Stoicism And Free Will

3 January 2024

Understanding Stoic Philosophy

Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, emphasizes the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. Central to Stoic philosophy is the concept of living in harmony with nature and accepting the things we cannot change. This framework forms the backdrop for Stoic beliefs about free will and determinism.

Stoicism and Free Will

Stoicism acknowledges the existence of an external, predetermined order to the universe but also emphasizes the internal locus of control. Stoics believe that while external events and circumstances may be beyond our control, we have the freedom to choose our responses and attitudes towards them. This perspective on free will aligns with the Stoic principle of focusing on what is within our sphere of control, rather than being fixated on external factors.

From Apollonius I learned freedom of will and undeviating steadiness of purpose; and to look to nothing else, not even for a moment, except to reason; and to be always the same, in sharp pains, on the occasion of the loss of a child, and in long illness; and to see clearly in a living example that the same man can be both most resolute and yielding, and not peevish in giving his instruction; and to have had before my eyes a man who clearly considered his experience and his skill in expounding philosophical principles as the smallest of his merits; and from him I learned how to receive from friends what are esteemed favours, without being either humbled by them or letting them pass unnoticed.

  • Marcus Aurelius

The Dichotomy of Control

Epictetus, a prominent Stoic philosopher, famously expounded on the concept of the 'dichotomy of control,' distinguishing between things within our control and those outside of it. This framework encourages individuals to direct their attention and efforts towards their inner thoughts, beliefs, and actions, rather than being consumed by external events. By recognizing the limitations of personal agency in certain matters, Stoicism promotes a pragmatic and empowering approach to navigating life's challenges.

Stoicism and Determinism

While Stoicism asserts the existence of a universal order, it does not advocate for fatalistic resignation. Instead, Stoic teachings emphasize the active cultivation of virtues, such as wisdom, courage, and justice, as a means of fulfilling one's potential within the framework of determinism. This nuanced stance on determinism underscores the Stoic emphasis on personal responsibility and ethical living, offering a compelling perspective on the relationship between fate and individual freedom.

Applying Stoic Principles

The integration of Stoic principles with the concept of free will provides a practical toolkit for navigating the complexities of human existence. By embracing the Stoic emphasis on ethical decision-making and the exercise of virtuous character, individuals can cultivate a sense of agency and purpose in their lives, even in the face of external uncertainties. This fusion of Stoic wisdom with the autonomy of personal choice offers valuable insights for contemporary philosophical inquiry and self-improvement.

In Conclusion

The intersection of Stoicism and free will invites contemplation on the nature of human agency, the boundaries of determinism, and the ethical dimensions of individual choice. By delving into the rich tapestry of Stoic philosophy, individuals can explore profound perspectives on the interplay between fate and autonomy, and glean practical wisdom for navigating the complexities of the human experience.

Written by


Max Thiell

Max writes is a online stoicism content writer. He is passionate about making stoicism accessible for everyone.