Monday, February 13, 2017

On (Short and Most Likely Wrong) Thoughts About the Modern Stoic Schools

Recently, I’ve been working on not only gaining a deeper understanding of Stoicism, but also how to use in modern life, as well as attempting to figure out if there is anything of the modern world that could be of some use to Stoicism. This attempt, of course, has me seeing Stoicism of today as two different schools: New Stoicism and Traditional Stoicism. The following, of course, may be a gross generalization that could be dispelled with a little work, but I find that the best way to find answers is to sometimes be wrong on the internet.

Traditional Stoicism

I also call this “religious” Stoicism, not because Stoics from this camp follow one faith or another, but rather they’re attempting to keep the physics side of Stoicism alive. This means keeping the idea of Providence going.

To the Traditional Stoic, dropping this aspect of Stoicism effectively changes it from a philosophy to a form of CBT psychology. You won’t find anyone (that I can tell) arguing that this isn’t useful, but rather that it just isn’t Stoicism.

This school, as far as I can tell, is attempting to fit new ideas into the framework of an old philosophy. They don’t ignore science or anything like that, but they also don’t ignore the physics of Stoicism. Providence is real and, through the use of both science and philosophy, attempt to prove this.

This school’s biggest challenge is overcoming the skepticism of most modern people. Providence, seemingly, plays no part in today’s world. Atheists find no need to for it and it seems a lot of theists see divinity more as a form of prosperity (“Pray to God for x, and pray like you mean it, and you’ll get x in some form or another!”).

New Stoicism

If Traditional Stoicism is about fitting new ideas into an old philosophy, New Stoicism is about fitting an old philosophy into new ideas. The Roman Stoics all but abandoned the logic side of Hellenistic Stoicism, and New Stoics abandoned the physics side.

A majority of New Stoics are atheist or agnostic (and before that debate starts, yes, I’m aware you can be both). For them, divinity just simply isn’t needed for Stoicism to exist. If, after all, an atheist derives the same benefits from Stoicism as one that believes in Providence, at what point did it stop being a valid philosophy?

This school’s biggest challenge is accounting for individual suffering. It can be hard to take Stoicism’s “medicine” about evil and overcoming it when the big Doctor in the sky isn’t around to dispense the treatment. When you try to take the cosmos as a whole, the atheist perspective can leave it a little cold whereas with the Providential view, the universe “provides” for you.

Final Thoughts

This is, as stated, my starting thoughts in this new understanding of Stoicism. I want to explore the way of the old schools and see if they can withstand the test of time. Personally, I think both schools have valid points about the other: I’m leery about outright ignoring one aspect of Stoicism, but it’s also hard to accept that the universe is looking out for us.

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