This will be the first post in a series on stoic philosophy. The vast majority of Stoic discussion on the internet and in philosophy textbooks has been focused on the religious aspects of Stoicism: man's relationship to the universe, the wishes of the gods, the relationship between public and private duties, and so on. It's certainly rewarding to study these things, but to me the biggest advantage of Stoicism is its incredible practicality: putting aside the metaphysical framework, Stoic philosophy gives useful advice for the real world.
Prisoners of war - I'm too lazy to look them up, so trust me on this - have turned to Stoic precepts to help them get through the horrors of internment. In fact, Stoicism is designed to answer a very common question: how ought we to react to misfortune?
So far I haven't actually said anything about what Stoicism is - bear with me a little further. The Stoicism I'm interested in is drawn from people like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, and heavily grounded in certain maxims of Socrates. Every Greek philosopher tried to enlist Socrates in their cause, propping up his venerable corpse at the forefront of each new idea, and Epictetus was no exception. He argued that Socrates was an ideal Stoic. In this series I'll lay out a kind of non-supernatural Stoicism, centred on ideas like these:
Socrates' paradoxical claim that, a priori, no harm can come to a good man.
Epictetus' argument that the defining human trait is the use of impressions.
Marcus Aurelius' argument that we ought only to concern ourselves with what is in our power.
And finally, here's a skeleton definition of Stoicism: the philosophy that counsels us to receive life's troubles with total equanimity; for example, to react to the death of a loved one and the birth of one's child in the same way. I'll flesh this out in posts to come.