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Abstract

Much has been written as of late on the characteristic and influential philosophical school of thought called Stoicism which was originally founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the second century BCE and further fleshed out and promulgated by Cleanthes and then subsequently by his student Chrysippus, collectively referred to in modern classical studies as the Old Stoa. This work intends to try and provide a succinct overview of the philosophical tenets which were characteristic of the school in the early period as well as identify some unique contributions of the later Stoa which are represented by the Roman/Latin intellectual and politically elite such as Seneca, Cicero and the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Sciknow Publications Ltd. JSPR 2014, 2(4):56-68
Journal of Social Philosophy Research DOI: 10.12966/jspr.11.01.2014
©Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)
Stoic Philosophy: Its Origins and Influence
Juan Valdez*
Peter J Worth Jr 389 East 8 9th St-Apt 29GNew York, N.Y. 10128
*Corresponding author (Email: juanvaldez1971@gmail.com)
Abstract - Much has been written as of late on the characteristic and influential philosophical school of thought called Stoicism
which was originally founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the second century BCE and further fleshed out and promulgated
by Cleanthes and then subsequently by his student Chrysippus, collectively referred to in modern classical studies as the Old Stoa.
This work intends to try and provide a succinct overview of the philosophical tenets which were characteristic of the school in the
early period as well as identify some unique contributions of the later Stoa which are represented by the Roman/Latin intellectual
and politically elite such as Seneca, Cicero and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The paper also reviews some of the earlier
Hellenic philosophical traditions from which it Stoicism drew some of its primary tenets and evolved in conjunction with, as well
as in the Summary provide an overview of some of the lasting contributions Stoicism has made to the development of the
philosophical and theological tradition in the West. Although none of the complete writings and treatises written by the Old Stoa
are extant, much of their philosophical tenets are covered by later authors and philosophers whose work is and this article draws
on some of these what you might call pseudo-primary sources (in particular Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius) as well as various
secondary, more contemporary sources who draw not only on these sources but also extensively from Stoicorum Veterum
Fragmenta which is an invaluable collection of fragments and quotations of the early Stoa composed in the early part of the 20th
century and from which much of what we know about specific tenets of at least early Stoic philosophy come from.
Keywords - Hellenic Philosophy, Stoicism, Stoic psychology, Stoic cosmology, Stoic physics, Stoic logic, Stoic epistemology,
Plato, Aristotle, Academic Skepticism, Peripatetic Philosophy, Middle Platonism
1. Psychology and Epistemology in
Plato and Aristotle
Consistent across all of the Hellenistic philosophic schools
was the importance of the Soul, the distinction of the human
soul as having the capability to reason and comprehend the
physical world in a way that was unique to man and
distinguished mankind from the rest of the living organisms
on Earth, particularly the animal and plant kingdoms that
were considered to be forms of life but lacking this unique
characteristic.
This intellectual capability came to be known in early
Christian literature as logos, a term that has found its way into
the modern English Biblical lexicon as “the Word” but whose
etymology stems from the ancient cosmological notion of
order, in the sense of order out of chaos which was viewed as
one of the primordial steps in the universal creative process in
virtually all of the cosmological mythological traditions in
antiquity from the Greeks, the Egyptians, to the Babylonians
and Indians.
As the philosophical and scientific disciplines were honed
and practiced by the Greeks, this notion of order came to be
understood not only as one of the defining attributes of man as
well as the Creator, but also as an active principle that
governed the universe in its created state as well as the bridge
between the individual Soul and the World Soul.
The Stoic philosophical tradition in particular played an
important role in honing and elaborating on these basic
principles and ideas, and in many respects bridging the
intellectual gap between the Socratic philosophical schools
represented by Plato and Aristotle and the early Christian
theologians such as Philo Judaeus, Clement and Origen
through and out of the concept of logos which sat at the heart
of all of these distinct and yet related theo-philosophical
systems.
The first systematic treatment of these theological and
metaphysical principles can be found in the dialogues of Plato,
particularly in the Timaeus, but his work clearly drew not only
from the ancient cosmological and mythological traditions of
the Egyptians and Sumer-Babylonians which pre-dated
Hellenic philosophy, but also clearly from the pre-Socratic
philosophical traditions represented by Heraclitus,
Parmenides, and Pythagoras as well as from the mythological
traditions of Homer and Hesiod, even if it was to discount or
discredit these schools of thought. It is certainly safe to say
that the idea of man being created in the image of God, from
which the logos as a theological and philosophical construct
effectively comes to represent, goes much further back in
antiquity than Plato, even if it is in Plato’s dialogues that we
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 57
find the first real systemic treatment of this connection.
At the time that Plato started his philosophical endeavors,
the Greek society and culture at large was imbued with a
variety of mystery cults traditions such as the Orphism and the
Cult of Dionysus which were both close cousins to the
mystery cult traditions presided over by Egyptian priests with
whom both Pythagoras and Plato are both to have believed to
have studied with. Furthermore, Greek society at the time
was heavily influenced by a lively mythic and poetic tradition
(hymnos) as represented by the prevalence and popularity of
the works of Homer, Hesiod and Orpheus which were
shrouded in a world of mystery and tales of heroes from deep
antiquity, journeys to the underworld (Hades), and epic
battles of the gods from which the race of man ultimately
descended. Plato was influenced by all of these sociological
and theological forces and even if he didn’t reject them
outright (at least not in his published works), he attempted to
place these ancient belief systems into a much richer
intellectual framework from which philosophy, what we
today call science, was from then on pursued as its own
discipline.
Plato’s intention then, no doubt inspired by his teacher
Socrates who was sentenced to death for “impiety”, or
questioning the reality of the old gods and traditions which
were such an important part of the Greek culture and society,
was not necessarily to reject the old traditions outright, but
certainly to question them and place them within a more
rational and coherent intellectual framework, a framework
which still reflected an underlying belief and faith in the gods
and mythology of pre-historic man, but attempted to
distinguish between faith and knowledge (science), and
provide more rational underpinnings for morality as a whole
and even systems of government to which we still owe him a
great debt.
Plato’s unique contribution to theological development in
antiquity then can be viewed as placing the rational faculty of
man as the primarily tool through which any knowledge of the
gods, or reality itself even, should be drawn. His reach
extended well beyond the theological domain however,
extending into topics such as what could actually be known,
psychological questions, systems of ethics and virtue,
political philosophy, and most importantly the goal of life
itself. Many of his lasting contributions to the philosophic,
and later scientific, development in the West are not
necessarily the conclusions that he drew or solutions he put
forth, but the tools and institutions which he established for
their pursuit.
