This shows that the Stoic recommendation of suicide is not directed to those who are conquered by life but to those who have conquered life, are able both to live and to die, and can choose freely between them. Suicide as an escape, dictated by fear, contradicts the Stoic courage to be. The Stoic courage is, in the ontological as well as the moral sense, “courage to be.” It is based on the control of reason in man. But reason is not in either the old or the new Stoic what it is in contemporary terminology. Reason, in the Stoic sense, is not the power of “reasoning,” i.e. of arguing on the basis of experience and with the tools of ordinary or mathematical logic. Reason for the Stoics is the Logos, the meaningful structure of reality as a whole and of the human mind in particular. “If there is,” says Seneca, “no other attribute which belongs to man as man except reason, then reason will be his one good, worth all the rest put together.” This means that reason is man’s true or essential nature, in comparison with which everything else is accidental. The courage to be is the courage to affirm one’s own reasonable nature over against what is accidental in us.
It is obvious that reason in this sense points to the person in his center and includes all mental functions. Reasoning as a limited cognitive function, detached from the personal center, never could create courage. One cannot remove anxiety by arguing it away. This is not a recent psychoanalytical discovery; the Stoics, when glorifying reason, knew it as well. They knew that anxiety can be overcome only through the power of universal reason which prevails in the wise man over desires and fears. Stoic courage presupposes the surrender of the personal center to the Logos of being; it is participation in the divine power of reason, transcending the realm of passions and anxieties. The courage to be is the courage to affirm our own rational nature, in spite of everything in us that conflicts with its union with the rational nature of being-itself. What conflicts with the courage of wisdom is desires and fears. The Stoics developed a profound doctrine of anxiety which also reminds us of recent analyses. They discovered that the object of fear is fear itself. “Nothing,” says Seneca, “is terrible in things except fear itself.” And Epictetus says, “For it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of death and hardship.” Our anxiety puts frightening masks over all men and things. If we strip them of these masks their own countenance appears and the fear they produce disappears. This is true even of death. Since every day a little of our life is taken from us—since we are dying every day—the final hour when we cease to exist does not of itself bring death; it merely completes the death process.