As the popularity of Stoicism has grown it’s begun to reveal its truths slowly to the public. Unfortunately, misconceptions of Stoicism since the time of its founding to now are beginning to grow as well. Some people have this misconception that Stoicism is about being tough and having a stiff upper lip (this is now being rightly characterized as “stoicism-lowercase-s” among experts in the Stoic community). I thought I’d write why Stoicism is better than stoicism-lower-case-s.
1. Stoicism is a robust philosophy that emphasizes getting to know one’s passions and learning to heal the negative passions that can cause us to be irrational. Lowercase stoicism is not a philosophy but just an attitude people express when they’re doing unhealthy things like repressing their emotions.
2. Stoicism involves having courage, which means doing the right thing despite having fear. Lowercase stoicism involves an unhealthy form of courage, usually bravado, which involves denying that one has fear.
3. Stoicism involves developing compassion and conquering one’s anger/hatred. Lowercase stoicism involves a stunted development of compassion and concealing one’s anger/hatred.
4. Stoicism is about being your brother’s keeper and loving everyone and seeing everyone regardless of race, creed, and gender as a brother and a sister. Lowercase stoics usually complain about people being too compassionate and how they should just be indifferent to the daily injustices in the world.
5. Stoicism is about achieving eudiamonia through virtue which means a state of apatheia, which means freedom from negative passion. Lowercase stoicism misunderstands this point and thinks that individuals should be apathetic to the concerns of others and remain unengaged in society and politics.
Stoicism has become fairly popular as a philosophy. When you compare it to other philosophy schools on Facebook, Stoicism Facebook groups’s membership greatly outnumber other philosophical schools’s membership like Kantianism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Schopenhauereanism, for example. Unfortunately with large numbers in any group comes with members who have large misconceptions.
One major misconception of Stoicism is that it is about being apathetic and apolitical. If you’ve read Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, you’d know that Stoicism isn’t about being apathetic. Some individuals are attracted to the Stoic groups because they see themselves as placated with careless apathy and think Stoicism is all about careless apathy. But they couldn’t be anymore wrong! Stoicism isn’t about not giving a care, it’s about decreasing negative passions such as anger and sorrow, as a few examples. When Stoicism talks about apatheia, it’s meaning that you’re free of negative passions. But in place of the negative passion, it substitutes positive passions such as compassion and joy.
People misread the view that judgments should consider externals as indifferent as “judgments should consider externals as completely valueless.” To Stoics indifferents are very important, they just don’t matter to our eudaimonia (the good life). Some also misread indifferents as meaning we shouldn’t care about people either because they’re external to us. But they forget that one of the virtues of Stoicism is justice. Justice usually includes piety, fair dealings, being equitable, and compassion.
One thing that annoys the people who misunderstand Stoicism the most is when someone in the group posts something political related to Stoicism. The people who misunderstand Stoicism complain that political posts are not “Stoic.” Little to do they know that Stoicism is very political. It’s difficult to decipher exactly what you should believe politically on any particular issue via Stoicism but Stoicism does stress the importance of being involved politically. So all Stoics ought to be prepared to justify their political positions as Stoically or rationally as possible.
In conclusion, Stoicism may want you to achieve apatheia (freedom from negative passions) but it doesn’t want you to achieve apathy. If you want apathy, you’re not really going to find a very developed school of philosophy for that.