At the heart of Plato’s philosophy was the belief in the
ontological primacy of the rational faculty of man, Reason,
along with the tools of the trade which reflected and were to
be leveraged by this faculty - namely dialectic, logic and
mathematics - as the means by which the fundamental truths
of these ancient mystic traditions could be known or brought
to light. He was the first to establish the connection between
cosmology, physics and ethics to a degree that had not be
done before, a characteristic that became one of the primary
characteristics of Hellenic and Roman philosophy and was
even followed in the scholastic tradition up until the end of the
Middle Ages.
Plato also established a good deal of the semantic
framework, in Greek, through which these esoteric, complex
and interrelated topics could be discussed and explored, a
development whose importance cannot be overstated. For
before Plato the language of philosophy was shrouded in myth,
analogy, and metaphor, and after Plato all of the Greek
philosophic schools and practitioners now at east had a
working vocabulary through which philosophic ideas and
concepts could be further explored and elucidated upon, even
if the various schools disagreed with each other on a variety of
issues.
One, if not the, central tenet of Plato’s philosophy is the
fundamental reality and ontological primacy of what came to
be known as Forms or Ideas, eidôs in Greek which can be
translated as “essence”, “type” or even “species” depending
on the context, a theory which is discussed at length in
Phaedo and also in the Republic. Forms not only provided the
epistemological foundations of his philosophy but also
underpinned his physics and also in turn provided the
intellectual foundation of his ethics which was based upon the
pursuit of happiness (eudaimonia) which was equated with
virtue which was closely tied to the Form of Forms, or the
“Good”.
Epistemologically speaking, the teaching at the Academy
for several centuries after Plato, following the precedent of
Socrates, taught that there were significant intellectual limits
upon that which could be truly known given that knowledge
itself was predicated on the a priori existence of Forms or
Ideas without which any understanding or comprehension of
the physical world of matter comprehended by the senses is
impossible. This is the primary characteristic of the so called
“Skeptics” which Zeno and Epicurus in particular took
objection to in their own way.
Aristotle however, was openly critical of Plato’s theory of
Forms and he argues for its incoherence specifically in a
passage in Metaphysics, out of which emerge his influential
and lasting philosophical doctrines of hylomorphism and
causality, hallmarks of Western philosophy well into the
Middle Ages.
The fact, however, is just the reverse, and the theory is
illogical; for whereas the Platonists derive multiplicity
from matter although their Form generates only
once, it is obvious that only one table can be made
from one piece of timber, and yet he who imposes the
form upon it, although he is but one, can make many
tables. Such too is the relation of male to female: the
female is impregnated in one coition, but one male can
impregnate many females. And these relations are
analogues of the principles referred to.
This, then, is Plato's verdict upon the question which
we are investigating. From this account it is clear that
he only employed two causes: that of the essence, and
58 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
the material cause; for the Forms are the cause of the
essence in everything else, and the One is the cause of
it in the Forms. He also tells us what the material
substrate is of which the Forms are predicated in the
case of sensible things, and the One in that of the
Formsthat it is this the duality, the "Great and
Small." Further, he assigned to these two elements
respectively the causation of good and of evil; a
problem which, as we have said, had also been
considered by some of the earlier philosophers, e.g.
Empedocles and Anaxagoras. (Tredennick H, 1989
[988a])
Later interpreters of Plato’s teachings however, the
so-called Neo-Platonists, starting with Plotinus (c. 202 270
CE) and his student and editor Porphyry (c. 234 c. 305 CE)
culminating with Proclus (412 485 CE) some six or seven
centuries after Plato, viewed the philosophies of Aristotle and
Plato to be much more aligned and consistent with each other
than certainly Aristotle himself did. [These later interpreters
of the teachings of Plato supposedly relied on the “unwritten
teachings of Plato as the basis for this more inclusive
philosophic view, teachings that were supposedly passed
down from Plato himself to his students and followers in an
oral tradition that was independent and somewhat different
than the public, written teachings reflected in his dialogues.]
These later interpretations and philosophical teachings of
the Neo-Platonists which evolved alongside of early
Christianity, carried forward the ancient threads of mysticism
and esotericism along with their focus on philosophy proper,
putting forth a doctrine of universal emanation from the One
(or the Good which is what it is referred to as in the Timaeus
which is equivalent to the Form of Forms)via Nous, or the
divine intellect, roughly equivalent to the role played by
Plato’s Demiurge which produces the World Soul in the
Timaeus and metaphysically equivalent to the Logos in both
the Stoic and(early) Christian theological tradition which
provides the metaphysical and mystical bridge between the
Creator and his creation - the bridge between the World Soul
and the individual Soul.
From a psychological perspective, according to Plato as
outlined in the Republic, the Soul consisted of three parts that
are roughly hierarchical from a virtue perspective - the logical
or rational part of the Soul (lo
ɡ
istikós, from the same root as
logos, literally the “one who reasons”) at the top, the
high-spirited or passionate part (thymoeidês) just underneath
the rational part, and the appetitive or desirous part
(epithymêtikon) at the bottom which was associated with
sexual desire (and interestingly the desire for money and
power) - the proper, or harmonious functioning of which was
equated to the ultimate goal of not only the individual, but
also society at large, what he (and later Aristotle and others),
called eudaimonia or “happiness”.
As interpreted by followers of Plato, and in particular in
the Neo-Platonic tradition that so influenced early
Christianity, this realm of Ideas/Forms exists eternally within
the Logos (the divine intellect or Nous), which although is not
separate from the One is a distinct feature of it. This divine
intellect was an inherently rational entity, was eternally
existent, and was the metaphysical construct that created the
order behind the known, physical universe, was reflected in
the rational faculty of man, and provided the metaphysical,
and mystical, connection between the individual soul and the
World Soul, the latter of which corresponds to the God
(Yahweh) of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The psychological framework put forth by Aristotle (in De
Anime primarily) builds upon the structure set forth by Plato
and also takes the cognitive/rational faculties of man as the
distinguishing characteristic of man over animals and plants.
His psychological framework sits within his overall
metaphysical system of change and causation however,
leading him to draw different conclusions regarding the
Soul’s immortality as in his model universals do not exist
independent of particulars. That is to say that to Aristotle the
Soul or mind/body system is hylomorphic like anything else
that can be said to “exist” and consists of form (Soul), the
formal cause, and the body (the material cause) represents the
actualization of the Soul’s potential and the form of said body,
its Soul, cannot be said to exist without its existence
physically.
