5 Biggest Misconceptions People Have About Stoicism

Max Ignatius Atlas
3 min readNov 17, 2021

It’s funny how human consciousness works — and especially the unconscious — but also tragic. Almost all of our conflicts are based on so-called “misunderstandings”. “Misunderstandings” already tells us what it’s actually about: one person doesn’t understand another and vice versa. A problem that Stoics are also regularly faced with.

Anyone who has recently studied Stoicism will soon find that he/she had many misconceptions about Stoics. This is not surprising, since Stoicism is not part of the curriculum in schools and one comes across the term “stoic calm” in everyday language, which describes people who are not disturbed by anything and who are “indifferent” even in the face of adverse circumstances. So there is plenty of room for numerous misconceptions about Stoics.

1. Misconception: Stoics suppress any emotion.

The Stoics have always viewed emotions (emotions such as anger, hatred, and joy) as a threat to the peace of mind. Only he who overcomes his emotions through correct (reasonable) judgment becomes virtuous.

The modern Stoic doesn’t see emotions as a disease that has to be fought, but rather as symptoms that should be observed and, if necessary, contained so that an illness doesn’t break out. So it’s not about a general suppression or hiding of emotions. On the contrary: Stoics encourage us to perceive our own feelings and to reflect on their causes and occasions. When they appear, one should be vigilant and carefully observe where longings and desires come from. Only if you can perceive and classify them at an early stage can they avoid influencing your rational observation. A Stoic may well have a rich emotional life, but should not allow himself to be overwhelmed or manipulated by emotions. What matters is not what we feel, but how we respond to our sensations.

2. Misconception: Stoics don’t care what others think.

Stoicism commands one to behave virtuously without relying too much on the opinions and reactions of others. According to the Stoic attitude of self-sufficiency, one shouldn’t join the opinion of others too quickly or meet their expectations.

Stoic is not indifferent to other opinions. He is quite capable of empathy and takes all possible opinions into account in his situation analysis. However, he will not allow himself to be captured. Stoic maintains his independence — above all against a dominant “ruling opinion”, which hastily pushes dissenting opinions aside, or against a “mainstream” that one is only too happy to join voluntarily. In essence, it’s about ensuring that your own personal integrity is not available, is unconditionally protected, and is not negotiable.

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3. Misconception: Stoics are not politically active.

It’s difficult to imagine Stoics as political activists when their actions should be focused on what they themselves have under control — and politics certainly doesn’t belong to that. It’s just as difficult to imagine Stoics as socially engaged when their own peace of mind is their ultimate goal.

Stoics always had both feet on the ground; they were never aloof philosophical thinkers. The most important politicians and rulers who saw themselves as Stoics include, for example, the Roman senator Cato the Younger, who lived in the 1st century BC. He held important offices in the Roman Republic, as well as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD. It would therefore be a misunderstanding to think that Stoic ethics recommend the equanimity of acceptance of all political conditions and events. Right from the start, the Stoics were concerned with building the best possible society for them. Stoicism has a clear moral mandate for this. The ultimate goal is a virtue and moral integrity. In this respect, Stoicism has always been a philosophy of social engagement. Because it’s not virtuous to stand idly by injustice or immoral behavior. Hence there is only an apparent contradiction between focusing on one’s own thoughts and the social dimension of Stoicism. For politically active Stoics like Cato or Marcus Aurelius, the teachings of the Stoicism were never an end in themselves, but a guide to action and a guideline for their socio-political commitment.

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