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From Vol. 6, Issue 2, February 2024

Changing Our Perspective on Concern (and Care)

Stoic In Action || Tanner Campbell

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Every Stoic should be actively working to care

The Stoic Circles of Concern are well-known to near-all contemporary Stoics. Hierocles introduced this diagram of concentric rings as a sort of “oikeiotic” cheat sheet. The aim of any Stoic is to collapse each less proximal circle upon the previous circle until all the circles are collapsed into, or absorbed by, the central one (the Self). We care, appropriately but not equally, for everything. Only the sage can do this completely, but every Stoic should be actively working to care about family, friends, community, humanity, and the biosphere as appropriately as they can.
I think we can add to this, though. I think we can add an additional plane or dimension to the two-dimensional Circles of Concern. I believe, also, that if we do this, we can learn to concern ourselves with those outer rings for a reason separate from oikeiôsis.

Stoic circles of concern

Imagine an enterprising Stoic has created a line of quirky Stoicism-related products. He’s got Stoicism slinkies, Stoicism bedsheets, and, for our purposes, cloth Stoicism dinner napkins that are circular and which depict the Circles of Concern on them. Let’s further imagine that we unfold one of these round napkins and lie it flat on our dinning table. We’re now looking at Hierocles’ circles of concern right in front of us.

Imagine, now, that we pinch the very center of this fancy napkin, between our thumb and index finger, and gently pulled it up away from the table until the edges of the napkin were barely touching the table top.
Let’s hold it here for a moment and examine what has happened to our circles. The Self is now at the apex of this draped cloth and, as we work our way down what are now the sides of our napkin, we encounter the other rings; top to bottom.

The Stoic pyramid of concern

Our Circles of Concern now resemble a different geometric form. Not a circle, but a triangle. Or, more appropriately, a cone or conical pyramid. In fact, with just a little bit of creativity, we can sketch this new arrangement of our Circles of Concern and create what I’m calling the Pyramid of Concern.

Before I say anything about why this view is differently useful as an oikeiôsis-adjacent teaching tool, I want to say that this new view of our circles is not intended to show a hierarchy, nor is it meant to replace the Circles of Concern. Instead, what I think this Pyramid of Concern shows, more directly than the Circles of Concern do (because I don’t think the Circles of Concern show this at all) is the supportive importance of the outer rings (now foundational layers). 

I’m categorically not saying that this places Self at the top of anything in concerns to power or importance. I’m no more suggesting this than the Circles of Concern are trying to convince anyone that it’s all about them and everything (and everyone) else is somehow “less” in how much appropriate care it calls for.

Instead, I want to convey something new about these outer rings and how they directly support our ability to thrive as human beings and that this is another reason to care about and concern ourselves with them. 

Caring for things outside of us

The Circles of Concern encourage us to concern ourselves with things outside the self because our doing so (or not doing so) directly shapes our character and contributes to our moving toward (or away from) the attainment of a life lived excellently.

The Pyramid of Concern provides an additional reason to concern ourselves with things outside the self. By interpreting the outer circles as foundational layers, it becomes clear that another reason we must care about these external circles is for sake of our stability as thriving beings. Now we have two reasons to, for example, care appropriately about the Earth. The first is for the sake of our character. The second is for the sake of our survival and the survival of those other circles.

Acknowledgments: The final version of the Pyramid of Concern was developed by myself and Kai Whiting. We were helped by the earlier works of several others, such as GC (illustration), Leonidas Konstantakos, Chris Gill, and Greg Sadler.

Tanner Campbell hosts the Practical Stoicism Podcast and is the author of the upcoming book, What Is Stoicism? (New World Library, Fall 2024), which he co-authored with Kai Whiting. For more information, go to