For a long time I was a big fan of Stoic philosophy. I liked the idea that we had free reign over ourselves, and that we could choose how to react to even terrible events. More, I liked the idea that we should ground our happiness on the strength and success of our will. It seemed to do what I was promised philosophy would do: disconnect our happiness and well-being from the unpredictable hardships of the world. I still like (although I’m growing more and more skeptical about) Socrates’ claim that no harm can come to a good man.
But If I’m going to reject utilitarianism and deontology for inadequately modelling human psychology, it seems I have to reject Stoicism too. Stoicism is predicated on an idea of the mind as composed of reason and passions, where cold reason can exercise control over the unruly passions. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is correct anymore. I follow Nietzsche now in conceiving of ‘reason’ as just another passion, or more accurately a combination of passions. I follow Kierkegaard in believing that you cannot mold yourself into being the person you want to be by main force.
I still think Stoic philosophy is useful. Momentary emotional impulses are and should be under your control. To a large extent (here I carve out a tentative exception for mental health issues) it is your decision how you react to terrible events, and a sufficient effort of will can go a long way towards avoiding suffering. But I no longer believe Stoicism is a suitable principle for everyday life. Grief is an appropriate response, at times, just as joy is. Biology isn’t destiny, except when it is.