FAQ: Ascesis – doesn’t that mean depriving myself of something?

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No. While ascesis can indeed involve self-deprivation, and every Stoic makes some ascetic use of self-deprivation, the definition of ascesis doesn’t inherently include deprivation of any kind.
This article is an installement in
Sophia’s Stoicism FAQ.
One term of importance in Stoicism that is subject to much misunderstanding is “ascesis”. This term is most recognizable in it’s adjective form – “ascetic” – and over the centuries, it has gained connotations of being all about self-deprivation.

However, despite the connotation that the term has acquired, self-deprivation isn’t inherently part of what defines ascesis. As a matter of fact, no kind of deprivation is. Rather, ascesis is, simply put, the set of exercises that someone uses to ingrain their philosophy into who they are. Through ascesis, philosophy goes from being just a bunch of theoretical knowledge to being an inherent part of how the practitioner thinks and behaves.

Of course, Stoics have always made some use of self-deprivation in the process of ascesis. It has long been taught that temporarily subjecting yourself to discomfort can toughen you up to it, as well as make you more appreciative of your comfort at other times. So yes – pretty much any serious Soic will have some self-deprivationin their ascetic regimen. However, a serious Stoic will also need to employ other exercises which, though challenging at times, don’t actually involve self-deprivation.

But to answer the question – no – while ascsis can indeed make use of deprivation, deprivation is in no way part of the definition of what ascesis is.

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