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From Vol. 5, Issue 9, September 2023

The freedom of the Stoic

Practicing Stoicism || Chuck Chakrapani

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Some of us feel that we will be free when we achieve financial freedom. Yet others believe that they will be free when they achieve political freedom (especially those who live under harsh forms of governments). Some of us, especially those who live with chronic pain, believe that they will be free when they are without any ailments. Depending on their experience, freedom means different things to different people.

But the Stoic says these kinds of freedoms may be desirable, but they are not true freedoms. You can be financially free and yet be miserable in your personal life. Is this true freedom? You can live in the most politically free country in the world, yet be plagued by worries and anxieties. Is this true freedom? You may be totally pain-free but be fighting mental demons all day long. Is this true freedom?

So what is true freedom to a Stoic? Simple, says the Stoic philospher of freedom, Epictetus. Here is a portrait of a happy (free) person:

Show me someone who is sick and happy, in danger and happy, dying and happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. - Epictetus, Discourses 1.48.

That is the essence of Stoic freedom. If you can be happy when you are sick, when you are in danger, when you are dying, when you are in exile, when you are in disgrace, you are free.

The only freedom that cannot be taken away from you is the freedom that comes from yourself, the freedom that you give yourself. Any other freedom is at the mercy of others or is temporary or requires pricey compromises.

The result of Stoic practice is Stoic freedom. When we constantly work on what is under our control and ignore what is not under our control, we start gaining freedom that is fully under our control. But gaining such total freedom takes discipline and it takes time.

Our contributors this issue discuss the nature of Stoic freedom and how to achieve it. We start with a portait of a free person, based on the ideas expressed by Epictetus. Santara Gonzales then defines Stoic freedom and explains that freedom cannot be achieved by fulfilling our desires, but only by eliminating them. And no one can do it for us. We have to do it ourselves.

Andi Sciacca points out that we should not indulge in a reckless pursuit of our pleasures – rather, we should aim to live without succumbing to the pressures of compulsion, restraint, or violence. We should act, feel, and let go to achieve this end.

It is as simple (though maybe not easy) as rearranging our thinking, says Piotr Stankiewicz. Stoic freedom doesn’t need anything except a massive, radical recalibration of our thinking.

And then we have our imaginary griefs. Our brand new contributor, poet Olivia Hajioff makes her debut with two beautiful poems. The first one deals with imaginary grief and the second one with joys and sorrows that come uninvited.

Karen Duffy talks about longevity and how Stoic practice makes us indifferent to mortality and free from the fear of death.

Brandon Tumblin talks about Stoic detachment (not the same as not caring). When we stop caring about externals, we become detached from them. This leads to our freedom. Finally, we have article by Tanner Campbell on Stoic god and atheism.