A Manifesto for Modern Stoic Communities

This is a rough draft, for discussion, of some Stoic principles that might be used to help form the basis of an online Stoic community.

What if someone despises me?  Let them see to it.  But I will see to it that I won’t be found doing or saying anything contemptible.  What if someone hates me?  Let them see to that.  But I will see to it that I’m kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong.  Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.13

Zeno-Poster-British-MuseumHere are some principles derived from ancient Stoic literature, and adapted slightly to serve as a set of basic guidelines for the attitude and actions of those wishing to engage in online communities, in accord with Stoic wisdom and virtue.  Please help me to improve them by suggesting changes or additions in the comments below, and I’ll try to revise them accordingly.

These are intended to help contribute to the development of a healthy Stoic community and also to help Stoics deal with difficult encounters with others online, including responding appropriately to so-called “internet trolls” and “flaming”.

  1. I believe that virtue is the only true good and vice the only true evil, although it may also be natural and rational to prefer to get or avoid other things in life.
  2. I view others who believe that virtue is the only true good as if they were my brothers and sisters, and the wise and virtuous as my truest friends.
  3. I look to Nature and the actions of wise and good people (people who live according to Nature) for guidance as to how I should lead my own life.
  4. I treat the rest of humanity, the remainder who are neither wise nor good, with patience, and so I wish them to learn and to flourish, fate permitting, even though they do not share my most cherished beliefs and values.
  5. I seek to lead primarily by example, demonstrating virtue to others through my words and actions.
  6. I try to empathise with others by understanding the beliefs that guide their actions but I accept that I can never be certain what other people’s motives are, and therefore whether they are truly virtuous or vicious.
  7. I accept that all human beings, myself and the founders of the Stoa included, lack perfect wisdom and virtue, and therefore nobody is treated as an absolute authority.
  8. When others do wrong, I view that as due to their ignorance concerning what is truly good, bad, and indifferent in life, rather than voluntary malice.
  9. I forgive others for any foolish or vicious actions carried out in ignorance.
  10. I remember that nobody can truly harm me through their words or actions, as only my voluntary actions can be virtuous or vicious, and therefore truly helpful or harmful to me.
  11. I try to cultivate a sense of affinity with the rest of mankind, and a natural affection toward others, on the basis of our shared humanity and capacity for reason and virtue.
  12. I accept that the actions of others are ultimately beyond my direct control, and that whether they become virtuous or vicious, and whether they flourish or not, is never entirely up to me.
  13. I would prefer others to flourish and become wise and virtuous, and seek to help them do so, fate permitting, but if they do the opposite, I accept that with indifference, as lying beyond my direct control.
  14. I seek to cultivate the virtues of practical wisdom, justice or fairness, courage, and self-control in myself and others.
  15. I seek to live in harmony and accord with the rest of mankind, through my philosophy of life, and encourage others to live in harmony also, by setting an example to them of virtue.
  16. I view the things that the majority of people fight over with relative indifference, as lacking any value whatsoever in relation to virtue, including my physical health, material wealth, and reputation among others.
  17. While I prefer that other people should be friendly toward me, I do not need anyone to treat me as I would prefer, or demand that they should do so.
  18. I am at all time cautious to avoid acting foolishly or viciously toward anyone else, or allowing myself to feel excessive desire or aversion toward them, or indeed toward anything external to my own character.
  19. I view the wise and virtuous as if they were my closest friends, taking time to contemplate and admire their character and actions, and seeking to learn by emulating their example.
  20. However, I also look for the seeds or traces of wisdom and virtue in others, even in the character and actions of those who behave like enemies – I look for the good in other people, in other words, and seek to learn from it.

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20 thoughts on “A Manifesto for Modern Stoic Communities”

  1. I sense some redundancy in number 2 and 19; though I’m not certain the best way to condense the two.

    In number 4; is viewing the rest of humanity as children slightly out of line with the Hierocles’ Concentric Circles? I think I get your meaning—perhaps as teacher / student relationship— but I feel “children” could be misinterpreted as being lesser; whereas I interrupted the Stoic philanthropy and concentric circles to encourage us to think of all of humanity as equals and of our family.

  2. The earth and everything on it are as one, you hurt one, you hurt yourself and vice versus. Negative forces can be overcome by a collective intention to treat the earth and all on it with love and positivity. Greed is the breeder of negative forces, no-one is the owner of the earth and the universe.

  3. Dear Donald,

    you wrote:

    “I am at all time cautious to avoid acting foolishly or viciously toward anyone else..”

    Would you also include non-human beings in this statement? I ask because Stoicism seems to be very anthropocentric at times. Of course humans have the ability to become wise and virtuous which animals don’t have. But through science we know much more about the consciousness of animals and their ability to feel pain than the old Stoics 2000 years ago.

    Should a virtuous life include a feeling of compassion for animals? Should we also empathise with non-human beings? In my opinion we should. I am interested in Stoicism and I am also a convinced Vegan.

    Many thanks for your blog and your books.

    Stefan

    1. Good point

      We should definitely avoid acting foolishly or viciously against, not only other people but also towards other life forms, animals and even plants, indeed the earth itself. This is a point where classic Stoicism needs an update.
      I have some difficulty with the idea that the lower life forms exists for the sake of the higher and believe we should rather stress the mutual dependence of all lifeforms.

