Step out of the Epicurean Garden and into the Stoic Cosmopolis
People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside, by the seashore, in the hills; and you too have made it your habit to long for that above all else. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself whenever you please. (Meditations 4.3.1)
The modern world is bursting with angst. News of an impending environmental crisis, worldwide political turmoil, gratuitous violence, acts of terror, wars, and human suffering are delivered instantaneously, twenty-four-hours-a-day, to the smart devices in the palm of our hand. It seems there is no escape from the incessant stream of newsworthy catastrophes short of abandoning our modern form of life and sequestering ourselves from society. Interestingly, that was the solution offered by the ancient Epicureans. They retreated from social and political life to their garden where they attempted to live peacefully among like-minded friends. It appears the Epicurean garden did provide tranquility to some ancients, and it is reasonable to assume it can do likewise for moderns. However, the garden is not the place for Stoics, and moderns must be careful not to seek the good flow of a Stoic life in the solitude of the Epicurean garden. The Stoic path does not lead to the garden. Instead, it leads us into the tumult of social and political life. Fortunately, Stoicism provides us with the tools necessary to thrive and experience tranquility in this seemingly hostile environment.
Stoics are a different breed; they flourish in whatever circumstance they find themselves while simultaneously working to create a society and world where courage, justice, wisdom, and moderation are the ideals—standards of excellence (virtue)—that inspire individuals and civilizations. The Stoic prepares to handle the best and worst of human nature within marketplaces, cities, boardrooms, political forums, and battlefields, while the Epicurean retreats to their garden to escape the disturbances of these environments. While both pursue virtue, the Epicurean seeks inner tranquility (ataraxia), in part at least, by controlling the external environment. The Stoic, on the other hand, creates inner resilience that allows for psychological well-being (eudaimonia) regardless of external circumstances.
Stoics realize the walls of the Epicurean garden can be trampled and burned by the hordes of externals amassed against it. In contrast, the formidable walls of the Stoic’s inner citadel can withstand the siege of Fortuna and the perpetually crashing waves of inexorable fate. Therefore, it is not surprising that many ancient Romans from the political class adopted Stoicism as a way of life. In fact, two of our surviving textual sources come from a Roman Emperor (Marcus) and a Roman Senator (Seneca), and a third comes from the lectures of a freed slave turned philosopher (Epictetus). These writings resonated with people throughout history because these three Stoics lived their philosophy in the real world. They were not academic philosophers expounding on hypothetical scenarios. Instead, each of these ancient Stoics lived and thrived in the tumultuous, chaotic, sweaty, and occasionally bloody world of humanity because they relied on their inner resilience, cultivated by Stoic practice, to live virtuously. The Stoic builds his retreat inside his psyche. This inner citadel provides an ever-present fortress and retreat, where the Stoic’s soul remains untouchable amidst the vicissitudes of life. As a result, the ancient Stoics possessed the inner strength to engage in social and political life. As Kavin Rowe points out,
In contrast to the Epicureans, for example, the Stoic tradition emphasized the compatibility of philosophy with civic life; indeed, many went a good deal farther than this and stressed the necessity of civic engagement as part and parcel of what it meant to be a Stoic.
Epictetus even mocked the Epicureans on this point and argued their philosophy is not conducive to social order:
In God’s name, I ask you, can you imagine a city of Epicureans? ‘I shan’t marry.’ ‘Nor I, for one shouldn’t marry.’ ‘Nor should one have children; nor should one perform any civic duties.’ So what will happen, then? Where are the citizens to come from? Who’ll educate them? Who’ll be superintendent of the cadets? Who’ll be director of the gymnasium? And then, what will the young men be taught? (Discourses 3.7.19)
Stoicism does not lead us to a place of tranquility and pleasure in the garden. Instead, Stoicism trains us as helmsmen to steer the ship of our psyche through tempestuous winds and turbulent waters that leave many others drowning or dashed on Fortuna’s rocks. Therefore, while the inner practices of meditation, mindfulness training, and the development of a tranquil mind are useful to the practice of Stoicism; we must be careful not to allow these means to become ends. Ancient Stoics were not reclusive contemplatives; they engaged in society. As Pierre Hadot notes:
The Stoic always acts “under reserve”—but he does act, taking part in social and political life. This is another important point which separates him from the Epicureans, who in principle retire from everything that may cause worry. The Stoic does not act in his material or even spiritual interest, but acts in a way which is always disinterested and in the service of the human community.