Aristotle also goes into further depth than Plato outlining
the various characteristics or functions of the Soul, a principle
which from his perspective is characteristic of all animate life
and consists of nutritive, perceptive, mental, desirous, and
imaginative faculties. In his model, perception is unique to
the animal and human classes of life, and thinking (nous) is
unique to humans, forming as it were a hierarchy of animate
life with the plant kingdom at the bottom, the animal kingdom
being capable of perception in the middle, and man being
capable of intellectualization and thinking at the top. [See
Shields, C. (2011) for a detailed look at the Psychology of
Aristiotle in De Anime and other of his works from Parva
Naturalia.]
To Plato and Aristotle then, the “ordering” or “rational
faculty of man, “logos”, was closely interwoven into the
concept of the human Soul (psuche in Greek which and
derives from the Greek verb “to blow”) and furthermore came
to be recognized as the determinative feature of the human
psyche that facilitated what we today might call
“illumination”, or in Greek philosophical parlance
“knowledge”, the latter of which was viewed in direct contrast
to “faith” or “opinion” (doxa in Greek).
Although the details of the basic constituents of the Soul
and its immortality as put forth by Plato and his successor
Aristotle, as well as the form of the single primordial creative
principle from which the universe emerges (Plato’s One and
Aristotle’s unmoved mover) were hotly contested topics in
the philosophical traditions that emerged from Plato’s wake,
all Hellenic philosophical traditions in one form or another
believed in the existence of the Soul, and that within it resided
the seat of the rational faculty as well as the appetitive faculty
(desires), and that theologically speaking there was a single
creative principle from which the universe originally
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 59
emerged. These principles remained more or less consistent
views throughout all the classical Greek philosophic
traditions that followed Plato and even into the various
Roman/Latin and then Christian theological and philosophical
traditions which stemmed from the very same philosophic
heritage.
2. Rise of the Materialists:
Epicureanism and the Stoics
In the period of philosophical development that arose as the
influence of the Greek culture bled into the period of Roman/
Latin dominance in the Mediterranean and Near East, both the
Stoic as well as the Epicurean philosophic schools rose in
prominence to challenge and provide alternatives to some of
the basic, fundamentally non-materialistic assumptions that
were characteristic of their Greek philosophical predecessors.
Both of these schools were very popular and influential in
their own right in Greek and Roman antiquity, at least up until
the time period where Christianity fully eclipses the Hellenic
philosophical traditions some six or seven centuries later,
after which all of these Greek philosophical schools,
including the Greek “mystery religions” and early Gnostic
sects, were branded “pagan” and thereby ostracized and
sometimes brutally exorcized by the Roman state.
Both schools attacked, and ultimately emerged from, the
Skeptic bent of the Academy that stemmed from their
epistemological stance based upon the reality of eidos (Forms)
and the unreliability of the physical world of the senses. The
debate between what can be viewed as two opposing
epistemological positions, which in some respects still rages
on today, was concerning the basic building blocks and
conception of the not only the universe itself (cosmology and
physics), but also of knowledge and reality
itself(epistemology and physics), the Stoics and the
Epicureans holding that the material world of our senses was
in fact more real than the cognitive reality of Forms. This
metaphysical inversion has significant implications not only
physics and cosmology, but also on ethics as well.
These two philosophic schools were founded by Zeno of
Citium (c. 334 c. 262 BCE) and Epicurus (341 270 BCE)
respectively, and despite their differences each took a more
materialistic concrete epistemological stance as opposed to
the teachings of Plato or even Aristotle who despite rejecting
Plato’s theory of Forms nonetheless was not a materialist per
se.
Epicurus (341-270 BCE) was the founder of the Epicurean
school and he based his teachings, at least from a
cosmological and physics perspective, on the atomic doctrine
that was espoused by Democritus some hundred or so years
earlier. But the Epicurean system was popular for its ethical,
way of life based tenets, teaching that although the world of
the gods existed and was true, these gods were too busy in
their own mythical world to be bothered with human affairs
and therefore supplication to them was of no consequence.
He further espoused the belief, consistent with his basic
atomic physical cosmology and distinct from the beliefs of the
Stoics founded by Zeno of Citium, that the Soul was a
material substance just like the rest of the universe and
therefore perished upon death of the body, i.e. was not in fact
immortal, constructing a system of beliefs that was based
upon the optimization of pain and pleasure to achieve peace
and tranquility in this life and effectively removing the
concern about judgment and the afterlife from the life
equation as it were, thereby eliminating what he considered to
be a significant cause of human anxiety.
Epicureanism was influential not only during the Hellenic
period in antiquity, but also through the period of Roman
influence as well as evidenced by its significant treatment and
faithful transmission of doctrines through the
philosopher/historian Diogenes Laertius from the 3rd century
CE who devotes a full chapter on Epicureanism, from which
much of our knowledge of the original teachings and
metaphysical underpinnings are conserved in fact.
The Stoic tradition more so than Epicureanism was
perhaps the most influential doctrine outside of Platonism in
Hellenistic Greece and throughout the Roman Empire,
providing for an alternative, and more intellectually
comprehensible approach to metaphysics and ethics as
juxtaposed with the seemingly ethereal, and perhaps even
mystical, nature of Platonism. [See Konstan, D. (2013) for a
good overview of Epicurus and Epicurean doctrine.]
Stoicism in particular put forth a fairly advanced view of
the Soul and the Mind, one which although was more
materialistic than Plato from a certain perspective, was
nonetheless fundamentally theological in nature, citing the
existence of one true and omnipresent God through which the
universe itself not only came into existence but through whom
the existence of the universe was looked after and kept in
balance a doctrine that came to be known as corporealism
which is an essential and distinguishing feature of Stoic
cosmology, psychology and physics. It could be argued that
Stoicism put forth one of, if not the, first comprehensive
psychological frameworks in the West, a byproduct of its
materialistic realism as it was forced to create a
comprehensive framework of mental cognition and
perception that synthesized and bridged the concept of logos
at the individual as well as cosmic level.
Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium (335-263 BCE)
in the third century BCE and although differing from the
prevalent Academic Skepticism in many respects and on
some important key points, it nonetheless emerges from, and
borrows many tenets and terminology from, the Academic
Skeptics, Peripatetics and even Pythagorean schools which
came before him.
Zeno, having been born on the island of Samos off the
coast of modern day Turkey, is believed to have spent his
most prolific studying and teaching years in Athens, where at
the time the Academy was flourishing and the legacy and
teachings of Pythagoras were no doubt still fresh in the minds
of the Greeks. The Stoic lectures and teachings were said to
have been held in public in Athens, specifically in the Agora
60 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
under a “painted porch” (stoa poikilê in Greek) hence the
philosophical school came to be known as “Stoic”.
