Was Socrates a stoic? (The Relationship Between Socrates and Stoicism)

Socrates predates the idea of stoicism as a school of philosophy and could not have been a defined stoic, as a result. But is this all there is to consider on the subject matter? No, a lot of Stoicism is Socratic—thereby causing complexity in understanding the relationship between both embodiments of philosophies, hence the reason for the apposition of the topic at hand. Let us see for ourselves what there is between both Socrates and Stoicism. 

The Emergence of Stoicism

Was Socrates a stoic?

Since Socrates’ death was some centuries before the emergence of Stoicism, it would be essential to focus our investigation of the reason for their identical paradigm on the more recent entity, stoicism— if we must know whether Socrates was a stoic. 

“I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck”, Zeno of Citium.

Zeno of Citium found Stoicism many years after the death of Socrates. According to him, he suffered a shipwreck, which changed the direction he planned on traveling, somewhere between Cyprus and the Greek mainland. 

Upon landing, he went to Athens and found a bookshop where he settled to read some philosophy books—the majority of which were about Socrates, Plato, and thinkers alike. It was a pretty fascinating idea for Zeno. His interest in the discipline grew and he showed it by asking the bookseller how one could get under the aegis of some thinkers to become a philosopher too. 

He was upon this quest introduced to cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes who happened to be walking across the shop at about the same moment. Zeno’s journey as a philosopher could be said to have begun here, although he might have gotten a glimpse of the idea first from the books his father, who was also a merchant, returned home with before this event.  

Zeno got engrossed in the art of philosophy, he met different philosophers—some in person or as contemporaries and others in books. He grappled with the existing concepts of the domain well until he became grounded enough to start a school of philosophy himself. 

Stoicism, by and large, started this way— with Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Epictetus being some of the earliest and most recognized practicing stoic philosophers at the time. 

The likes of Musonius Rufus taught some of the most rudimentary aspects of stoicism — teaching people to dress moderately, to respect their elder ones, and how to interact with people generally—you know that sort of thing. 

Stoicism evolved to be somewhat as complicated and benign as Socrates himself who is still not well understood today—you couldn’t easily tell Socrates’ truth from his not-so-true acts/words since he pushes you to draw conclusions— one reason most Socratic techniques are associated with unidentified intentions. 

And you see the Stoics inculcating a similar paradigm such that their emotions are well suppressed and ultimately difficult to read. Or through making the mind confuse the body of what would be more favorable to the stoic, a practice now broadened into ‘positive psychology’. There is no doubt, Stoicism works hand in hand with Socrates’ blueprints. 

The Relationship Between Socrates and Stoicism

Was Socrates a stoic?

Some scholars have written that Socrates is the godfather of Stoicism. This proposition cannot be far from the truth as most of the founding principles of stoicism are pretty much identical with those of Socrates’. The hero Socrates has a great influence on the standpoint of Stoicism. For further illustration, consider the following similarities: 

1. The Stoics so much believe in the concept of eudaimonia— now technically referred to as a state of well-being, to live with absolute happiness or qualities alike. The same concept originally meant listening to one’s “daimon” (a divine spirit in everyone), not to be mistaken for a “demon” which is evil. 

Eudaimonia helps us attain our ideal selves and it was first associated with Socrates before the emergence of Stoicism; Socrates listened to his daimon till the point of death. 

Some accounts have it that Xanthippe tried to get her husband a lawyer so that they could win Socrates’ case but the philosopher condemned the point because his daimon didn’t align with contrivance as an option. 

2. The Stoics strongly believe in focusing on what can be controlled and not worrying about external factors—which are usually beyond our control. This too is seen in Socrates’ life in several instances where he didn’t attempt to force people to see his value or believe him. 

There are accounts of him being described as ‘ugly’ because he didn’t care much about investing in the physical look—knowledge was way more important to him. 

Read Also: Was Socrates Ugly?  

He tried his best at his trial but gave in to the penalty of the offense he was convicted of, for he couldn’t help get himself out. 

3. Both people believe in fate. Going further on our previous point, both Socrates and all defined stoics acknowledge fate. “Because he follows reason and accepts his fate graciously, insofar as it is beyond his control”, Donald Robertson had written on the stoic sage attaining eudaimonia. 

Socrates allowed things to be as they were meant to be several times. Similarly, it is not uncommon to hear Stoics give such illustrations as that of a dog chained to a moving cart ahead of him. If the dog resists the movement of the cart, he would fall and be dragged around on his back or belly more uncomfortably than he could ever be going with the pace of the cart. 

By keeping to the cart’s pace, the dog can have some fun and a fine look at his environment, and learn to keep his equanimity. The message is that we cannot resist certain things thrown at us by life. 

4. “We suffer more in our imagination than in reality”, Seneca would be quoted as saying. But the actions behind these words were already executed by Socrates many years back. 

Towards the end of his life, Socrates’ loved ones suggested that he go into exile instead of being poisoned, he made them see how after all our fear of death might not be worth it—since we do not actually know what awaits us in the hereafter. To him, it might mean the end of our suffering—being a place of rest, peace, and freedom. 

Regarding the similarities both entities share, it is possible to say that Socrates was no less of a stoic thinker or that he thought stoically—if you want to avoid saying that he was a major luminary to the establishment of Stoicism. 

Given this, Socrates was not a stoic, at least not a defined one. Rather, Stoicism is Socratic. 

Disclaimer: The basis of this argument is the fact that the concept of ‘Stoicism’ hasn’t been introduced until many years after the exit of Socrates. 

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