Existentialism and Stoicism are two philosophies that offer different ways of understanding the world. They both have different ideas about how people should deal with life. Existentialism encourages people to embrace their freedom and find meaning in life, while Stoicism teaches people to accept what is happening and not let emotions get in the way. Let’s explore how these concepts can help us deal with life challenges.
What is Existentialism?
Existentialism is an approach that emphasizes the individual’s status as a free and autonomous actor who determines their development through acts of will.” [Source]. Existentialism is a response to the disconnect that people feel in the world. It is a way of thinking about life that encourages people to find their way and create meaning.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophical school attributed to Zeno of Citium in Athens. “It holds classical Greek values and is focused on following reason with humility over emotion” [Source]. As a classical philosophy, Stoicism is against modern values and believes it is best to live in silence. This is why its founders were known to lock themselves in private rooms.
In terms of dealing with evils, Stoicism notes that people must not be worried about things they cannot control since they cannot change anything. Stoicism encourages people to accept the harsh reality of the cold world. It agrees with other philosophies that some problems cannot be solved; hence, individuals should look out for themselves. Also, according to these philosophies, people should not be worried about whether their desires were met because those desires might not even exist in their world.
How does Existentialism compare to Stoicism?
Stoicism is much older than existentialism, which is far more recent and became a popular cultural movement in the 1940s and 1950s. Stoicism can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. “The Stoics believed that tranquillity could be achievable through Stoicism and urged people to participate in their world” [Source]. Existentialists argue that existence is subjective and “your experience is uniquely different from anyone else’s.” They also note that there is no universal truth and are interested in exploring the meaning of life.
Stoics argued that knowledge comes from perception, and “They likened philosophy to a living, growing thing that was ever-changing.” Stoicism wants people to desist from thinking about things they cannot change, but existentialism notes that people are free to make individual choices that can make their life better. Existentialism is more pessimistic, and Stoicism limits people’s ability to deal with our world’s evils.
A distinction between Stoicism and existentialism is presented in the following statement: “Stoics believed that no matter what you are dealt in life, you must be mentally prepared to face it like all things, negative or positive, are a part of human existence. However, the Existentialists believed that everything that we are or create for ourselves is a choice to change it at any moment by ourselves” [Source]. Stoicism states that meaningful life practices the four virtues, which include prudence (wisdom to know right), fortitude (courage to do the right thing), temperance (moderation and self-control in action), and justice (caring and fairness with others) [Source].
Existentialism only states that one is free to make a meaningful life and take personal responsibility.
Aims of Existentialism in Education
Existentialism notes that “every individual is unique and education must cater to the individual differences” [Source]. Existentialists focus on education unraveling a person’s abilities and using them against a cold and cruel world. Instead of education being a one size fits all concept, it ought to consider how diverse learners are and ensure that every learner’s differences are recognized. This is effective learning because educators will be able to rectify the weaknesses of their learners.
Existentialism wants education to develop an individual into a complete man by emphasizing their freedom in coming up with the meaning of life.
Alternatives to Existentialism
An alternative to existentialism can be absurdism, whereby people accept that the world is absurd. After this acceptance, they can live while rebelling against this absurdism. Nihilism can also be another option since it is similar to existentialism in refuting any universal meaning or purpose in life [Source]. Stoicism is an alternative because it looks for meaning in life, just like the goal of existentialists.
Advantages of Existentialism
A common advantage of existentialism is that it focuses on people being free and making their own choices. According to existentialists, the world is meaningless, emphasizing free will. Free will enables individuals to define their meaning and purpose in this world. Existentialism frees people from being attached to any prescribed meaning and allows them to achieve their purpose.
This also means that there is no universal meaning or purpose which unites people, but each person has their perspective. Educators are encouraged to instill the spirit of free will in learners to find meaning in life. Existentialism helps create the personality of people and be influenced by the state of the world.
Disadvantages of Existentialism
The disadvantages of Existentialism are that it is described as pessimistic. In comparison with other philosophers, existentialists seem to concentrate more on negativity. This clouds their judgment when appreciating the positive side of humanity and our world. Existentialism is very subjective because the solution to a meaningless life lies within an individual’s choices in life. Also, it demands intellectual people who can assess the nature of the world and come up with ways to counter meaningless life. Existentialism has a weakness in terms of moral relativity and the aspect of quietism. Quietism relates “to what an individual cannot actualize: therefore, another individual should do it” [Source].
Advantages of Stoicism
Advantages of Stoicism are that it gives out clear cut virtues which a person must follow to live a meaningful life, such as prudence (wisdom to know right), fortitude (courage to do the right thing), temperance (moderation and self-control in action), and justice (caring and fairness with other) [Source]. Also, it enables people to look for meaning in life to have a purpose in living. Stoicism upholds classical values that focus on integrity, chivalry, and being morally upright to become a celebrated individual. Daily Stoic gives 7 benefits of adopting a stoic practice. They include caring less about what people think, avoiding wasting time, focusing on things one can control, avoiding distraction, dealing with being anxious, becoming more grateful, and pursuing less things that one can achieve [Source].
Disadvantages of Stoicism
The disadvantage of Stoicism is that it has a prescribed solution to have a meaningful life by following the virtues above. It fails to account for how people react differently to these virtues and might get a different result. Also, Stoicism rejects modern values, so it does not embrace changes since it is stuck in the classical era. Stoic limits people by forcing them to only focus on things they can control while ignoring other happenings. Stoicism gives people an illusion of control [Source].
Are Stoicism and Christianity Compatible?
In its classical roots, Stoicism can be compatible with Christianity because it does not reject the idea of God. But others argue that Stoicism puts the individual at the forefront of dealing with life, thus undermining the power of a deity. The shared view is that Stoicism and Christianity are compatible, but it is not easy to bump into each other [Source].