Does Stoicism suggest pessimism?

On of the common practice of Stoicism is premeditatio malorum which basically means expecting the bad things that can happen in any event. For the stoics, its a way of preparing for the worst. As a result, a lot of people question whether this practice is a form of pessimism. 

A pessimistic person cannot help but think of a negative series of events on a particular situation. For a simple health issue for instance,  a pessimistic person will think that it will probably result to a  life-threatening illness. Sounds similar with premeditatio malorum, right? But not quite. A pessimistic person reacts negatively to negative thoughts while a stoic is neutral and welcomes the worst event that can happen.

In a related practice stoics reflects mortality in whats being called as memento mori. Its basically building a relationship with death so that death is not viewed as some tragic event but a natural one that is part of life. It’s about welcoming death. A pessimistic person has a lot of anxieties about the idea of death from a simple health issue while a stoic have already death priced in. Because the stoic has already built a relationship with death he will be more relaxed and is no longer afraid whatever the consequence will be.

Take for example, the movie Gladiator. Before Maximum went to war he made a short speech to his men.

If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled; for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! [The soldiers laugh] Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity. At my signal, unleash hell.”o

This is very stoic way of going war.  When you already assumed you are already dead before going to war, what else you need to fear? It’s a better way of motivating men rather that the conventional “Its okay, everything will alright” as often than not , a lot of things don’t go your way. 

It’s just better when you look at the worst dead in the eye and comes to terms with it rather than cloud your mind with consoling thoughts only to see everything will crash like a falling brick

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

FREE weekly practical tips, reflections and key takeaways from the works of the stoics

Leave a Reply