The Stoics thought the cosmos, and the humans within it, was a unified Whole guided by a universal reason they called logos. As Richard Tarnas highlight in his highly acclaimed book The Passion of the Western Mind,
The existence of the world-governing reason had another important consequence for the Stoic. Because all human beings shared in the divine Logos, all were members of a universal human community, a brotherhood of mankind that constituted the World City, or Cosmopolis, and each individual was called upon to participate actively in the affairs of the world.
Throughout his Mediations, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself of the connectedness of humanity as he contemplates how to deal with the frequently antisocial behavior of people (see Meditations 2.1). As Emperor of Rome, Marcus dealt with the best and worst of human nature. I suspect this is one reason his Meditations, written as a personal diary, resonates with so many people. Within its pages, we see our current struggles against the vicissitudes of life and the seeming wickedness of humanity. We see Marcus facing challenges what would psychologically cripple some people; Nevertheless, he remains unperturbed by the chaos around him. This equanimity inspires us and gives us a vision of a life well-lived under trying circumstances. In Meditations 4.3, Marcus provides an outline of the Stoic practice that empowered him to live as he did.
When the ruling power within us is in harmony with nature, it confronts events in such a way that it always adapts itself readily to what is feasible and is granted to it. For it attaches its preference to no specific material; rather, it sets out to attain its primary objects, but not without reservation, and if it comes up against something else instead, it converts it into material for itself, much like a fire when it masters the things that fall into it. These would have extinguished a little lamp, but a blazing fire appropriates in an instant all that is heaped on to it, and devours it, making use of that very material to leap ever higher. Never embark on an action at random, or otherwise than according to one of the principles that perfect the art of living. (Meditations 4.1-2)
That is a powerful passage. According to Marcus, when our rational faculty (our fragment of the logos) is in coherence with universal Reason (logos), external events serve as fuel for the fire which drives us forward and guides our actions. Nature. In that state of coherence with Nature, we will wish for events to happen as they do, rather than as we may desire them to happen (Discourses 1.12.15). Then, as events happen, we stick close to them and follow them (Discourses 3.1.18). When we combine these ideas from Marcus and Epictetus with the concept of the ‘reserve clause’, we begin to understand what it means to live according to Nature as the Stoics conceived it. We see why the concept of a providential cosmos played such an important part of the Stoic ethical system. First, the Stoic intends a virtuous act. Then, with the ‘reserve clause’ in mind, the Stoic acts to achieve the intended goal. If external events thwart the intended goal, the Stoic adapts quickly to the new situation, remains close to it, and thereby loves and follows fate closely (amor fati). In Marcus’ words, the fateful event then becomes fuel for the fire that drives the Stoic forward. If Nature gives the Stoic lemons; she makes lemonade rather than fretting that she wanted grape juice. When the Stoic follows the cart of fate closely and willingly, she discovers the freedom available to her to act virtuously and experience the well-being which results from aligning her will with the will of a providential cosmos.
This practice does not lead to a fatalistic mindset; instead, it creates the ‘attitude of gratitude’ I wrote about in Epictetus’ Prescription for Psychological Resilience. Marcus asserts the purpose of a philosophical life is to keep the guardian-spirit (daimon) inside us “inviolate and free from harm.” As a result, it will “welcome whatever happens to it and is allotted to it, as issuing from the source from which it too took its origin” (Meditations 2.17). Marcus repeatedly reminds himself to assent to events as they occur because they are part of a providential cosmos., We also see this theme of assent to a providential cosmos echoed by Epictetus,
[T]rue education consists precisely in this, in learning to wish that everything should come about just as it does. And how do things come about? As the one who ordains them has ordained. (Discourses 1.12.15)
Marcus continues from the passage above by highlighting the futility of seeking external locations as a retreat for one’s soul. In stark contrast, Marcus points to the inner citadel of our psyche as the place where real peace and freedom are found.