The fact that the lectures were open to all and not kept
secret, or only taught to the initiated as was the case for the
Pythagoreans and even at the Academy albeit to a lesser
extent, is certainly one of the reasons as to why Stoicism
resonated so well with the Greek populace at large. The
popularity of the school and the fame and esteem to which
Zeno was regarded at least within Athens is reflected in the
fact that, according to Diogenes Laertius the 3rd century CE
philosophic historian and author of seminal work Lives of
Eminent Philosophers, pillars were erected in his honor at the
Academy and the Lyceum and a publicly funded burial was
granted to him.
The philosophical tradition founded by Zeno was
succeeded by his pupil Cleanthes (331-232 BCE), who was in
turn succeeded by perhaps the most notable and prolific of the
Stoic philosopher in antiquity Chrysippus (c. 280-207 BCE),
the three of which make up what modern philosophical
historians call the Old Stoa.
But it is no doubt through the teachings and prolific works
of Chrysippus, who incorporated and responded to many of
the vocal and powerful critics of early Stoic doctrines, that
Stoicism matured and became more formalized as a systemic
and coherent philosophical system to rival the Academics and
Peripatetics and take its place as one of the preeminent
philosophical systems in antiquity. To paraphrase an oft
quoted line from Diogenes Laertius, But for Chrysippus,
there would be no Porch.”
Although the works of the Old Stoa survive only in
fragments and pieces, the doctrine as presented and codified
by its first teachers, along with specific and relevant Stoic
quotations and excerpts are extant from many subsequent
authors and philosophers, speaking to its far-reaching
influence in antiquity. The Stoic school showed particularly
marked influence on many esteemed Roman/Latin statesman
and politicians, collectively referred to sometimes as Late
Stoa, and whose writings reflect the deeply practical and
ethical foundations of the tradition. With the later Stoic
tradition we find more focus on the practical aspects of the
philosophical system, the ethical component mostly, as
opposed to the physical, logical and cosmological pieces of
the doctrine on which the ethical foundations were laid by the
Old Stoa. Late Stoa consist of likes of great Latin philosopher
and statesman Cicero (106-43 BCE) who provided the basis
of the conception of “natural law, the Roman philosopher
and dramatist Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) who was also known to
be a Stoic, and the even the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius
(121-180 CE) whose diary which came to be known as
Meditations (written in Greek) provides remarkable insight
into the daily trials and tribulations of a practicing Stoic in
Roman times, albeit from a very lofty perch so to speak.
With respect to Stoic cosmology and physics as reflected
by the works of the Old Stoa, we have to look to sources such
as the Middle Platonist author, theologian (priest at the
Temple at Delphi) and philosopher Plutarch (c. 45-120
CE),who although a staunch defender of Platonism and is
critical of Stoicism in many respects, provides very credible,
sound and comprehensive material on many major Stoic
philosophical positions and tenets, as well as of course the
aforementioned philosophical historian Diogenes Laertius
from the 3rd century CE who although wrote many centuries
after the Old Stoa still provides a credible and fairly extensive
account of the history of Stoicism and its major philosophical
tenets within the Chapters he devotes to each of the Old Stoa
in Book VII of Lives, one each for Zeno, Cleanthes and
Chrysippus within the Ionian philosophical lineage branch of
his work.
It is through all of these authors, again much of which is in
Latin as well as Greek, that what we know about Stoicism
survives down to us, clearly representing one of the most
influential, widespread and lasting philosophical traditions in
antiquity. And although much of the original work of the Old
Stoa is lost to us, it is possible to ascertain with a good deal of
certainty even some of the more esoteric cosmological
(physics) tenets of the doctrine which, even though are not the
main focus of any of the extant works by self-proclaimed
Stoics, can be strewn together by its critics as well as by some
philosophical historians namely Plutarch and Diogenes
specifically. Their fundamental and most lasting precepts,
from which our modern notion of “Stoic” derives, primarily
have to do with their ethical and moral philosophy, of which
we have plenty of direct first hand materials notably Marcus
Aurelius, Cicero and Seneca among others.
3. Stoic Epistemology and Ethics:
Perfect Reason
What must be kept in mind in particular when studying the
Stoic philosophic tradition, which to a large extent is true of
all of the ancient Greek philosophical systems, is that one
cannot just look at the ethical and moral tenets of the
philosophy without having a good understanding the of the
basic cosmological tenets, i.e. physics, as well as the
philosophy of logic which underpinned it. This is why
Aristotle as well as Plato wrote treatises that deal with rhetoric,
logic, poetry, along with ethics and philosophy proper
(epistemology for example). These were all branches on the
same tree to these ancient philosophical schools and Stoicism
had a tradition that called this out explicitly.
We find the most clear exposition of this
interconnectedness in the writings of Diogenes Laertius, who
in his Lives, Book VII Chapter on Zeno gives a wholesale
review of not only Zeno’s life and times (which arguably
borders on myth the in the way he relates some of the stories
of his life) but also a fairly detailed overview of the
philosophic system which is invaluable in that it is one of the
only extant sources that covers the philosophical
presumptions and assertions of the system as a whole, at least
as reflected by a 3rd century CE philosopher/historian who had
access to a wealth of materials and works that are now lost and
who was clearly well read in such materials and the Hellenic
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 61
philosophical tradition as a whole.
Philosophy, they say, is like an animal, Logic
corresponding to the bones and sinews, Ethics to the
fleshy parts, Physics to the soul. Another simile they
use is that of an egg : the shell is Logic, next comes the
white, Ethics, and the yolk in the centre is Physics. Or,
again, they liken Philosophy to a fertile field: Logic
being the encircling fence, Ethics the crop, Physics the
soil or the trees. Or, again, to a city strongly walled and
governed by reason. No single part, some Stoics
declare, is independent of any other part, but all blend
together. Nor was it usual to teach them separately.
(Hicks, R. 1972 [VII: 40])
To the Stoics then, it was within three separate but
inextricably linked disciplines of logic, physics and ethics (the
order of which were taught differently depending upon the
teacher as it turns out) from which not only would a true
understanding of Stoicism could be found but also from which,
if understood and practiced correctly, the perfection of the
ideal of Stoicism, the attainment of what one might call
perfect wisdom, or perhaps better put the attainment of the full
refinement and perfection of the faculty of reason the Stoic
sage - could be realized. All the disciplines hung together in a
coherent system - at least coherent to the Stoics - that allowed
for their basic philosophical conclusions and allowed for them
to reach their basic conclusions around ethical principles
which represented what the Stoic tradition in antiquity was
best known for.
