Stoicism: Its First and Greatest Principle

If you don’t master this, the rest of the philosophy won’t help you.

Steven Yates
6 min readJan 5, 2022

Photo by Amir Esrafili on Unsplash

Stoicism is all over Medium. There must be hundreds of articles on the philosophy on this site. With that quantity, I wondered if there was any more to be said on the subject, or if I was the one to say it.

The competition seems fierce, after all, and who am I? An author and philosopher, one of many who’s taken to Medium, it seems.

But I’ve noticed, many articles on the subject are long and involved. How many people are going to master ‘22 Stoic principles for ‘22’ without getting overwhelmed? (That’s not an actual title, I just made it up — but there are actual titles along those lines.)

After all, living Stoically is not as easy as it looks on paper.

Popular though the idea is, I don’t see it practiced very much.

Most people — including a lot of writers on Medium — are clearly not doing it.

They seem to believe they can change others’ opinions by insulting them. Yes, there are plenty of such writers, and some of them are basically writing the same two or three articles every day. Not about Stoicism, of course. Usually it’s politics (“God, did you see what Trump did yesterday???” “Look at all those Covidiot antivaxxers!!!”)

I wonder what these writers take for their blood pressure.

There are better ways of living, and better ways of getting ideas out on the table.

What I decided: write not about politics but philosophy that will lower your blood pressure if you use it right.

That philosophy is Stoicism.

And to write not about “22 principles” when one will do. At first, anyway.

What’s the Big Idea, the First and Greatest Principle, that stands at the heart of Stoicism? Which, if you don’t absorb it, the rest of the philosophy won’t matter because it won’t serve you.

Epictetus put it best, at the very beginning of his Enchiridion (Manual):

“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion

Steven Yates

I am the author of What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory. I write about philosophy (especially the Stoics), health and systems, and the future if we have one.