People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside, by the seashore, in the hills; and you too have made it your habit to long for that above all else. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself whenever you please; for nowhere can one retreat into greater peace or freedom from care than within one’s own soul. (Meditations 4.3.1)
For Marcus, his soul (psyche) was his inner citadel. Using the dichotomy of control, Marcus created an ‘invincible’ stronghold in his psyche that protected his soul from all externals. We can do the same. Nothing external to us can touch our psyche; this is a powerful realization once it is understood and applied. Marcus provides himself, and us, with the following instructions:
Constantly grant yourself this retreat and so renew yourself; but keep within you concise and basic precepts that will be enough, at first encounter, to cleanse you from all distress and to send you back without discontent to the life to which you will return. (Meditations 4.3.3)
Here, we see three important facts about the inner citadel of the Stoic. First, it travels with us in our psyche and thereby provides us with a constant rather than occasional place of retreat. Second, we should store ‘basic precepts’ within the inner citadel that will help us face potentially distressing circumstances. This is an echo of Epictetus’ instruction to keep basic Stoic principle close at hand. Finally, Marcus makes the purpose of this retreat explicit: it will “cleanse us from distress” so we can return to our social and political lives. Therefore, retreat into the inner citadel is a means rather than an end for our Stoic way of life.
Step Out of the Garden and into Society
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, all but the naive Pollyanna would agree we live in troubled times. It may be true that people throughout history have considered their particular age more troubled than the preceding ones. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the obvious facts of our time; social, political, and environmental issues loom large today and threaten our very existence. As a result, it is a natural inclination to withdraw from the tumult of social and political life. However, the Stoics argue we should not heed this inclination. Instead, they assert that each of us is part of a larger whole, in which we are obligated by Nature to participate. This does not imply self-sacrifice for the common good. On the contrary, the Stoics argue being a part of the whole of humanity is an essential role of the self-sufficient individual. We each have a role to play in this drama we call life, and retreating from the stage is not an option for those who seek to live virtuously, according to Nature.
Unfortunately, what Seneca acknowledged in ancient times is still true today, “the Stoics have a bad reputation among the ignorant for being too callous” (On Clemency 2.5). That caricature of the emotionless, aloof stoic is pervasive in literature and therefore in the minds of many. Even worse, a misunderstanding of Stoicism on the part of some practitioners fuels that misconception. Some moderns coming to Stoicism appear to be consumed exclusively with their own psychological well-being, and express interest in virtue only to the extent it provides a means to that goal. To some degree that is understandable; the Stoa was and should remain a place where broken souls (psyches) enter for treatment. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the purpose of Stoicism—a virtuous life. Tranquility is a byproduct of such a life; it is not the goal. As Stoics, our self-interest must mature, through Stoic practice, into an affinity for all humankind and the environment that supports us. That is Stoicism in action. The modern Stoa needs to be a place where distressed souls can find treatment. However, we must resist turning the Stoa into an Epicurean garden. Stoicism should provide the practices necessary to heal troubled souls so they can engage with, rather than avoid, social and political life.
Now, more than ever, humanity needs some strong-minded, rational people to step away from the seeming comfort, security, and entertaining distractions of modern life and into to the tumultuous world of humanity. We moderns, who are attempting to live as Stoics, must work toward counteracting the caricature of the ‘callous stoic’ by behaving in the world as the ancient Stoics did. The truth about Stoicism, so beautifully articulated by Seneca, is largely unknown to the average person:
No philosophical school is kindlier and gentler, nor more loving of humankind and more attentive to our common good, to the degree that its very purpose is to be useful, bring assistance, and consider the interests not only of itself as a school but of all people, individually and collectively. (On Clemency 2.5.3)
Stoicism cannot be lived as a way of life if it becomes just another intellectually sanitized version of academic philosophy. Academia destroyed the philosophical way of life in general and it will so the same to Stoicism if we are not careful. The Stoic life cannot be lived in isolation from society. Virtue cannot be developed, tested, or practiced within the comfort of our living rooms or academic lecture halls. Stoicism grew up and prospered amidst the bustle and clamor of the Athenian marketplace and Roman Senate; it is a philosophy from the streets and for the streets. Those who have any affinity for the powerful, life-changing way of life reflected in the writings of Seneca, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and the Discourses and Enchiridion of Epictetus must resist the temptation of the seemingly safe walls of the garden. The ancient seeds of Stoicism will grow only shallow roots within the safety of the garden. The seeds of the traditional Stoic way of life must be scattered outside the protective walls of the garden. There, Stoic seeds must sink their roots deep into the soil of Nature to withstand the turbulent winds and sporadic drought of external circumstance that inevitably come.
