The First Stoic Role Model

Philosophy as a way of life

irst Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Socrates is the essential role model for Stoics.

Despite living in chaotic Athens, serving in war, and facing unjust trials at the end of his life, he lived well. 

Socrates' story begins with a challenge from the Delphic oracle. Many in ancient times visited the Delphic Oracle, a priest of Apollo, to receive guidance. They received it in the form of rather cryptic sayings.

The Delphi oracle told him that he was the wisest of all men. This puzzled Socrates. In his confusion, he set out to find men wiser than himself. He finds out, through his inquiry, that those who loudly claim to possess wisdom, do not. Socrates is wise simply because he shows his ignorance and never pretends to knowledge. He knows his limits.

His life offers a positive model of how to live. It’s an exceptional one that has inspired countless people from countless backgrounds. The Stoic philosophers took his philosophy seriously – Stoicism is a Socratic philosophy – but more than that they took his life as a model.

For the Stoics, we’re ultimately rational and social creatures. These two aspects are present in Socrates' life: he pursued knowledge and cultivated deep relationships. By cultivating his mind while serving his friends, family, and city he fulfilled his purpose. 

That doesn’t mean that he provides a life we can copy and paste into our own circumstances. He lived in a specific time, and place, and possessed particular talents. But the fundamental ideas that his life communicates are universal.

That’s, in part, why the Socratic dialogues recorded by Plato and Xenophon are still read today.

🎯 Action

Reflect on how, if at all, Socrates may serve as a role model for you today.

🎧️ Learn more about the Socratic Method, our most popular Spotify podcast episode last year, here:

📚️ The best classic work to start with Socrates are his Apology and Xenophon’s Memorabilia. A fine modern introduction to the Socratic way of life is The Socratic Method: A Practitioner's Handbook by Ward Farnsworth.

💬 Nietzsche on Socrates: He possessed "a joyful kind of seriousness and that wisdom full of roguishness that constitutes the finest state of the human soul"

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