Furthermore, during this period of six or seven centuries
where Stoicism flourishes in the West before being eclipsed
by Christianity, there is a somewhat symbiotic evolution that
takes place between Platonic thought and doctrine and
Stoicism itself, arising out of the debate and exchange of ideas
between the two schools - the Skeptic tradition as reflected by
the Academy on the one hand, and the Stoics (and to a lesser
extent the Epicureans) who could loosely be categorized as
materialists on the other.
To the Academic Skeptics who followed the teachings set
forth by Plato and his teacher Socrates, Ideas were the
ontological first principle within which philosophy and its
child disciplines (physics, ethics, logic, etc.) should be viewed,
but to the Stoics and Epicureans, the physical world as
perceived by the senses was the ontological first principle
upon which their philosophy was to be constructed. It must
not be forgotten than Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school,
studied at the Academy and it is through this lens of
epistemological dispute as it were, that we know much about
the Stoic tradition, at least some of its more esoteric
philosophical aspects. In other words the Skeptics and the
Stoics in some sense defined each other in terms of their
epistemological positions.
The Stoics held that not only could fundamental truth and
knowledge be ascertained, that Truth in fact could be
discerned from falsehood, the fundamental philosophical
tenet that distinguished it from the Academic tradition most
clearly and was the source of much of the debate between the
two schools. In the Stoic tradition, eudaimonia was attainable
via the fine-tuning and perfection of the rational faculty of
man, which was an integral part of the Soul and reflected the
divine rational faculty of God (logos), that when functioning
optimally discerned this truth from falsehood consistently
thereby preventing the individual from any sort of error in
judgment. The goal of the Stoics then was to align this
“commanding faculty” (γεμονικόν, or hêgemonikon), with
reason or Nature, again Logos, facilitating the attainment of
complete harmony with said Nature and hence eudaimonia
hence their famed adage “living according to the laws of
Nature” which codified their beliefs in many respects.
It also must be understood, and is sometimes lost by
modern academics who study these ancient systems of
philosophy and theology, that although these disciplines
provided the rational foundations and systems of learning
which provide the backbone of modern science and academia,
it was still nonetheless liberation, freedom and more so than
anything else what is almost always translated into English as
“happiness” but in Greek had much broader connotations
stemming from the word εδαιμονία (eudaimonia) which
etymologically comes from the conjunction of the root "eu"
meaning "good" or “benevolence” and "daimōn" which is an
ancient word that can loosely be translated as "spirit" or “god”
but has clear theological connotations. There was a shared
goal, a purpose, to each these various philosophic systems, the
so called final cause of Aristotle (telos), even if the means by
which the goal could be reached, along with some of the basic
philosophical tenets of the different systems, was constantly
being debated and argued amongst the various schools.
Although it may seem straightforward and rather
simplistic at first glance, the whole Stoic philosophical system
actually rested on deep and interconnected philosophic
assumptions and assertions not only in logic itself, but physics
as well which included cosmology (how the universe was
created and what were its basic fundamental constituents) and
even fairly well thought out theories of language and its
inherent symbology (meaning) which were included in their
study of logic(which included the study of dialectic and
rhetoric) and included a well thought our system of
interpretation of ancient mysteries and poetry, what is
sometimes referred to as allegoresis and represents one of the
defining intellectual contributions of the Stoics to the West..
Hence we find the following statement with supporting
quotations attributed to Cleanthes, the student of Zeno and
one of the three early Stoa, from Ilaria L.E. Ramelli in an
article from 2011 entitled The Philosophical Stance of
Allegory in Stoicism and its Reception in Platonism, Pagan
and Christian: Origen in Dialogue with the Stoics and Plato:
Allegoresis had been used since the very beginning of
Stoicism, from Zeno’s commentaries on Homer and
Hesiod onwards.Cleanthes also engaged in the
allegorical interpretation of archaic poetry, even
proposing textual emendations that supported it. He
62 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
was convinced that poetry is the aptest way to express
the sublimity of what is divine:
“Cleanthes maintains that poetic and musical models
are better. For the rational discourse [logos] of
philosophy adequately reveals divine and human
things, but, per se, it does not possess appropriate
expressions to convey the aspects of divine greatness.
This is why meter, melodies, and rhythms reach,
insofar as possible, the truth of the contemplation of
divine realities (Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta 1.486).
Consistently with this,
“Cleanthes […] used to state that the divinities are
mystical figures and sacred names, that the sun is a
bearer of the sacred torch, and that the universe is a
mystery, and used to call those inspired by the
divinities priests capable of initiating people to
mysteries (Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta
1.538).(Ramelli, I., 2011).
The uniquely Stoic emphasis on allegoresis, which was
tightly woven at least in the later tradition to the etymology
and underlying meaning of the Greek gods in the Hellenic
poetic tradition of Hesiod and Homer can be found in the
lasting and influential treatise written in Greek by the Roman
(Late) Stoic philosopher Cornutus who flourished in the 1st
century CE entitled Theologiae Graecae Compendium,
"Compendium of Greek Theology”, which outlined the
symbolic and etymological interpretation of Greek mythology
and deities, again speaking to the lasting tradition of the
allegorical interpretation of myth in general that was a key
part of the Stoic curriculum. This approach to interpretation
of ancient mythology and gods of old can also be found in the
Middle Platonist tradition as reflected in some of the works
written by the Delphic priest and Middle Platonist Plutarch (c.
48 120 CE) like Of Isis and Osiris, Or of the Ancient
Religion and Philosophy of Egypt which uses the same
technique to interpret some of the ancient myths of he
Babylonians and Egyptians, as well as in many of the works
of the early Christian Church Fathers in their exegesis of the
Old Testament, Philo Judaeus and Origen of Alexandria being
prime examples.
But perhaps Stoicism’s greatest contribution to the
Hellenic philosophical tradition in antiquity, or at least it’s
most unique, was in the domain of psychology, which in
antiquity was the study of the Soul given that the mental
faculties were assumed to be integrated into the Soul and not
separate from it as in modern parlance. Because the Stoics
more so than the Academy or even the Peripatetic school,
placed psychology as the primary determinative principle
through which this goal of eudemonia could be achieved. The
distinguishing characteristic of this commanding faculty
(gemonikon) of the Stoics - which again is the seat of all
(higher) aspects of the human Soul or psyche and was located
in the heart - is the role of what they refer to as sugkatathesis,
a word typically translated into English as “assent” but within
the context of Stoicism implies an approval or agreement of a
collection of facts, the facts in this case being that which is
presented to the mind (“presentations” or phantasiai) which
come from the physical world and are observed by the senses
and which in turn make impressions upon this commanding
faculty of the mind.
