I’ve not read much philosophy. So, I’ve been enjoying Eric Weiner’s “The Socrates Express” – a bird’s eye view of the life and work of various philosophers and their schools of philosophy.
As someone who has been curious about stoicism (without knowing much), I enjoyed his notes on stoicism from his experience at “Stoic Camp.”
On day one of Stoic Camp, I discover that everything I thought about Stoicism is wrong. The stereotype of the stony, heartless Stoic is as erroneous as is the one about the gourmand Epicurean.
The Stoic is no cold fish. He does not suppress strong feelings, putting on a brave face
as he trembles inside. Stoics do not jettison all emotions, only the negative ones: anxiety, fear, jealousy, anger, or any of the other “passions” (or pathe – the closest ancient Greek word to emotions).
Stoics are not joyless automatons. They are not Mr. Spock They do not endure life’s bad bits with a stiff upper lip, or any other body part. “It’s not bad and there’s nothing to endure,” says Rob.
Stoics are not pessimists. They believe everything happens for a reason, the result of a thoroughly rational order. Unlike grumpy Schopenhauer, they believe we are living in the best of all possible worlds, the only possible world. Not only does the Stoic consider the glass half full; he finds it a miracle he has a glass at all—and isn’t it beautiful? He contemplates the demise of the glass, shattered into a hundred pieces. and appreciates it even more. He imagines life had he never owned the glass.
He imagines a friend’s glass breaking and the consolation he’d offer. He
shares his beautiful glass with others, for they, too, are part of the logos,
or rational order.
“Joyful Stoic” is not an oxymoron, says William Irvine, a professor
of philosophy at Wright State University and a practicing Stoic. He ex-
plains: “Our practice of Stoicism has made us susceptible to little out-
bursts of joy. We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we
are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.” I
confess: that sounds appealing.