Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A Critique of Stoicism
Stoicism has excellent psychological advice, albeit with imperfections.
Posted February 10, 2023 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- According to Stoicism, an individual can achieve a state of peace and contentment by focusing on what they can control with acceptance.
- The principles of Stoicism can help people avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety.
- Stoicism recommends feeling neither negatively nor positively about things one cannot control, which may be unrealistic.
Stoicism is a school of philosophy that originated in ancient Greece. Founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens, it has been practiced for over 2,000 years. In spite of its ancient beginnings, Stoicism continues to be relevant and useful for individuals seeking a fulfilling and meaningful life today. It integrates ideas from both philosophy and psychology.
Stoicism's core principles
The core principles of Stoicism include the belief that we do not control external events but we do control our reactions to them. According to Stoicism, we can achieve a state of peace and contentment by focusing on what we can control with acceptance. This includes our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Stoicism can be a powerful tool for individuals seeking to improve their mental health and well-being. By accepting what is outside of your control and focusing on what you can control, you can avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety. You can also cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment.
Stoicism also offers a perspective on life that can be valuable for many individuals seeking more fulfillment and meaning.
6 problems with Stoicism
As the creation of imperfect humans, Stoicism isn't perfect. Here are some problems that I see with Stoicism:
- Stoicism fails to identify the philosophical root of all emotional disturbance: escalating preferences into demands, musts, and shoulds. An example: "It would be great if I could control my partner, therefore I absolutely must be able to when he or she criticizes me."
- Stoicism emphasizes the dichotomy of control: those things we control and those things we do not control. It seems to ignore those things on the continuum of what we can influence but not control, e.g., world peace.
- Stoicism unrealistically recommends feeling neither negatively nor positively about those things we don’t control. I don’t control the weather but it makes sense, given my preferences, to feel good about a sunny day and sad about an ice storm.
- Stoicism holds that moral virtue is necessary and sufficient for happiness. Moral virtue does not cure depression.
- Stoicism ignores the major influence of genetic predispositions on outlook.
- Stoicism omits the importance of the work, practice, and self-discipline most people require to approximate a stoic view of themselves, others, and the conditions of their lives.
If you're interested in exploring Stoicism further, consider reading the works of Marcus Aurelius and some of the many modern Stoic writers and thinkers.
I'm a psychologist, not a philosopher. I welcome your feedback, especially from a philosophical perspective. Thank you for your thoughts.