The analogy that was used by early Stoa to describe
mental impressions, by Cleanthes at least (which he arguably
pilfered directly from Plato’s Theaetetus (191d) where Plato
discusses epistemological issues at length [see Long, A. (2006),
Chapter 11]), and held to by Diogenes Laertius in his description
of Stoic psychology, was the imprint (tupôsis) upon wax of a
signatory seal, so did these presentations make an imprint on
the mind. Regardless of the metaphor used, the implication
was that to the Stoics the sensory perceptive experience, what
today we might refer to as cognition, was not necessarily
simply an intellectual or mental grasping of the qualities or
attributes of the object of perception, but a collective
experience of cognition which impacted and affected the Soul
in some way which in turn drove their epistemological
position with Diogenes Laertius telling us that th Stoic
criterion for truth is an impression which aligns perfectly with
the object itself, a somewhat circular definition no doubt (and
one that is vigorously attacked by the Skeptics) but a crucial
component of not just Stoic epistemology which fell under the
heading of logic/dialectic but also played a critical role in its
ethical doctrine as well.
A presentation (or mental impression) is an imprint on
the soul: the name having been appropriately
borrowed from the imprint made by the seal upon the
wax. There are two species of presentation, the one
apprehending a real object, the other not. The former,
which they take to be the test of reality, is defined as
that which proceeds from a real object, agrees with
that object itself, and has been imprinted seal-fashion
and stamped upon the mind: the latter, or
non-apprehending, that which does not proceed from
any real object, or, if it does, fails to agree with the
reality itself, not being clear or distinct.(Hicks, R. 1972
[VII:45-46])
Alternatively, some Stoics described impressions as an
“affection” (pathos) of the Soul, from which our modern
English word “apathy derives in fact, straight from the Stoic
tradition more or less. These “alterations” (alloiôsis or
heteroiôsis), which came from these impressions of the
physical world upon the commanding faculty (hêgemonikon)
of the Soul, were processed by the Soul, by the rational part of
the Soul, and this notion of proper assent to these
modifications of the Soul was the key not only to their
psychological framework but the key to their system of ethics
and the goal of the philosophical endeavor from their
perspective.
The Stoics say the soul is constituted of eight parts; five
of which are the senses, hearing, seeing, tasting,
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 63
touching, smelling, the sixth is the faculty of speaking,
the seventh of generating, the eighth of commanding;
this is the principal of all, by which all the other are
guided and ordered in their proper organs, as we see
the arms of a polypus aptly disposed. (Goodwin, W.,
1878 [OF THOSE SENTIMENTS CONCERNING NATURE
WITH WHICH PHILOSOPHERS WERE DELIGHTED. Book
IV, Chapter III])
The senses, which to the Stoics and to Aristotle as well
from which they borrowed many of their psychological and
cosmological themes and intellectual building blocks,
included the reproductive faculty, and were subservient to this
commanding faculty, and their proper management or
temperance was the tool, the means of reaching the goal, for
the Stoic philosopher. In their psychological scheme, the
mind receives sensory information and processes the
information accordingly, but unlike the alternative
psychologies offered by Plato and Aristotle which broke the
Soul out into rational and irrational parts, the Soul in Stoicism
was looked upon as an entirely rational entity, reflecting the
divine intellect (again logos), capable of being entirely
governed by reason as opposed to the passions or emotions -
and therefore pure wisdom, infallible judgment, was not only
possible but was in fact the goal, or end, of the Stoic
philosopher.
With respect to the immortality of the Soul, although the
Stoics did not consider the Soul to be immortal as Plato held
given his doctrine of eternal and ever present Ideas of which
the Good was the ultimate level of abstraction and of which
the Soul was an elemental part, they did ascribe to the
persistence of the Soul somewhat beyond the death of the
body, particularly associated with perfect Stoic sages.
However, they did not have as materialistic a conception of
the Soul as the Epicurean school did, the latter having adopted
Democritus’s atoms as the primary building blocks of the
universe of which to them the Soul was no exception, albeit
consisting of finer matter than basic material objects.
But the Soul and all its constituent parts represented a
specific manifestation of the universal Soul, and to connect
these two metaphysical constructs the Stoics created an
elaborate philosophical system that although shared many
characteristics with the Platonic and Peripatetic schools that
preceded it (and to a certain extent even elements of the
Pythagoreans and Heraclitus at least according to ancient
scholars) represented a unique contribution to the
philosophical landscape and one that became heavily
entrenched in Christian theology.
These ideas that the competing philosophical schools had
with respect to the nature of the Soul fundamentally shaped
their ethical doctrines as well as the tools which they
described to achieve happiness (eudaimonia), which again
was the end (telos) of all the philosophic traditions in
antiquity.
4. Stoic Physics: Corporealism and the
Divine Spirit
In many respects borrowing from the tradition of the
Academy put forth by Plato, Stoic cosmology as it survives
down to us speaks of two primary principles (archai) which
are eternal and which exist throughout the universe - the first
being the Creator who is identified with intelligence or reason
(logos), Plato’s Demiurge and the active participant in
creation, and a second inert and inactive principle which is
acted upon by the divine intellect and corresponds roughly to
matter. There is a subtle distinction between how these
primordial forces are seen to interact and permeate throughout
the physical, material universe though and this represents one
of the unique and lasting contributions of Stoicism to
metaphysics in the Western theological tradition.
In the Stoic tradition, this creative force behind the
universe, what came to be equated with the GodofChristianity,
is identified with an intelligent force, fire or breath (pneuma),
the latter term of which came to hold great significance in
Stoic metaphysics. This rational Creator structures the
physical world of matter according to its plan (again order, or
logos), beginning first with a flash of light or fire and then
proceeding with the creation of the four elements - fire, air,
water, and earth. In the Stoic cosmological tradition fire and
air were seen as active elemental forces and water and earth
were viewed as being characteristically passive and receptive.
In both the Stoic as well as he Platonic traditions, as was
true in nearly all of the cosmological traditions in antiquity in
fact, it is via the movement or combination/mixture of an
active (male) force upon a receptive (female) force which is
typically associated with matter, what the Stoic tradition
termed “unqualified substance”, from which the four elements
emerge in turn from which the entire physical universe is
constructed. It is with the Stoic tradition however that this
active, ordering principle of the universe (Logos) takes on a
more significant metaphysical role, supplanting as it were the
cosmology put forth in Plato’s Timaeus where a Demiurge, or
creator, works in conjunction with the principle of the Good
(the Form of Forms)to create the basic elements of the
universe, providing a more secure metaphysical construct
within which this “order or reason” operates to shaped
matter into the form of the physical universe as we know it.
