The Stoics and their relation to death

3 min read


Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of living a life of virtue, integrity, and reason, and accepting whatever happens with calm acceptance. Stoics believe that it is not events themselves that cause us happiness or sorrow, but rather our judgments about those events. According to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, "It is not things that disturb people, but their judgements about things."

With this in mind, it is not wrong for a Stoic to feel sad when a relative dies. It is a natural and human response to loss. However, a Stoic might try to reframe their thoughts about the situation, reminding themselves that death is a natural part of life and that their relative is now at peace. One could also try to realize that although one cannot overcome death, one can escape the fear of it. A Stoic might also try to focus on the positive memories they have of their relative and the impact that person had on their life.

It is important to remember that Stoicism is not about suppressing or denying one's emotions, but rather about finding a balance and maintaining one's equanimity in the face of life's challenges. There are very many references to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in this regard. Although stoicism as a whole has been used as a therapy, it is more preventive than CBT, and in this respect it could be a promising form of emotional resilience training. However, the question remains unanswered as to whether there are better behavioral responses than resilience when people are faced with emotional challenges.

One might even ask why resilience has become so popular these days, where the distinction from apathy lies, and to what extent this is all just a coping strategy - not for individual challenges, as it has usually been sold, but referring to socio-economic-cultural problems in general. Accordingly, stoicism or CBT would be much more than acting on individual well-being, namely the attempt to transfer the problems imposed on us from the outside to the individual altogether, which blends in perfectly with neoliberal ideology.

The meme itself alludes to a surviving anecdote from ancient Greece: when Xenophon, a student of Socrates, was told that his son had been killed in battle, he is said to have calmly replied, "I knew he was mortal." Five hundred years later, Rome's most famous philosopher, Epictetus, advised his Stoic students to say to themselves, "I knew that I was mortal." He taught them that death itself is neither good nor bad; it is merely something that happens to us, not something we do. Fear of death does more harm than death itself.

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