to be adequately organized. 

The rationality of the universe cannot be proven. It must be grounded on a belief. For example, if something horrid happens to you, you must assure yourself that the event in question was always fated to happen.

This belief allows you to perceive the situation differently. But this does not change the fact that this belief cannot be proven.When events seem illogical or unjust one clings to faith to explain it. This faith of stoics is the faith of the reason

However, this is not irrational faith, because the general principle, which stoics assert, is that nature creates and destroys lives and natural objects, and we are only the part of the natural cycle of creation and destruction.

Additionally, the universe is agreed to be organized chaos, and organization cannot exist without justice. Therefore, the universe is a just place. So this then makes all the events happening to you, just and fair. It means what happens to you, is for the greater good.

2. Ideal Sage – Estranged Phantom 

Stoic ethics advocates an attitude of pure moral consciousness. If the Stoic takes on the last decision about what is moral to him, then he is freed from any social determination. But morality cannot exist only in our minds, it must be tested and confronted in the real world – if it wants to be called morality at all.

An ideal sage from a stoic perspective is the one who’s reached moral perfection. A Sage is a person who values moral freedom in the absolute sense. And this makes him willing to give up everything in order to gain his freedom.

This is a dilemma, because as explained before morality cannot exist away from the real world. The ultimate test of morality is its application within society. It is easy to be moral on top of a mountain. 

3. Cosmopolitanism and Loneliness

From Zeno of Citium till Marcus Aurelius, cosmopolitanism was one of the ideas that never changed. Cosmopolitanism is a term used to denote a citizen who considers the whole world as his homeland, and all people as his fellow citizens and brothers. Therefore, cosmopolitanism advocates for universal love and understanding of all human beings without exceptions. 

Will you not remember who you are, and whom you rule? that they are kinsmen, that they are brethren by nature, that they are the offspring of Zeus? – Epictetus 

The idea of Cosmopolitanism rests on the mindful nature of human beings. Stoics believed that humans are social by nature, and life in accordance with reason is to live in community. 

This idea follows from the conclusion that if one loves himself as a mindful being, then one should be able to love others gifted with reason. 

The ethical basis of cosmopolitanism starts with the striving for self-preservation. In the first place one loves only himself. But this love extends beyond self-love and encompasses everything that belongs to the individual. This includes family, friends, fellow citizens, and finally the human race as a whole. The ethical ideal is achieved by loving all people as we love ourselves.

Stoics are connected to everyone, but only in their own minds. They don’t have any means to pursue some kind of communal gathering. Stoics live as cosmopolitans, which is possible only in an abstract way. Their constant moral striving, estranges them from others (who don’t follow the philosophy). And this is especially true since common political affairs in everyday life evoke negative emotions for most people.

In their quest for moral excellence, stoics can end up alienating themselves. Especially from the beliefs that they seem to preach.

A small price to pay, especially when this behavior is questioned. What ends up happening is a realization that they’ve become distant. And this then forces them to act in such a way as to come back closer to the cosmopolitan ideology.

Forever dancing between virtue and vice, learning from imperfection and making their world a better place.