The notion of fire, or light, being the primary creative
principle of the universe, as well as the term logos to denote
the divine ordering principle of the cosmos had antecedents in
the tradition attributed to the philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535
c. 475 BCE), at least according to Diogenes Laertius,
although how influenced Zeno was by this pre-Socratic is
largely a matter of speculation.
The Stoics affirm that God is a thing more common and
obvious, and is a mechanic fire which every way
spreads itself to produce the world; it contains in itself
all seminal virtues, and by this means all things by a
fatal necessity were produced. This spirit, passing
through the whole world, received various names from
64 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
the mutations in the matter through which it ran in its
journey. God therefore is the world, the stars, the earth,
and (highest of all) the supreme mind in the
heavens.(Goodwin, W., 1878 [OF THOSE SENTIMENTS
CONCERNING NATURE WITH WHICH PHILOSOPHERS
WERE DELIGHTED. Book I, Chapter VII])
In the more mature Stoic cosmological doctrine as put
forth by Chrysippus which sought to address some of
criticisms from the Academic Skeptics no doubt, after the
initial creation of the cosmos and the creation of the four
elements, the two active elements (fire and air) combine with
the two passive elements (water, earth) to form the basic
constituents of universal matter which consisted of and were
governed by various types of pneuma, a word which is
translated as “breath” or “spirit” or “soul” depending upon the
context. Pneumain the Stoic tradition is a key concept that not
only underlies its cosmology, but also all of its physics as
well.
Pneuma represented the basic metaphysical building block
of the universe, which to the Stoics was a fundamentally
living and breathing entity from start to finish, and permeated
all matter. This corporeal, i.e. living and breathing, principle
not only helped to define Stoic physics as a principle which
was characterized as capable of acting or being acted upon
and subject to change - but also represented the
fundamentally intelligence of the universe/cosmos at all
levels of creation, from the smallest rock to the most adept of
sages. The Aristotelian themes present in this very biological
view of the cosmos, specifically pointing to perhaps strong
influence from Aristotle’s theories surrounding procreation
and generation, have been well documented by Hamm in his
comprehensive and seminal work The Origins of Stoic
Cosmology (Hahm,1977).
In the Stoic system of logic, which underpinned its
epistemology, language and speech if formed according to
the basic principles of logic that were laid out was also
corporeal, in the sense that it could cause a real effect of
change on those that were spoken to, or even read from, the
spoken or written word. Stoic logic in this sense, with its
underlying semantic and propositional logic, language and
grammar theory in general in fact, also represents one of their
lasting contributions to the Hellenic philosophical tradition.
This emphasis on logic, in the broadest sense of the term as it
was used in antiquity which included dialectic, rhetoric and
propositional logic (syllogism in the Aristotelian works) is
reflected in the fairly extensive treatment of the topic by
Diogenes Laertius in the chapter on Zeno where he covers the
Stoic views in the discipline of logic in some detail. In Stoic
philosophy, the perfect Stoic sage was predicated upon the
mastering of language in both its written and spoken form, a
master dialectician to use their words.
Underlying everything corporeal was again varying
degrees of pneuma, looked upon as the “sustaining cause”
(synektikon aition in Greek or causa continens in Latin) of all
material entities again anything that could be acted on, acted
upon or was subject to change in general, a theory of
substance akin to Aristotle but more broad conceptually,
somewhat akin to what he would refer to perhaps as
“substantial form”. This pneuma existed throughout the
universe in a continuum starting with inanimate matter, the
plant and animal kingdom, and culminated at the top of the
universal hierarchy in man which had the distinguishing, and
fundamentally divine, capability of reason (hêgemonikon), a
psychological faculty whose proper functioning was tied very
closely to their system of logic which again was very closely
allied with their theory of language and propositional logic.
Pneuma was characterized by both an inward as well as
outward motion which was the source of both the external
qualities of a “thing” or “body” (again inanimate as well as
animate) as well as that which provided for unity of existence
to that object or entity. In the concept of pneuma to the Stoics
saw the hierarchy of substance/essence itself, akin to the
hierarchy of Souls laid out by Aristotle (vegetative, animal
and human).For in Stoicism, pneuma existed in various forms
along the corporeal hierarchy; in inanimate objects where it
was characterized primarily as that which gave the object
unity or held it together (hexis or “holding”), in the plant
kingdom where pneuma was characterized by a more active
principle referred to as “nature” (phusis or physis in Greek), in
animals where it is characterized by a more complex structure
where it was associated with Soul or psychê and was subject
to passions and some level of conception or mental reception
of said passions (or literally changes of the Soul), and then
finally in rational animals, i.e. man, where pneuma is
characterized by the divine attribute of Reason (logos), which
is reflected by the existence in man of a “commanding faculty”
(gemonikon) through which through proper attunement a
state of divinity could be attained, thus forming the guiding
principle of their entire system of ethics.
Only human beings and gods possess the highest level
of pneumatic activity, reason [logos]. Reason was
defined as a collection of conceptions and
preconceptions; it is especially characterized by the use
of language. In fact, the difference between how
animals think and how humans think seems to be that
human thinking is linguistic not that we must
vocalize thoughts (for parrots can articulate human
sounds), but that human thinking seems to follow a
syntactical and propositional structure in the manner
of language. The Stoics considered thinking in rational
animals as a form of internal speech. (Rubart, S.2014)
Where the cosmological traditions of the Platonic and
Stoic philosophical schools diverge however is not only in the
combination and primacy of the four elements, but also in the
underlying mechanics metaphysics as it were - at work
within the World Soul and the human Soul, from which the
two significantly different ethical and psychological systems
derive and which is attached metaphysically speaking this
notion of pneuma which is unique to the Stoic tradition in
terms of emphasis and primacy.
The well documented Skeptic attack on the Stoic
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 65
philosophical tradition was that for any absolute truth that the
Stoics could come up with that their theoretical Stoic sage
could “assent” to, the Skeptics could come up with what
appeared to be the very same Truth but in fact was not,
yielding the paradoxical conclusion that the perfect Stoic sage
would actually never “assent” to anything thereby making
them in reality a skeptic, i.e. that the physical world made up
of impressions and cognitions was not to be taken as
constituents of any of the basic elements of Truth, only
images or shadows of Truth (Plato’s Allegory of the Cave)].
This criticism can be seen in Plutarch treatise On Nature
where his clear Platonist bent is can be seen as he explains the
different views of the notion of a mental construct, i.e. Plato’s
Ideas, in the Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian traditions in
contrast to Stoicism where the construct lies outside its
epistemological boundaries:
An idea is a being incorporeal, which has no
subsistence by itself, but gives figure and form unto
shapeless matter, and becomes the cause of its
manifestation. Socrates and Plato conjecture that
these ideas are essences separate from matter, having
their existence in the understanding and fancy of the
Deity, that is, of mind. Aristotle objected not to forms
and ideas; but he doth not believe them separated
from matter or patterns of what God has made. Those
Stoics that are of the school of Zeno profess that ideas
are nothing else but the conceptions of our own mind.
