What Motivates a Stoic?

What makes a Stoic get up in the morning? Michel Daw, who blogs at Living the Stoic Life, explores what it is that motivates a Stoic.

On the Motivations of the Stoic

 As to the question of how a Stoic is motivated, there are several layers to consider.

The first, of course, is Virtue. We must remember that virtue is not something that one merely has, it is something that must be DONE. In order to have virtue, we must BE virtuous; we must be courageous in the face of challenges, we must be just in the distribution of goods and rights, we must be temperate in our dealings as well as our acquisitions, and most of all we must be wise in our choices of action.

Second, we need to remember that when the Stoics speak of ‘indifferents’, we mean things that, in their nature, have no MORAL value. Nevertheless, they have other kinds of value. Good food and clothing, shelter and safety, these things have great PHYSICAL value. Relationships, friends, art, music, these things have great EMOTIONAL value. Books, education, conversation, these things have a great INTELLECTUAL value. And while Virtue alone is in my control, these other things are to be pursued and managed by virtuous means.

Third, while I must remember that as a Stoic I am in control only of my own action, I am also part of a family, a community, a country. I am human, and being human means that all ideas of individuality are an illusion. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the very language we speak and that forms the framework of our thinking are inheritances of the culture and species and we are bound to support it return. As humans, we require basic needs to function. We can speak of being ‘rational’, but in reality, we require a functioning body to think clearly. To borrow from Maslow, we need to have our physical, safety, social and importance needs met before we can even consider attempting the so-called ‘self-actualization’ of the rational mind.

So what is it that motivates us? It is just this. Remembering all three things together is the key. We must not only care for our selves, but see to it that those who are in our care and our responsibility are provided with the same level of care. We must do so for all of us. That is what Hierocles meant by his illustration of the circles. We cannot speak of being Stoic, without being just, courageous, temperate and wise. And we cannot be those things if we stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are unable to even reach for the so called lofty rational heights we dream of for ourselves.

Now I realize that this is an unpopular view amongst those who see in Stoicism only the opportunity to justify cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity or worse, from their own emotional life.

Stoicism is about Joy, Serenity, Meaning and Purpose. It is about being a useful and important member of society. In short, it is is about being an excellent human being, and part of a race of beings that has the potential for greatness.

This post first appeared on Michel’s blog in July 2013 and is reproduced here with his kind  permission.

More about Michel: 
Michel Daw blogs at Living the Stoic Life and Words of the Ancient Wise. With his wife, Pamela Daw, he runs a Stoic community, which meets regularly, in Canada. 

3 thoughts on What Motivates a Stoic?

  1. Angela Gilmour says:

    Dear Michael – now I can relate to this Blog and wish could have summed up the Motivations of the Stoic as well as you have. For me it dovetails into the practice of my Christian Faith. I also belong to the lay community of St Benedict and each week we have an online chat about the Gospel readings for the coming sunday. This week featured the parable about the Pearl of Great Price and we all agreed that Friendship and Relationships were our greatest gifts but that you have to work hard to reap the benefits – I think this piece by Ben Sirach sums up the input and rewards so well
    “Pleasant speech multiplies friends,
    and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.
    Let those who are friendly with you be many,
    but let your advisers be one in a thousand.
    When you gain friends, gain them through testing,
    and do not trust them hastily.
    For there are friends who are such when it suits them,
    but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
    And there are friends who change into enemies,
    and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.
    And there are friends who sit at your table,
    but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
    When you are prosperous, they become your second self,
    and lord it over your servants;
    but if you are brought low, they turn against you,
    and hide themselves from you.
    Keep away from your enemies,
    and be on guard with your friends.
    Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
    whoever finds one has found a treasure.
    Faithful friends are beyond price;
    no amount can balance their worth.
    Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
    and those who fear the Lord will find them.
    Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
    for as they are, so are their neighbours also”

  2. This article is so helpful. It really takes on board the way you can be a Stoic in the world.
    I am particularly drawn to the extract ‘Now I realize that this is an unpopular view amongst those who see in Stoicism only the opportunity to justify cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity or worse, from their own emotional life.’ This is stoicism for real life in the community and the world at large, it has humanity at its heart.

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