      John

  4. Each one of the line items is noble and true, and could be the seed of one of Marcus’ challenging paragraphs or one of Seneca’s stirring letters — but the issue has to be pressed to the point of resolving whatever barriers may prevent the reader from inhabiting that moral space. As stated, are the line items so concentrated that people will relate to them as high ideals, moral standards, and normative principles, rather than mind-opening and life-changing teachings? Didn’t the Stoic writers tend not to produce a Pythagorean or Mosaic set of principles, but rather something more dialectical, more Socratic?

  5. From the CBT side, there is a need for professional standards to govern the exchange of money; from the Stoicism side, doesn’t indeterminacy help us follow nature?

      1. Sorry if too cryptic. I meant simply that a series of statements of the form I believe x or I practice y create a normative standard. Such standards are apropos of professional organizations.

        1. That’s just as cryptic! 🙂 Sets of guidelines are meant to be normative, that’s the whole point. Stoicism is normative. What’s that got to do with “professional organizations”. though? Do you mean that they’re the only type that have normative guidance? That’s definitely not right, is it? Every school of philosophy, more or less, and every society, has normative principles. That’s what defines what it stands for. Stoicism is known as one of the most systematic and explicitly normative schools of ancient philosophy. We should live in accord with nature, reason, and virtue – that’s the essential doctrine. That’s followed by extensive commentary and definition.

  6. For moderators I feel that dealing with trolls requires something I learned in dealing with small children. You give them choices, explain the consequences, and then consistently carry out the consequences. Such as, if you choose to scream at your brother you are choosing to give up chocolate for the day. When they request the chocolate, you restate that they chose to scream at their brother, therefore they chose not to have chocolate. There’s no malice, just establishing their power of choice. It’s remarkably effective.

    Likewise with trolls, when they choose to be abusive towards others they are choosing for their comments to be deleted (if the policy is established and consistently applied). They should be allowed to make that choice. In Stoic terms, this is respecting the hegemonikon of others.

    1. Thanks FrugalStoic

      A very good point you made there about freedom of choice, A practical application of the principle that we are free to make choices but not free to escape the consequences of those choices!

  7. But, but, what about ….
    Are you trying to write out the logos?
    I am glad someone is trying to provide such a document, but where is the logical end? And then I look at how my family of origin treated me, and later vise-versa, and think there needs to be a better way of describing the desired relationship; compassion, understanding, resilient, just, kind, fair; not brutal, not training to be independent, not sociopathic; not economic.

    Good Luck, Be well. Breath, smile, and enjoy what like has to offer. Dao.

    1. No, not trying to write out the logos. Just doesn’t seem essential to this kind of guidance. For example, even Marcus Aurelius gives a list of ten Stoic strategies for coping with anger and doesn’t mention the logos, so this has a similar scope but a bit more general.

    2. Cheers Fredt

      I tend to agree with Donald that we can omit the Logos from the Manifesto. After all, the notion of the Logos, also called Universal Reason, is more like an attempt to understand the way the Universe works. This idea is also baked into the doctrine of acceptance of fate that is governed by the wisdom of the Logos. Love your fate and do not want the Universe to confirm to your wishes etc.
      Whether we believe that there really is such as an Universal Wisdom or not doesn’t really matter, that we happily adjust ourselves to the reality we live in, matters a lot.

  8. Yes Donald, we need something like this, here’s some suggestions:

    How about this:
    1. I believe that virtue is the only true good and vice the only bad, although it may also be natural and rational to prefer to get or avoid other things in life.

    Is point 3 really necessary? 2 is sufficient I think.

    ” I look to Nature and the actions of wise and good people (people who live according to Nature) for guidance as to how I should lead my own life”, something like this I at least, would have added.

    In general, I think the list could be shortened somewhat as some points seems to be overlapping and could be combined.

    Will come back with more later, this is a good start.

    John

    1. Yes, thanks, I might rephrase 1 like you suggest. 3 is really to capture something about the affinity between Stoicism and Platonism/Aristotelianism – that those philosophies differ but were perceived as closer by their followers than the Epicureans, for example. Maybe unnecessary, like you say, though. Yes, I’d like to shorten it, although I may try to incorporate your other suggestion as perhaps some more mention of nature would be good.

      1. After chewing more on your your manifesto, I came up with this as a suggestion for a new item 2, following up on the subject of virtue and grouping statements about Virtue at the beginning of the Manifesto:

        “I hold the Cardinal virtues to be Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Moderation (Self Control). These I will use to guide my own life and encourage others to do the same;realizing that the best way to teach others is by my own example, not by my words alone.”
        Something like this may replace item 5, 14 and 15. Item

        Following this, Item 2 and 19 could be combined to a statement about our relationship with the wise and virtuous but we must also realize the bonds that ties us to all human beings, both the virtueous and the vicious

        One thing I have found very helpful, and often contemplate, is humanity as society of Rational, Social and Mortal creatures and what follows from that.
        Such thoughts leads towards the primacy of reason, encourages fellowship and empathy with others and acceptance of our fate.

What do you think?