One of the popular concepts in today’s culture is passion. It is all-too-common to hear voices in our culture argue that finding and securing passion is the end goal of a purposeful life.
The Stoics disagreed. Why? Because the end goal of Stoicism was a virtuous life—and “passion,” as understood in their time, was a threat. In fact, the Stoics listed fourpassions that every philosopher needed to avoid: Distress, Fear, Lust and Delight.
They believed that reason was the antidote to passion—whether it was taking its form in envy, timidity, excitement, obsession or pride. The Stoics strove to live “in agreement with nature.” Reason was nature’s best gift, so living by nature meant, first of all, living by reason.
Self-seeking, cowardice, grief, and all evil emotions can only enter the mind with reason’s permission. The trained Stoic is skilled at holding back.
What is promised in return is no less than freedom from passion—a word that carried in the classical world nuances of suffering and passivity. With enough practice, the passions can be exiled from the citadel of the self. No unhappiness can touch the well-intentioned man. Banish the passions, and you are proof against misfortune. Banish the passions, and you are independent of the world, the owner of an unshakable contentment.