Stoicism and Confucianism

Presence in ancient philosophy

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

Let's visit another philosophy today.

Confucianism asks us to be on at every moment.

Confucius once explained:

‘Sacrifice as if present’ means ‘Sacrifice to the spirits as if the spirits were in one’s presence’; but the Master said: ‘If I myself do not take part in a sacrifice, it is as if no sacrifice is made.’

Analects, 3.12

This thought has much in common with the ancient Greco-Roman philosophies, particularly Stoicism.

Confucians were known for taking ritual seriously. It was essential that every step be performed as it should be – at the right time and in the right way. For them, the little things were the big things. Not just the external things, but the internal ones. If one doesn’t pay attention during the ritual, it is as if the ritual didn’t happen at all.

You can see the same thing in the Stoics. Even in the smallest acts, one can practice one’s Stoicism.

If you apply yourself to living only that which you are living–in other words, the present–then you can live the rest of your life until your death in peace, benevolence, and serenity.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.3

This way of life is demanding. It sets a high standard. Yet it is also truly inclusive. A good life is available for anyone. Each and every person can cultivate themselves, whatever their station in life. They can create and perform the rituals they are called to – and do all this with their attention.

🎯 Action

Just be 1% more on, attentive, and present today.

🎧️ Listen to my conversation with Rob LaFluer on Confucianism here.

🤔 I think there’s an important and underexplored connection between Stoic Role ethics and Confucianism.

🧘 Speaking of attention, I’ll be hosting a free workshop on Stoic Mindfulness next week. Join here.

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.