Stoic glossary - Understanding the terms used in Stoicism

Stoicism, as an ancient philosophy, can be hard to follow. The complications of language, the complete contrast in time and ideologies can make it difficult to relate to. So, in this lecture, we will lay out the key terms separated into three significant stoic teachings. Virtue, action and control. 

The teaching of virtue is significant in understanding stoicism. According to the stoics, the practise of virtue is essential in achieving the highest good, the highest form of flourishing and the only way for the individual to live a meaningful and ethical life. 

  1. Agathon, is translated to simply mean ‘good’. According to stoic ethics, good is found in virtuous choices. Living with virtue ensures that the individual is fulfilling their purpose of living the best possible life. 

  2. Cardinal virtues. The four virtues must be followed by a practising stoic to reach eudaimonia. The virtues to focus on are courage, temperance, justice and wisdom. Courage is defined through bravery, not always necessarily in the practical sense but also the fearlessness it takes to face difficult situations head on. Temperance means moderation, avoiding excess. Justice is simply during what's right regardless of the circumstance. And wisdom, the core, is the advocation of truth and understanding, knowing that knowledge is something to always strive towards.

  3. Aretê, like Agathon, is a way of explaining excellence. It’s central to Greek ethics, from the early poets, to Plato, Aristotle and of course the Stoics. Someone who lives by this trait, is someone who makes sublime choices in their daily lives. Meaning that ‘arete’ is our aim towards moral progress, arete is learning to accept and be grateful for our present movement. We should express the best version of ourselves at every moment.

  4. Living according to nature. Many of the essential tenets of stoicism root from the idea that we as humans must learn to live in agreement with nature. In this sense it refers to consciously accepting the organisation and system of the universe as it stands. Trust it as a well ordered system. We should therefore live in harmony with this system. Live in harmony with our own human nature and duty. The stoics saw this practise as the ultimate goal, the way to strive towards a virtuous life. 

  5. Adiaphora or the indifferents. The stoics categorised the three onejects of human pursuit into three categories. Good, bad and indifferent. The indifferents in this class occupy a neutral territory that doesn’t necessarily lead us towards virtue (good) or vice. 

  6. Sophos is simply a wise person or ‘sage’. In the stoic sense it’s defined by a virtuous person who lives wholeheartedly according to nature. 

  7. Finally, vice. This is the opposite of virtue. The stoics named four distinct types, foolishness, injustice, cowardice and intemperance. Vice is the failure to consistently act as a rational being, unwilling to fulfil our purpose. 

Action, next, is essential to the stoics in practically fulfilling our perspectives as good people. 

  1. The first is the discipline of action. Core to the principles of stoicism. Our actions are directly concerned with our humankind, and are often associated with the ethical side of stoicism. It dictates that individuals should work towards something larger than ourselves, act and live to treat others with respect. 

  2. Kosmos. A term used to discuss the universe. Physics acts as the basis of all ethics and logic in stoic thought. All matter within this universe has the principle of action. Stoic thought is founded in the dignity of the human soul. The intrinsic responsibility we inhabit to be good in the grand scheme of the system of the universe. It is our responsibility to make the right choices. 

  3. Impulse, by stoic definition, is the last mental process before action occurs. Comparatively, it doesn’t hold the same negative connotations as the typical definition. Impulse instead is seen as something that has the power to produce action, action that has the ability to improve our life. 

Lastly, are the thoughts on control. 

  1. The DOC. “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Epictetus explains. This quote summarises the nature of control in the stoic context. Epictetus argued that if you truly make this a practice in your life you can expect to feel liberated and free, you will not have any hatred or resentment in your heart, every single thing you do will be chosen by you and you only, nobody will have the power to hurt you. These benefits can only be exploited if you approach the Dichotomy of Control with the right intention. 

  2. And finally aversion. Aversion, the stoics argued, is the practise of turning your back to a vice that you have once desired. When you learn to regain control of the vice you free yourself, defining who truly is in control. 

Hopefully these terms and essential teachings lay the foundation for a fruitful way into learning about stoicism. An introduction, essential in improving your life.

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