Why Do Stoics Care?

Stoicism is all about caring!

You might have heard the word stoic as it describes someone who doesn't care--or at least someone who doesn't show any emotion. But that word does not accurately describe the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism (which is always capitalized!). Ancient Stoicism was a philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC and which described how to live a good and happy life.

 

The key to contentment, the ancient Stoics thought, is caring about the right things. They advocated focusing on your inner character rather than worrying about money, social status, or your reputation. When you learn to not care about the things that don't matter, you have a lot more mental energy to care about the things that do matter: being a good person and helping other people.

Stoics care deeply about the people and the natural world around us. Two of our key defining features as humans are our rational intelligence and our sociability. Because rationality and sociability are embedded in human nature, we need to make good use of these characteristics to take care of our families, our communities, our societies, and the wider world. Stoics believe our humanity lies in our intelligent ability to be wise, courageous, fair, kind, and generous.

 

So we could say that the key idea behind Stoicism is choosing the right things to care about!  

Image by Nathan Anderson
The 4 Stoic Virtues

 

Wisdom

Justice

Courage

Self-control

The Virtue of Justice

If you want to be happy, the ancient Stoics said, you should develop the four virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control.

  • Wisdom will help you use good judgment and choose the right things to care about.

  • Justice will help you act with patience, generosity, and fairness toward others.

  • Courage and self-control will help you do the right thing, even when it's difficult.

 

​Of these four virtues, justice deals most directly with our care for other people. As defined by Stoic scholar Christopher Gill, justice means "knowing how to act and feel well in our relationships with other people, at individual, family, or communal level, and knowing how to act generously and with positive benevolence, with friendship and affection." Here are some of the positive characteristics that Stoics think we should develop through justice:

  • Patience

  • Fairness

  • Benevolence

  • Generosity

  • Affection

  • Friendship

Community and the Common Good

By caring for other people, whether they live with us or on the other side of the world, we are contributing to the common good for everyone. When the community benefits, we each benefit as individuals, because we are part of the community! So by taking care of others, we are actually taking care of ourselves, too. This means we take care of

  • Ourselves

  • Our family members

  • Our friends and acquaintances

  • Our neighbors and community members

  • People who share our nationality, ethnicity, or culture

  • Everyone in the world

Marcus Aurelius, who was both Roman emperor (from 161-180 AD) and a Stoic philosopher, compares the common good of humanity to a tree. Each person is like a branch on the tree: each individual branch depends for its survival on the tree as a whole. So if we want to flourish as individuals, we must make sure the whole tree is flourishing.

Marcus also compares us to parts of a body, which must work together in order for the whole body to function. He says, 

"We have come into being to work together, like feet, hands, eyelids, or the teeth in our upper and lower jaws. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature." (Meditations, 2.1)

 

Just as one individual body part doesn't function well in isolation, neither does one individual person. We are made to live together, cooperate, and all contribute to the common good.

Learn More

How Do Stoics Care?

Caring Wisely

The 4 Cs of Stoicare

Toolkits for Carers

Resources

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