From Vol. 4, Issue 5, May 2022
In search of a Stoic
The portrait of a Stoic
Who is a Stoic?
Epictetus says that a Stoic is “... someone who is sick and yet happy; in danger and yet happy; dying and yet happy; condemned to exile and yet happy; lost his reputation and yet happy.” (Discourses, 2.19)
even impending death, by loss to reputation, or even being forced out of the country. As Zeno pointed out, “Happiness is the smooth flow of life.”
Stoics are not at odds with their world. Whether they are healthy or sick, whether they living or about to die, whether they are praised or reviled, whether they are in their country or exiled, it is all the same to them. Their life flows smoothly at all times.
But where can you find such a Stoic?
Not so easy. Even the great Epictetus who defined who a Stoic was, cried out,
Show him to me, by god, I long to see a Stoic! - Epictetus, Discourses, 2.19.
Apparently, even in the days of Epictetus, it was not easy to find an idealized Stoic. The Stoics had an explanation. Only a sage can be so perfect. But no one really gets to be a sage.
What does this mean to us? If even when Epictetus was teaching it was hard to find an ideal Stoic, how can we hope to get anywhere now? Why bother even trying?
Forever a prokopton
One way to look at it is to see ourselves as prokoptons – those who are making progress along the Stoic path. We will all be prokoptons forever, never a sage. Being a Stoic is a journey not a destination. A prokopton practices mindfulness and is consistently vigilant. We are all beginners and we will always be beginners. What matters is that we walk the Stoic path that leads to a “smooth flow of life.”
We can work out in the gym every day of the week, sleep well, and eat right, but that won’t guarantee the we will never be sick. But working out, sleeping well, and eating right will make us more healthy than not doing so. Similarly, our progress on the Stoic path will make our life flow more smoothly, even though it may not be perfect. By being mindful or attentive (prosche) we can move towards being a Stoic.
In this issue
This issue is about the Stoic mindset, what it means to be a prokopton, making progress toward a life of virtue.
- What is the Stoic mindset when confronted with anger?
- When confronted by fear?
- How would a Stoic mind react to events like the Russo-Ukraine war?
- How would a Stoic cultivate a cosmopolitan mindset?
- Do modern Stoics need heavy metaphysics to be virtuous?
Our contributing editors discuss these issues in the following pages. I hope you enjoy the articles.
Please let us if you like the magazine and what we could do to improve it.
Dr. Chuck Chakrapani