Is the popular, modern conception of stoicism equivalent to the actual philosophy espoused in books like Epictetus' The Discourses? How are they different, and what might we misunderstand without historical context?

For example, do the ideas circulated in Reddit's https://www.reddit.com/r/Stoicism/ forum lead to an accurate understanding of stoicism as the chroniclers of the stoic school intended it?

Thank you.

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    IEP has an article on Stoicism, which explicitly makes comparisons to contemporary Stoicism, Wikipedia even has a separate article on modern Stoicism. But the point of contemporary Stoicism is not historical exegesis of what ancient Stoics intended, but rather adapting their doctrines to modern times, including additions and revisions, and sometimes only taking them for inspiration.
    – Conifold
    Sep 7, 2017 at 19:51
  • You might find contrasting Stoics against the Cynics to be interesting. Sep 8, 2017 at 21:03
  • @RonRoyston Thanks for the recommendation. I don't know much about the Cynics, and only four stoics: Epictetuts, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, and Aurelius. Which do you recommend contrasting with which? Sep 8, 2017 at 22:16

1 Answer 1


This is a source of fantastic frustration for me. Some modern Stoics are materialists, yet materialism is a point-blank rejection of the Unity of the Universe, which is a central plank of Stoic doctrine. Modern Stoicism seems to be fad for anti-religious folk who nevertheless want some meaning in their life. It makes no sense whatsoever in the hands of 'Stoics' like Massimo Pigliucci and becomes a muddle of poor thinking. Not at all what its founders intended.

The doctrine is being betrayed by people who don't understand it but want to bend it to their purpose. To understand it I would suggest studying Buddhist ethics and ontology and then comparing it to that of Stoicism. It can be seen that the latter is just a less well-explained and less well-informed version of the former. Both declare the Unity of the Universe, and both declare, 'only those who know they are not free know they are free'. This can hardly be a coincidence and it shows that Stoicism was well thought-out by its founders.

I have great sympathy for Stoics trying to make sense of the bowdlerised modern form often promoted. It's a lost cause. It does not make sense.

  • +1 Because this is reasoned nicely and offers advice I can recognize as good in a generic sense. But I know very little of the subject content. It would be very nice to have just a few links in your answer, @PeterJ, to anything you might regard as a thoughtful online treatment or essay, etc. Sep 9, 2017 at 1:07
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    @David C Norris I'm afraid I have no good recommendations. I've made the best one I can think of, which is to study Buddhism prior to Stoicism. It is better informed and allows one to place Stoicism on a firm metaphysical foundation, which in itself it lacks. The main difference would be that the the former relies on experience and the latter on speculation. Stoicism has been hijacked so best to go back to the original texts. I like Marcus Aurelius albeit he is not as well informed as any authentic Buddhist sage,
    – user20253
    Sep 9, 2017 at 11:57
  • Since you mention Eastern philosophy, one may also include Schopenhauer in suggested readings. I note that in The World as Will and Representation, Vol 1 §16 he contrasts the Stoics with other ethical systems including the Vedas. Sep 9, 2017 at 12:15
  • Hi. What do you mean by Unity of the Universe, and why do you think it's important? Sep 10, 2017 at 4:24
  • @Ram Togbolski - It means that by reduction there are not two things. This is a rejection of dualism and monism. A unity would be the transcendence of all division and distinction - not unlike Kant's 'thing-in-itself' but a much more sophisticated version. It would be important because an Axiom of Unity is the only way to solve metaphysical problems. Either the Universe is a Unity or metaphysics is incomprehensible. This would explain why Western thought finds metaphysics incomprehensible while explanations are quite common in the perennial tradition. .
    – user20253
    Sep 10, 2017 at 11:22

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