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Stoics and Moral Philosophy

8 Principles of Stoic Philosophy and Their Serenity Prayer-Like Advice

Below are 8 of the main ideas held by the Stoic philosophers.
  1. Nature - Nature is rational.
  2. Law of Reason - The universe is governed by the law of reason. Man can't actually escape its inexorable force, but he can, uniquely, follow the law deliberately.
  3. Virtue - A life led according to rational nature is virtuous.
  4. Wisdom - Wisdom is the the root virtue. From it spring the cardinal virtues: insight, bravery, self-control, and justice.

    "Briefly, their notion of morality is stern, involving a life in accordance with nature and controlled by virtue. It is an ascetic system, teaching perfect indifference ( APATHEA ) to everything external, for nothing external could be either good or evil. Hence to the Stoics both pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health, were supposed to be equally unimportant."

    ([URL = < http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/s/stoicism.htm >])
    IEP Stoicism
    ([URL = < http://www.iusb.edu/~mwashbur/p100/stoicism.html >])
  5. Apathea - Since passion is irrational, life should be waged as a battle against it. Intense feeling should be avoided.
  6. Pleasure - Pleasure is not good. (Nor is it bad. It is only acceptable if it doesn't interfere with our quest for virtue.)
  7. Evil - Poverty, illness, and death are not evil.
  8. Duty - Virtue should be sought, not for the sake of pleasure, but for duty.
IEP Stoicism and ([URL = <http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/Lab/5178/stoicism.html#Ethics>]) Introduction to Stoicism article from Internet Encyclopedia.

Serenity Prayer and Stoic Philosophy

The Serenity Prayer could have come straight from the principles of Stoicism as this side-by-side comparison of the the Serenity Prayer and the Stoic Agenda shows:

Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Stoic Agenda
"To avoid unhappiness, frustration,
and disappointment, we, therefore, need
to do two things: control those
things that are within our power
(namely our beliefs, judgments, desires,
and attitudes) and be indifferent
or apathetic to those things which
are not in our power (namely, things
external to us)."
([URL = <www.evansville.edu/~ecoleweb/contrib.html>])

William R Connolly
Update: December 2007: It was pointed out to me that the main difference between the two passages is that the modern version includes a bit about knowing the difference between the two. While that may be, the Stoic version states those which are within our power -- the personal things like our own beliefs, our judgments, and our desires. Those are the things we should have the power to change.

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Stoics and Moral Philosophy
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