What Is a “Natural Stoic”?

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You may have heard the term “natural Stoic” bumping around in the Stoic world. It is used to describe someone who is, of course, “naturally Stoic”. However, like many of the concepts in Stoicism, I feel that many people don’t actually refer to the philosophy of Stoicism when calling someone a “natural Stoic”. And even if we can all agree on the term, is it even one we should be using? Is it useful in any way?

What Are the Fundamentals of Stoicism?

To explain what a “natural Stoic” is, it is worth first going into what a Stoic is. The simplest way I can put Stoicism, while still accounting for its complexity, is something like this:

Stoicism is the belief that the only way to find happiness and success in life is by being a good person.

Of course, there are more academic ways of defining Stoicism, but this definition seems to sit well with most people as well as captures the fundamental nature of Stoicism. Stoics do the right thing and speak the truth. They act, not solely for themselves, but in a way that is good for the world around them. They work, are kind, mentor, uphold justice, and know themselves deeply so that they can best serve the world.

There is the argument that, despite these seemingly selfless actions, Stoicism has an element of selfishness in it. Meaning: the philosophy is aimed at providing eudaimonia to you, as an individual. Hence, some may argue that it could be viewed as being fundamentally selfish. My perspective on the matter is that the dichotomy between selfish and selfless is a false one. People quite often act in ways that are both selfish and selfless. For example, upholding justice is good for those who are experiencing injustice right now, but it also improves the chances that we will have justice in the future if we uphold it at this point in time.

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And that speaks to one of the often overlooked nature of Stoicism. Built into the Stoic formulae for eudaimonia is the variable of time. A Stoic act is not one that just accounts for the present moment, but also in a way that has lasting effects on the future. Stoics do not act so that things are good up until their death, but wish to preserve a good world for generations to come.

These explanations of Stoicism are useful philosophically, but what does it actually mean to be a good person? Stoics do have the four cardinal virtues as guidance — justice, wisdom, courage, and temperance. This helps guide our actions, but the truth is that life is incredibly nuanced, meaning figuring out how to balance these virtues is not always simple. As such, Stoics must think for themselves. There is no instruction manual for how to deal with every situation in life. Critical thinking is a necessity.

Finally, that brings us to the most abstract yet most defining explanation of Stoicism: to live according to nature. What this means is living in a harmonious way with who you are in a way that is aligned with shared human nature (i.e. psychology) and in a way that is aligned with science, objective reality, and truth.

What Are Not Stoic Fundamentals

As important as it is to state what Stoicism is, it’s equally important to state what it isn’t. I didn’t mention the dichotomy of control, for example. The reason I excluded the dichotomy of control is not that it isn’t a part of Stoicism but because it simply isn’t as fundamental as many seem to think. The dichotomy of control is used regularly by Stoics on a practical level, however, it only really makes sense when you are oriented towards virtue. Without this “north star”, the use of the dichotomy of control is not Stoicism. It is something like praying in Christianity — praying is a huge part of Christianity, but would you say that it defines the religion?

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I also didn’t mention the ability to manage emotions. In some ways, I don’t need to because it is built into the virtue of temperance and wisdom, but even so, the ability to better manage negative emotions is simply an outcome of Stoicism as opposed to a direct aim. Here’s a news flash: you can be cool, calm, and collected and not be a Stoic. You cannot, however, be a Stoic if you are not aiming at virtue.

What Are Natural Stoics?

With the above definition clarified, it should become clear what a natural Stoic is. It is not necessarily someone who is naturally good at being cool, calm, and collected. It is equally not necessarily someone who naturally only focuses on what they can control. A natural Stoic is someone who is naturally, through a combination of genetics and socialization, is aimed at being a good person and doing the right things through the Stoic frame defined above. Because Stoicism believes that everyone is inherently good, it could even be argued that everyone is a natural Stoic to some degree, but perhaps some more than others.

Genetics and Personality

The genetic component considers one’s personality type. Some people are more neurotic than others, or more empathic. Such emotions can influence your way of life. For example, someone who is more empathic may be more inclined to act for those around them. They may, in turn, be more likely to be aimed at virtue. These aren’t hardened rules by no stretch, but the basic point is that our personality influences to some degree the level at which we are naturally inclined to value Stoic virtues.

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Socialization

Stoic values can also be socialized to a large degree. If your parents preach the importance of courage, strength, justice, wisdom, and temperance, you would certainly be more inclined to be more naturally Stoic as you grow up. Socialization also comes from the surrounding society. Western philosophy is built upon Stoic principles, which is why Stoicism has found popularity in the West as of late. Many people find Stoicism and can easily transition to it because many of the principles have been socialized into them by Western society.

Are Natural Stoics Better?

The question of whether or not natural Stoics are better isn’t a great one in my opinion. We must remember that Stoicism is fundamentally the belief that being a good person is the road to happiness. Some of us have had this idea ingrained into us through genetics and/or socialization, but to me, it is in some sense irrelevant. Certainly, looking at this from a Stoic framework would make us consider that it does not particularly matter what you are born into but what you choose to become. It really doesn’t matter to me if you are a natural Stoic or a not-so-natural one; a Stoic is a Stoic.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to similar reflections on The Strong Stoic Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

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