Citizen of the World

Let us take hold of the fact that there are two communities — the one, which is great and truly common, embracing gods and humans, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our citizenship by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.


The ancient Stoics were the first known Western philosophy to advocate cosmopolitanism, the idea that we are citizens of the world. They insisted that rational beings are bonded through our similar needs and goals and, therefore, we should live for the well being of all. Stoicism is meant to expand our affection for one another until there is no one who is "other." Epictetus states in Discourses 2.10 that a Stoic will, "hold nothing as profitable to himself and deliberate about nothing as if he were detached from the community, but act as the hand or foot would do, if they had reason and understood the constitution of nature, for they would never put themselves in motion nor desire anything, otherwise than with reference to the whole." The Stoic perspective is a communal and universal one. Many of our exercises, e.g. The View From Above, serve to bake that all encompassing worldview into our mind. It is, therefore, the duty of every Stoic to reject the constant othering that society perpetuates and instead accept all people as they are.

When we consider ourselves "right," we consider ourselves better. At least, that's what online conversations about opposing political parties, religious views, and the like seem to suggest. Did you know that everyone else is an idiot at best, evil at worst? Twitter and Facebook sure do. We live in a world that comes together through exclusion. Stoics are not meant to think that way. We should not believe ourselves better, we should believe ourselves blessed.

Actually, I'd prefer to call myself fortunate, but blessed made for decent alliteration. I am fortunate to be practicing a philosophy that brings such contentment. Not everyone has the same foundation to stand on. Marcus Aurelius told himself to, "begin each day by telling yourself: Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness - all of this due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good and what is evil." Stoics believe wrong action comes from ignorance of a better way.  Ignorance is unfortunate, and sometimes tragic, but it's not worth disparaging those who are ignorant. In fact, Epictetus considered forbearance of others intimately linked to Stoicism's central tenets.

Let me state once again the basic rule of our philosophy: the greatest harm a person can suffer is the loss of his most valuable possession, his Reason. The harm he creates for himself is not transferred to others. Therefore, there is no reason for others to become angry because a person commits a crime against himself.
Discourses 1.18.1-10

I address this because there is a tendency among armchair philosophers to build up their "wisdom" by disparaging others. Practicing Stoics should be outside of that conversation. Aurelius said, "People exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then, or bear with them." Bear with them. It isn't even a high calling. We're not being asked to hold a Free Hugs sign. We're being asked to live as Stoics.

The ideals of Stoicism are perfectly suited for the world in which we're living. They've just been sadly under utilized since 300 B.C.E. Stoic cosmopolitanism demands more than lip service. Stoics engage with the world. Our philosophy was born in the public square, and it's meant to stay there. That engagement has to stem from virtue. We're not meant to be protesters waving signs in people's faces telling them they're wrong. We're meant to be building something true and lasting; adding to the well being of our local and global community. Find contentment in wisdom itself, not in the tangential belief that Stoicism means you're on the right side. Bear this life as a Stoic.