Again, the Stoic is a different breed of person; one who must live outside the comfortable garden walls where they can rise to the challenge of life’s vicissitudes. Thomas Paine’s famous opening to his tract, The Crisis, comes to mind here. I modified it make my point:
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer Epicurean and the sunshine Peripatetic will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of the cosmopolis; but the Stoic that stands by humanity now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Stoic philosophy inspired a slave to achieve excellence and a Roman Emperor to live humbly in service to his people. Stoicism is the great equalizer. The most powerful politician, the richest business person, the strongest athlete, and the impoverished homeless vagrant are all measured by the same scale at the Stoa—virtue. How are you living your wisdom, moderation, justice, and courage? How can virtue be developed and tested apart from engagement in social and political life? This is not a call for Stoics to become “social justice warriors.” I believe the ancient Stoics would eschew much of the rowdy, anarchist behavior that occurs under that modern banner. Neither is it a call for the type of collective social or political movement that frequently inhibits individual differences in the name of the collective good. Stoicism honors individual differences as parts of the whole and finds ways to seek the common goal of virtue without forcing conformity to Stoic dogma. The Stoics did not expect or demand that everyone follow the Stoic path. The Stoic path is one among many that can lead to virtue, and it is not for everyone. We do not need to convert the world to Stoicism; we simply need to live it, in plain view, to provide leadership, visible exemplars, and a helping hand to those who are floundering in the turbulent sea of externals. Yes, this post is a call to action—individual action—virtuous action. It is incumbent upon each of us attempting to follow the Stoic path to determine our role within the greater Whole of humanity and the cosmos and act accordingly. To do otherwise is to live something other than a Stoic life. Pierre Hadot suggests,
Putting theory into practice begins with an exercise that consists in recognizing oneself as a part of the Whole, elevating oneself to cosmic consciousness, or immersing oneself within the totality of the cosmos.
The world is in need of some strong, capable Stoics to step up and do what they can individually to set an example and affect change in our world. It is time for Stoics to step out of the garden and into social and political life.
 Rowe, K. (2016). One True Life: The Stoics and early Christians as rival traditions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p. 80
 Hadot, P. (2002). What is Ancient Philosophy? Cambridge: Harvard University press, pp. 134-5
 Tarnas, R. (1991). The Passion of the Western Mind. New York: Crown Publishing, p. 76
 I rely on the translation of Franco Scalenghe for Discoures 3.10.18, which reads: “For we must have ready at hand these two general principles: that outside of proairesis nothing is either good or evil; and that one must not take the lead of the things but stick to them.” His translation can be found at http://epitteto.com/THE%20DIAIRESIS%20TREE%20BOOK%20III.html
 Meditations 3.16; 4.26; 4.33; 5.8; 5.11; 5.18; 6.58.
 Fisher, C. (2016). Providence or Atoms? Providence! A Defense of the Stoic Worldview. In Ussher, P. (2016). Stoicism Today: Selected Writing II. Also available here: http://www.traditionalstoicism.com/2016/02/08/providence-or-atoms-2/
 See Discourses 1.1.21; 1.27.1-6; 1.30.1-5; 2.1.29; 2.11.23-25; 3.10.1-5; 3.10.18; 3.18.1; 3.24.103 & 115; 4.3.1-3; 4.4.34-35 & 39-40; 4.12.7-8; Enchiridion 52.2-53.4
 For those interested in learning more about the “inner citadel” and the Stoic resilience of mind it offers, there is no better source than Pierre Hadot’s book, The Inner Citadel (1998), Harvard University Press.
 This is the Stoic doctrine of oikeiosis.
 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/11/when-philosophy-lost-its-way/?nytmobile=0&_r=0 *Note* I am most certainly not making an argument against the academic scholars, like A.A. Long, David Sedley, Pierre Hadot, Christopher Gill, Brad Inwood, etc., who provide us with English translations, and commentaries on Stoic philosophy. Without their efforts, people like myself, who do not read Greek or Latin, would have little upon which to base our understanding or practice of Stoicism. I am, however, opposed to the modern trend by some to morph Stoicism into an agnostic/atheistic philosophy for the apparent purpose of making it palatable to modern academics and the secular-minded masses.
 Adapted by Chris Fisher from The Crisis by Thomas Paine (1776)
 Hadot (2002), p. 136