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I am a materialist, and I heard that stoic philosophers can be described (to some extent) as materialists. I am a big fan of stoic logic and ethical philosophy (and attitude towards death, emotions, virtue...etc) and I can relate to this philosophy and tradition.

Thing is, I am hesitant as to whether I can call myself a stoic or not. So, what I am asking is what is the essence of stoicism and what are its additional attributes?

That is, what makes you a stoic (the pillars of stoicism if you will), and what is an attribute (a mere happy coincidence for some stoic philosophers to share).

The most I am interested in here is physics, metaphysics and epistemology : I have read about some stoic philosphers who say that there is a soul (pneuma), and I personally do not believe that a soul exists as a separate entity that can live on after death. Of course, some stoics (if not all) believed that this pneuma is itself only finely material (very fine matter), which saves some degree of materialism.

But I do not know whether these mind, epistemological and metaphysical theories are essential to be a stoic, or whether I should concern myself with them at all?

And I like the word stoicism, which makes me more careful to not use a beautiful word and sound ignorant.

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    The core of Stoicism has been ethics, at least since the Roman times. Their epistemology is broadly naturalist/empiricist, so you are already a Stoic. As for metaphysics, ancient Stoics had a peculiar mix of God with materialism (World Soul made of material pneuma), but it plays very little role in modern Stoicism, if any. I suppose some sort of pantheism or panpsychism would be modern descendants of it. – Conifold Jun 12 at 1:30
  • @Conifold Thank you so much for your reply, so : one can say that it is more likely that a philosophical tradition (unlike a specific philosophy that studies a very narrow subject) is able to tolerate some level of diversity that does not challenge its core ideas and concepts. Thanks for the link. – SmootQ Jun 12 at 7:45
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    As Conifold notes Stoicism has no systematic metaphysical theory, so you can be Stoic and a Materialist. This is its appeal to many people. It claims the Unity of All but rejects the philosophy that accompanies this claim so is fundamentally philosophically flawed, leaving its teachings metaphysically ungrounded, but its ethics are appealing to many people and roughly follow along the lines of the Perennial tradition. It's as close as a Materialist can get to the Perennial view without having to change their core belief. – PeterJ Jun 12 at 12:38
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    I think it is true of any philosophical school of thought that lasts and attracts multiple prominent thinkers. For example, two founders of pragmatism, Peirce and James, disagreed on a cardinal metaphysical question: the former was a realist, the latter not. Two major phenomenologists, Heidegger and Husserl, disagreed over objectivity of ideas, etc. – Conifold Jun 12 at 17:35
  • @PeterJ, I agree ... I see similarities between stoicism and buddhism in particular, and I am myself a big fan of buddhism to some extent, you can say that I am like 60 to 80 percent okay with taoism, buddhism, the hindu advaita vedanta and the ideas in the upanishads...etc . For instance, although I do not believe in an immaterial soul, I believe that more likely, my consciousness will be generated again in another brain on another planet if existence is infinite i.e : since I am then I am possible, which implies tha if there's infinity the the possible will repeat for infinity. – SmootQ Jun 12 at 18:17
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Stoicism is primarily a virtue ethics grounded on logic and physics. As Massimo Pigliucci describes this:

A fundamental aspect of Stoic philosophy is the twofold idea that ethics is central to the effort, and that the study of ethics is to be supported by two other fields of inquiry, what the Stoics called “logic” and “physics.” Together, these form the three topoi of Stoicism.

The logic and physics allow reason to aid us in living virtuously. However, these early views underdetermine the Stoic virtue ethics:

On balance, it seems fair to say that the ancient Stoics did believe in a (physical) god that they equated with the rational principle organizing the cosmos, and which was distributed throughout the universe in a way that can be construed as pantheistic. While it is the case that they maintained that an understanding of the cosmos informs the understanding of ethics, construed as the study of how to live one’s life, it can also be reasonably argued that Stoic metaphysics underdetermined—on the Stoics’ own conception—their ethics, thus leaving room for a “God or Atoms” position that may have developed as a concession to the criticisms of the Epicureans, who were atomists.

According to Pugliucci contemporary Stocism as presented by Lawrence Becker is modified in three ways which may make it more compatible with modern materialism:

There are three important differences between his New Stoicism and the ancient variety: (i) Becker defends an interpretation of the inherent primacy of virtue in terms of maximization of one’s agency, and builds an argument to show that this is, indeed, the preferred goal of agents that are relevantly constituted like a normal human being; (ii) he interprets the Stoic dictum, “follow nature” as “follow the facts” (that is., abide by whatever picture of the universe our best science allows), consistently with Stoic sources attesting to their respect for what we would today call scientific inquiry, as well as with an updated Stoic approach to epistemology; and (iii) Becker does away with the ancient Stoic teleonomic view of the cosmos, precisely because it is no longer supported by our best scientific understanding of things.

When one claims one is a Stoic today, one way to test whether that is accurate is to what extent one agrees or not with Lawrence Becker's presentation of it in A New Stoicism.


Massimo Pigliucci. Stoicism. Retrieved on June 12, 2019 from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at https://www.iep.utm.edu/stoicism/

  • Thank you so much for your answer Frank, I will check out and read A New Stoicism to update my knowledge and decide whether I really agree with the modern stoic philosophy as all my resources are from ancient philosophy Best – SmootQ Jun 12 at 18:10
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    @SmootQ Becker's book may indeed be the only academic modern attempt to update Stoicism. However as far as I know it is a difficult book and is little read and little mentioned, among modern Stoics. I would recommend Massimo Pigliucci's numerous blog posts on Stoicism, and also the facebook groups that discuss Stoicism. – Ram Tobolski Jun 13 at 18:13
  • @RamTobolski Thank you for the reference, I will check both resources, Massimo Pigliucci is well known and prominent stoic. Best ! – SmootQ Jun 14 at 10:43
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    @SmootQ You're welcome. Here is another recommended book, recent and authoritative amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B07DPPCYK9/… – Ram Tobolski Jun 14 at 12:00
  • @RamTobolski Thanks again, I'll check it out. Best ^^ ! – SmootQ Jun 17 at 9:05

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