Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements. ~ William James

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection", would not suffer such emotions. They were profoundly concerned with the active relationship between notions of cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a form of will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. The Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved. Throughout ancient times Stoic doctrine was popular until the closing of all Hellenic philosophy schools in AD 529 by order of the Emperor Justinian I, who believed their pagan character was at odds with Christian faith. In modern times the word "stoic" remains a reference to the demeanor and strength of will often promoted by the ancient Stoic philosophers. Quotes on this page refer to both ancient and modern uses of the term.


  • 'Tis pride, rank pride, and haughtiness of soul:
    I think the Romans call it Stoicism.


  • With what scientific stoicism he walks through the land of wonders, unwondering.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1827–1855), "Signs of the Times"


  • This gentleman’s stoicism was of that not uncommon kind, which enables a man to bear with exemplary fortitude the afflictions of his friends, but renders him, by way of counterpoise, rather selfish and sensitive in respect of any that happen to befall himself.


  • I remember that she made me laugh more than I liked; for I was, at that time, an eager scholar of ethics, and had tasted the sweets of solitude and stoicism, and I found something profane in the hours of amusing gossip into which she drew me...


  • Cynicism … is a withdrawal from the world into blank isolation, while Stoicism is the withdrawal into an inner life, which forms to its votaries an object of the highest enthusiasm. Hence the elation, often hyperbolical, which tinges the Stoical austerity; hence the attractiveness of the doctrine and its spread over the world.


  • Some philosophers, and the ancient Stoics among the rest, derived a topic of consolation under all afflictions, while they taught their pupils that those ills under which they laboured were, in reality, goods to the universe; and that to an enlarged view, which could comprehend the whole system of nature, every event became an object of joy and exultation. But though this topic be specious and sublime, it was soon found in practice weak and ineffectual. You would surely irritate than appease a man lying under the racking pains of the gout by preaching up to him the rectitude of those general laws.


  • Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or by thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements.
  • The Pythagoreans had found in the astral order the proportions of the concordant musical scale... a harmonia... Thereby they created the most enchanting symbol of Greek cosmic piety: "harmony," issuing in the inaudible "music of the spheres," [as] the idealizing expression for the same fact of irrefragable order that astrology stresses less optimistically... Stoic philsophy strove to integrate the idea of destiny as propounded by contemporary astrology with the Greek concept of harmony: heimarmene to the Stoics is the practical aspect of the harmony, i.e., its action as it affects terrestrial conditions and the short-lived beings here. And since the stellar movements are actuated by the cosmic logos and this logos functions in the world-process as providence (pronoia), it follows that in this wholly monistic system heimarmene itself is pronoia, that is, fate and divine providence are the same. The understanding of and willing consent to this fate... as the reason of the whole distinguishes the wise man, who bears adversity... as the price... for the harmony of the whole. The existence of the whole... is the ultimate and no further questionable, self-justifying end in this teleological scheme: for the sake of the cosmos its constituent parts exist... for the sake of the whole organism. Man... is by no means the highest mode of being, he is not the end of nature, and the cosmos is not for his sake.


  • Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
    A being darkly wise and rudely great:
    With too much knowledge for the skeptic side,
    With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
    He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest;
    In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
    In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
    Born but to die, and reasn'ing but to err;
    Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
    Whether he thinks too little or too much.


