Stoicism is primarily known as a moral philosophy, which means it is focused on virtue and developing our character. All philosophical schools with a moral focus ask essentially the same question: what is the best way to be a good person? Each philosophy differs on the answer, but for a Stoic they believed the answer was to live in accordance with nature. It is important to mention that there is a physics and logic aspect to their understanding of the world, which determines their idea of nature.
The Just Law
According to Stoics, there is a just law that rules the universe; this law prevents chaos from taking over. It acts on the stars as much as the trees, rocks, and animals. Stoics see this structure as the macrocosmos (the universe) acting in unity with the microcosmos (which includes us).
In order to expect the right response from another being, it is necessary to know the nature of that being. We would not expect flowers to speak, or dolphins to draw. Their nature (physics) lacks what is necessary to accomplish those actions.
That is a general explanation of the Stoic principle of nature in other creatures. When it comes to humans, our nature revolves around our capacity for reason, which differs from other animals and organisms due to their lack of reasoning. As we are able to think reasonably, we should be able to control our emotions and reactions to events that happen throughout our life.
It is our ability for reason that allows us to understand there are things we cannot control, and therefore we should not waste energy worrying about these things. For example, imagine you booked a holiday to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but it all gets cancelled due to the pandemic. Is there anything you specifically can do about it? If you are in the health sector, then perhaps you can do something. But if not, you just have to accept your situation and do your best to enjoy your time off.
Stoics believed in fate, which is also ruled by their just law, and it guarantees that whatever happens is what is meant to be. Your holiday was meant to be cancelled, and there is nothing you could have done to change that. The only thing you can control is your feelings and emotions in order to maintain your mental balance. That inner control is very much achievable as it is in our nature, if only we chose to live in accordance with it.
The Nature of Things
When it comes to the nature of things, Stoics don’t focus much on metaphysics; they rely on material physics. This form of physics takes the object in question under a scrutiny that reveals its real nature. By studying an object, we can thus anticipate what may come from that object. We can plan its development and predict its outcome. That is exactly what makes our lives viable. What would happen if you planted beans and ended up harvesting monkeys? That’s chaos, and we are not created to deal with it. Chaos is simply not in our nature.
Living according to the nature of things is key if we want to broaden our view, while narrowing our expectations. Everything has a role in the universe. Everything was created by an intelligent source, and that is why each piece of the puzzle fits perfectly in its place. Not knowing the real nature of something will make you try to fit a fork in a keyhole. It’s just not meant to be and it won’t ever be, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Instead of focusing on these impossibilities, we must use our reason to focus on the true nature of our world. Only then will we understand the universe and our place in it.