The Controversial Side of Stoic Thinking

Exploring the often-debated ethical implications and societal impact of Stoicism as a philosophy of self-mastery and emotional control.
The Controversial Side of Stoic Thinking


Stoicism, a philosophy that emphasizes self-mastery and emotional control, has gained a lot of traction in modern times thanks to its practical approach to living. Derived from the Greek word “Stoa,” meaning porch or portico, Stoicism was originally conceived as a way of life that anyone could adopt. A core belief of this school of thought is that people can’t always control external events around them, but they can control how they respond to them internally. While many people find Stoic thinking to be very helpful, it’s not without controversies.

One of the main criticisms of Stoicism is that it’s viewed as overly individualistic, with emphasis placed on the individual’s control over their own emotional state and personal virtues. Additionally, some people accuse Stoicism of promoting apathy and a disregard for the emotions and experiences of others. Despite these criticisms, Stoicism’s influence can still be seen in modern society, particularly in self-help literature, psychological counseling, and therapy.

In this article, we’ll explore the controversial side of Stoic thinking, examining its ethics, societal impact, and lifestyle values, and offer our own personal reflections and opinions on the potential positive and negative impacts of Stoicism on individuals and society as a whole.

Stoicism and Ethics

Stoicism places a high emphasis on ethical behavior and the pursuit of virtue. According to Stoic philosophy, an individuals’ actions should be guided by their reason and a commitment to living a life of moral and intellectual excellence. Virtue, therefore, becomes the ultimate goal of human life, and the path to achieving it involves rigorous self-examination and self-improvement.

However, Stoic ethics have also faced criticism in contemporary times. One of the most significant criticisms of Stoic ethics is the possible promotion of apathy and a lack of empathy. Critics argue that by prioritizing self-control and detachment, Stoicism encourages individuals to distance themselves from their emotions, thereby making it difficult for them to form meaningful relationships and fully engage with the world around them.

Another critique of Stoic ethics is that it can sometimes be unresponsive to social injustice. Stoics prioritize personal responsibility over collective action, and while this may enable individuals to achieve greater self-mastery, it can also lead to neglect of their social responsibilities. Critics argue that Stoicism’s focus on individual self-improvement can come at the expense of social progress.

Stoic ethics also emphasize the rejection of external influences, such as wealth, fame, and social status. While this emphasis on inner values is one of the core tenets of Stoic thinking, it has been criticized for being overly individualistic and neglectful of social justice issues. Critics argue that Stoicism’s insistence on self-sufficiency can contribute to the perpetuation of social inequality by ignoring the fact that certain individuals may face significant barriers to achieving their full potential.

In conclusion, while Stoicism’s emphasis on ethical behavior and the pursuit of virtue is laudable, its approach to ethics has faced criticisms for neglecting social justice issues, promoting apathy and lack of empathy, and being overly individualistic. It is up to each individual to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of Stoic ethics and decide whether it aligns with their values and beliefs.

Stoicism and Society

Stoicism’s emphasis on individual self-improvement rather than collective action has led to controversy about its potential impact on society. Some critics argue that the Stoic philosophy promotes a self-centered approach to life that neglects social responsibilities. Moreover, Stoicism’s rejection of external influences can be seen as a justification for social inequality and systemic injustice.

On the other hand, proponents of Stoic thinking argue that it can have a positive impact on society by promoting values such as personal responsibility, self-discipline, and moral integrity. In fact, Stoicism has played a significant role in many historical movements for social justice, including the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.

Furthermore, Stoic thinking has the potential to inspire ethical leadership and political reform. The Stoic concept of wisdom, which involves an objective understanding of oneself and the world, can help leaders make rational decisions and prioritize the common good over self-interest. For instance, several world leaders, including Marcus Aurelius and Nelson Mandela, were known to be heavily influenced by Stoic philosophy.

However, one of the criticisms of Stoic thinking is its tendency to promote passive acceptance of the status quo. Stoics argue that it is futile to try to change external circumstances and that one should focus on controlling one’s own thoughts and emotions. While this approach can be helpful for personal growth, it can also lead individuals to disengage from social and political issues.

In summary, the impact of Stoic thinking on society is complex and multifaceted. While it can promote personal growth, ethical leadership, and social justice, it can also be criticized for neglecting social responsibility and promoting passivity. Ultimately, the value of Stoicism lies in how its principles are applied in different contexts and by different individuals.

The Stoic Lifestyle

Stoic philosophy emphasizes the importance of leading a virtuous life by staying true to one’s principles and accepting the things that are beyond one’s control. The Stoic lifestyle involves several practices and habits that promote emotional control, self-reflection, and resilience. Some of these practices include:


One of the fundamental practices of Stoicism is self-reflection. The Stoics believed that one should reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and actions regularly. By examining oneself, a Stoic can become more aware of their virtues and vices and strive towards self-improvement continuously. The practice of self-reflection is often done through journaling, where Stoics write down their thoughts and feelings.


Meditation is another practice that the Stoics valued. They believed that by meditating, one can better control their thoughts and emotions. The goal was not to suppress emotions but to manage them effectively. Through meditation, a Stoic can observe their thoughts and feelings without letting them consume their mind.

Living in the moment:

Stoics believed that one should focus on living in the present moment. By doing so, they can appreciate the joys of life and learn to accept the hardships that come with it. Stoics discouraged dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about the future since it could lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress.

However, the Stoic lifestyle has been a subject of controversy. Some critics argue that Stoicism’s emphasis on self-control and self-improvement can be overly individualistic and neglectful of social responsibilities. Others criticize the practice of emotional control, claiming that it could promote emotional suppression or even apathy.


In conclusion, Stoicism has gained substantial popularity in recent years due to its emphasis on self-mastery and emotional control. However, the philosophy is not without controversy. The Stoic emphasis on individual self-improvement over collective action has led to criticism that it is overly individualistic and neglectful of social responsibilities.

Stoicism’s promotion of virtue and rejection of external influences have also been criticized for potentially promoting apathy and a lack of empathy. There is controversy surrounding Stoicism’s potential impact on social hierarchies and political systems as well.

Despite these controversies, the Stoic lifestyle and practices, such as self-reflection, journaling, and meditation, have proven to be effective in promoting mental well-being and emotional regulation. However, the potential negative impacts of an excessively individualistic focus and neglect of social responsibilities must be taken into account.

In my opinion, Stoicism can be a useful tool for personal growth and development, but it should be balanced with a recognition of the significance of social responsibilities and collective action. As with any philosophy, it is essential to critically evaluate the potential positive and negative impacts on individuals and society as a whole.