  • Belief in God and a future life makes it possible to go through life with less of stoic courage than is needed by skeptics. A great many young people lose faith in these dogmas at an age at which despair is easy, and thus have to face a much more intense unhappiness than that which falls to the lot of those who have never had a religious upbringing. Christianity offers reasons for not fearing death or the universe, and in so doing it fails to teach adequately the virtue of courage. The craving for religious faith being largely an outcome of fear, the advocates of faith tend to think that certain kinds of fear are not to be deprecated. In this, to my mind, they are gravely mistaken. To allow oneself to entertain pleasant beliefs as a means of avoiding fear is not to live in the best way. In so far as religion makes its appeal to fear, it is lowering to human dignity.
  • Stoicism, unlike the earlier purely Greek philosophies, is emotionally narrow, and in a certain sense fanatical; but it also contains religious elements of which the world felt the need, and which the Greeks seemed unable to supply.
  • Socrates was the chief saint of the Stoics throughout their history; his attitude at the time of his trial, his refusal to escape, his calmness in the face of death, and his contention that the perpetrator of injustice injures himself more than his victim, all fitted in perfectly with Stoic teaching. So did his indifference to heat and cold, his plainness in matters of food and dress, and his complete independence of all bodily comforts. But the Stoics never took over Plato's doctrine of ideas, and most of them rejected his arguments for immortality. Only the later Stoics followed him in regarding the soul as immaterial; the earlier Stoics agreed with Heraclitus in the view that the soul is composed of material fire.
  • If virtue is the sole good, there can be no reason against cruelty and injustice, since, as the Stoics are never tired of pointing out, cruelty and injustice afford the sufferer the best opportunities for the exercise of virtue.
  • To a modern mind, it is difficult to feel enthusiastic about a virtuous life if nothing is going to be achieved by it. We admire a medical man who risks his life in an epidemic of plague, because we think illness is an evil, and we hope to diminish its frequency. But if illness is no evil, the medical man might as well stay comfortably at home. To the Stoic, his virtue is an end in itself, not something that does good. And when we take a longer view, what is the ultimate outcome? A destruction of the present world by fire, and then a repetition of the whole process. Could anything be more devastatingly futile? There may be progress here and there, for a time, but in the long run there is only recurrence. When we see something unbearably painful, we hope that in time such things will cease to happen; but the Stoic assures us that what is happening now will happen over and over again. Providence, which sees the whole, must, one would think, ultimately grow weary through despair.
  • There goes with this a certain coldness in the Stoic conception of virtue. Not only bad passions are condemned, but all passions. The sage does not feel sympathy: when his wife or his children die, he reflects that this event is no obstacle to his own virtue, and therefore he does not suffer deeply. Friendship, so highly prized by Epicurus, is all very well, but it must not be carried to the point where your friend's misfortunes can destroy your holy calm. As for public life, it may be your duty to engage in it, since it gives opportunities for justice, fortitude, and so on; but you must not be actuated by a desire to benefit mankind, since the benefits you can confer — such as peace, or a more adequate supply of food — are no true benefits, and, in any case, nothing matters to you except your own virtue. The Stoic is not virtuous in order to do good, but does good in order to be virtuous. It has not occurred to him to love his neighbour as himself; love, except in a superficial sense, is absent from his conception of virtue.
  • There is, in fact, an element of sour grapes in Stoicism. We can't be happy, but we can be good; let us therefore pretend that, so long as we are good, it doesn't matter being unhappy. This doctrine is heroic, and, in a bad world, useful; but it is neither quite true nor, in a fundamental sense, quite sincere.
  • One cannot accept the attitude of some among the Stoics, who said, "What does it matter to me if my family suffer? I can still be virtuous." The Christian principle, "Love your enemies," is good, but the Stoic principle, "Be indifferent to your friends," is bad.
  • There are two ways of coping with fear: one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to cultivate Stoic endurance. The latter can be reinforced, except where immediate action is necessary, by turning our thoughts away from the cause of fear. The conquest of fear is of very great importance. Fear is in itself degrading; it easily becomes an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. Nothing has so beneficent an effect on human beings as security.


  • Various well-bred moralities had already discreetly offered him their services: disillusioned epicureanism, smiling tolerance, resignation, common sense stoicism — all the aids whereby a man may savour, minute by minute, like a connoisseur, the failure of a life.
  • Your good fortune is not to need good fortune.


  • My idea of the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012) Ch. 10. Seneca's Upside and Downside, p. 156.
  • [H]ighly favorable to the development of a systematic natural science... first and foremost, the Stoics believed in 'determinism'... nothing willful... everything... according to law. The secret of human life was to fathom the general character of this universal order and to live in harmony with it. ...[A]strological divination... was justified by appealing to the harmony and interaction between celestial and terrestrial events. ...Greek atomists implied [that] atoms... by chance, happened to stay interlocked [in human bodies] for... seventy years... [T]he Stoics... preferred to start at... organized systems [having] 'integral properties'... not derived from the... parts. ...'This ...we call the pneuma'... a continuous dynamic agency... maintaining... cohesion... As we tighten a drum-head, the sound... rises in pitch. ...Now tension is not an additional ingredient... it is a state... The pneuma... exists in various... states of tension or 'tones'... In some respects... an extension of the Pythagorean theory of musical harmonies. ...Several kinds of pneuma existed... The 'cohesive...' responsible for the unity of a body, and for the fixed pattern of properties... the 'vital...' gave it animation; while... 'rational...' was only present in... thinking beings.
  • Stoics... thought of the pneuma ...[as] an extremely tenuous... physical agency spread continuously throughout the organism... capable of producing physical effects... [T]he pneuma theory... provided... explanation for... the tangible ['passive'] forms of matter (solid and liquid) and the intangible ['active'] ones (fiery and aery)... [T]he different forms of pneuma were composed of varying blends of fire and air. ...When the ethereal pneuma held the... body together in a coherent pattern... it entered into a 'total union'... The psyche and the pneuma became interchangeable terms, which referred equally to a pattern of observable characters and to the hypothetical medium presumed to underlie it.
  • Grace: Vera, remember how I taught your children... Remember how happy you were, when I... When I taught your children about the doctrine of stoicism and they finally understood it?
    Vera: All right, for that, I'm gonna be lenient. I'm going to break two of your figurines first, and if you can demonstrate your knowledge of the doctrine of stoicism by holding back your tears, I'll stop. Have you got that?

See also

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