Welcome to Traditional Stoicism
This site will provide content and resources for people interested in the study and practice of Stoicism as it is represented in the surviving Stoic texts and interpreted by reputable scholars. Traditional Stoics attempts to follow, as much as possible, the same path toward excellence and happiness trod by Roman Senator, Seneca; freed slave turned philosopher, Epictetus; and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Those who attempt to follow the traditional Stoic path take the founder’s claims about the integrated nature of Stoicism seriously and attempt to maintain the integrity of their system. Stoicism includes logic, physics, and ethics, and its founders argued forcefully for the interrelated nature of all three fields of study and practice. They did so because the effectiveness of Stoic practice depends on all three. The Stoics even provided three similes—egg, animal, and orchard—to illustrate the necessary integrity of those three Stoic fields of study and practice. As numerous scholars point out, to fully understand each of the three topics of Stoicism requires an understanding of the whole system.
People turn to Stoicism for a variety of reasons. However, the most common impulse is the search for happiness in an age where it seems increasingly difficult to attain. Happiness is the universal longing of the human soul. We find this tireless quest to grasp and maintain this elusive state of chronicled in the histories, literature, and sacred texts of all cultures. For many moderns, happiness remains perpetually just beyond their grasp. It stands forever on the horizon, as the summit toward which they climb. The sight of its glorious peak inspires them to muster the new energy needed to continue their ascent. “There it is,” they think, and trudge forward to obtain the better job, bigger house, or sexier partner who will surely bring them happiness. Only after they have attained the new height do they find that it was another false summit and happiness remains just out of reach, beckoning from the horizon. At some point in life, many people come to realize the happiness they seek is a mirage. Some give up the quest entirely; others look for a different approach.
Stoicism provides a different approach to happiness. However, the traditional Stoic path is not a quick fix, life hack, or mere psychological therapy. The practice of Stoicism is a way of life, a complete transformation of the way one thinks about, and responds to reality. First, happiness it not the best translation for the Greek word eudaimonia. More accurately, it means to have a good flow in life. That distinction may appear subtle, but it allows the Stoics to assert that a person can be happy—can experience good flow—even under the most trying of circumstances. The Stoics insist we must live a virtuous life to experience happiness, and one does that by bringing their thoughts and actions into coherence with Nature—Universal Nature, the logos, the unseen force providentially guiding the cosmos.
The providential cosmos of Stoicism creates a division between “modern” and “traditional” Stoics. Many moderns read the words God or Zeus in the Stoic texts and recoil because they wrongfully assume they refer to the same entity they learned about in Sunday school or Greek mythology; the same God Nietzsche pronounced dead and their college professors “proved” does not exist. Such revulsion is certainly understandable and in many cases justified. Unfortunately, it presents an intellectual and emotional barrier to Stoicism. As a result, many moderns choose to throw all of that “physics stuff” like the divine and providential cosmos out the window. They wrongfully assume they can focus exclusively on Stoic ethics and achieve the same end. However, that “physics stuff” is an integral part of the holistic system. It represents the yolk of the egg, the psyche of the animal, and the trees of the orchard in the Stoic similes. Traditional Stoics agree with the ancients: if you remove the yolk you no longer have an egg, an animal is not a living creature without a soul (psyche), and without trees an orchard cannot bear fruit.
Certainly, some of the details of Stoic physics are simply wrong based on our modern scientific knowledge. The Stoics did not get everything right; after all, they lived, wrote, and taught two millennia ago. Nevertheless, there are fundamental doctrines of Stoicism that must remain if the structure is to stand and the system to remain coherent. Those doctrines defined Stoicism and differentiated it from the competing schools in Hellenistic Greece and Rome. While there was vigorous debate, disagreement, and evolution of thought within the Stoa over the course of it five-hundred-year history, there was never any substantial disagreement on the essential doctrines that defined and differentiated Stoicism. These doctrines are not hard to define, nor are they the invention or unique interpretation of people who attempt to practice traditional Stoicism. These core doctrines are recognized and clearly defined by all reputable scholars of Stoic philosophy. All scholarly books and articles which address the Stoic philosophical system define these doctrines explicitly. I will address those essential doctrines in future posts.
The traditional Stoic path is not easy, and it is not for everyone. Each person must choose their path, and many will find the modern popularized versions of Stoicism more to their liking. Nevertheless, those who attempt to follow the traditional Stoic path will discover there is a huge body of scholarly work that clearly marks the philosophical path of the ancient Stoics. To that end, all positions advanced on this site will be supported by credible scholarship and references. I assume readers of this site are not looking for mere opinions about Stoicism, but are seeking an understanding of traditional Stoicism they can apply in their lives. Thus, readers of this blog can count on references to scholarly sources that will allow them to do independent research.
Regardless of which path a person chooses—modern or traditional—there is a tremendous benefit in reading the surviving Stoic texts and scholarly commentary. As numerous scholars have pointed out, each of the Stoic fields of study, including ethics, can only be fully understood within the context of the whole system. Only after studying all of Stoicism can a person be properly equipped to follow the traditional Stoic path or one of its modern variations. Without understanding why traditional Stoicism traverses a challenging and occasionally steep and precarious path, one might mistakenly assume the lush valley below offers a safer and shorter path to virtue and happiness.
 Laertius, D. Lives of eminent Philosophers, 7.40