(Goodwin, W., 1878 [OF THOSE SENTIMENTS
CONCERNING NATURE WITH WHICH PHILOSOPHERS
WERE DELIGHTED. Book I, Chapter X])
To the Stoics, this primordial creative principle of logos
which is the highest derivation of their metaphysical notion of
pneuma, acts to not only create the universe but is active
within it to preserve and maintain it so to speak, and the entire
physical universe is looked upon as fundamentally living and
breathing entity, i.e. corporeal. In this sense the Soul of man
is seen as a manifestation of this corporeal entity and it is
again with the alignment of the same ordering principle of
man as well as with the universe itself that the Stoics look to
as the way toward liberation or freedom, that term that is
typically translated as “happiness” but connotes something
much deeper in significance in antiquity.
The God of the Stoics was present in all of creation then,
not just the manifestation of the hand of the divine craftsman
as was typically interpreted to be the case in the Platonic
tradition, and this emphasis what is typically referred to in
the academic tradition surrounding Stoicism as corporealism
- is unique to the Stoicism and is one of the primary
metaphysical constructs that persists into Christian theology.
This ever permeating ordering principle which is
characteristic of the Creator as well as his creation is the
pneuma, or breath of the universe, which corresponds quite
directly to the Holy Spirit in Christianity (the same word in
fact is used in Greek in the New Testament, i.e. pneuma)
which denotes the ever present existence God within the
physical universe itself, not simply a physical act of creation
ex nihilo as reflected in the Old Testament Elohim or Yahweh
version of creation (Genesis), or even in Plato’s account of
creation which albeit may not reflect an ex nihilo act by the
Demiurge nonetheless retains some level of distinction
between the Creator and his creation, what is roughly
assigned to the Receptacle in the Timaeus.
Stoic cosmology is also characterized as a constantly
evolving and changing process however, not as a creation ex
nihilo and not as eternal as the prior philosophic schools had
put forth, proving for a notion of destruction, or perhaps better
termed devolution, of the universe at the end of its current
cycle back into the primary fire (light) from which it initially
emerged. This is uniquely Stoic doctrine of
conflagration(ekpyrôsis) which fell under the heading of
“physics” (cosmology specifically) and distinguished it from
the Academic and Peripatetic cosmological doctrines, which
is ascribed to the school’s founder Zeno, and which bears
close resemblance to some of the cosmological themes
ascribed to the pre-Socratic Heraclitus (c. 535 - c. 475 BCE)
[See Salles (2013) Chapter 5 and/or Long, A. (2006) Chapter
13 for more detailed look at the Stoic notion of universal
everlasting recurrence, i.e. conflagration].
The Stoic conception of God can be seen as a monistic
interpretation of Plato’s cosmology then, pointing to very
similar creation story, a parallel version of events from which
the primary elements come forth to construct the universe, but
reflects and emphasizes that there exists and ever present
divine ordering principle, again logos, which sustains and
permeates the physical universe it until it perishes at the end
of the cycle, after which the whole process is repeated again
ad infinitum according to the Stoic tradition. Stoic monism is
called out specifically by Plutarch, again one of the greatest
critics of Stoic ethical doctrine:
The Stoics pronounce that the world is one thing, and
this they say is the universe and is corporeal.(Goodwin,
W., 1878 [OF THOSE SENTIMENTS CONCERNING
NATURE WITH WHICH PHILOSOPHERS WERE
DELIGHTED. Book I, Chapter V])
This Stoic principle of assent then, as adjudicated and
applied by the commanding faculty of the Soul, gemonikon,
along with the complementary system of logic which was
closely associated with language and propositional logic
which enabled for the clear establishment of truth versus
falsehood, allowed the Stoics to develop a system of ethics
that (to them at least) had a sound rational and metaphysical
foundation that rested, in contrast to the Platonic tradition, on
the presumption of the reality of the “corporeal”, physical
world which in turn mirrored the corporeal universe, each
governed by the same principle of reason or logos and was
further characterized by their notion of pneuma, which
permeated and was subsistent throughout the universe, at the
both the individual level and the cosmic level and everything
in between, and was governed by a divine ordering principle
which came to be known in the Judeo-Christian theological
66 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
tradition as logos. For in the Stoic tradition, the notion of
corporeality extended not only to the physical world, but also
to the abstract world such as the Soul and even to abstract
concepts and ideals such as Virtue, Justice and Wisdom.
So whereas the Platonic tradition rested on the
epistemological and ontological primacy of the realm of Ideas
and the power of the Intellect to discern fundamentally Good
characteristics such as virtue and justice from which
happiness ultimately derives, the Stoic school taught that the
physical, material world of the senses shared the ultimate
“spirit” of the cosmos with the human soul, albeit of a lesser
quality, and that the refinement and ultimate perfection ofa
particular aspect of the human intellect which is sometimes
translated as the “commanding faculty” but can also be looked
upon as the psychological function of what we might refer to
as “assent” (gemonikon), one could act in perfect accord
with virtue which was the key to human peace and happiness.
To the Stoic then, although the universe was governed by
Reason and to a certain extent was predetermined given God’s
pervasiveness throughout the universe and their fundamental
belief in cause and effect as an a priori construct of the human
condition (God is referred to sometimes in this tradition as
Fate), although an individual did have Free Will to the extent
that they had control over their commanding faculty, which
again fully assimilated and absorbed the senses (these were
not fundamentally irrational impulses as put forth by Aristotle)
within the Soul, of which proper rational adjudication of
assent to truth and reality was the key to a virtuous and
therefore happy life which, consistent with all of the Greek
philosophical traditions, was the goal of life and the purpose
in fact of philosophy itself.
In the Stoic tradition, the agent of logos was viewed as the
rational and active principle of God that permeated the
universe and gave it life and characterized both the world Soul
and the individual human soul, and again when harmonized
and understood properly, with proper attunement of the
instrument of logos and its corollary “assent”, was the secret
to divine happiness and the core of their ethics.
In this sense Stoic psychology which was based upon the
supremacy and reality of the physical world as perceived by
our senses and the role of the active principle of intelligence
that permeated through the eternal universe (logos), not only
deviated from the supremacy of Platonic Ideas (Being) over
his world of Becoming or that which was subject to change,
but also from Aristotle’s doctrines of being and essence which
although more broad than Plato still distinguished between
the material world, which to him depended upon intelligible
as well as particulars as reflected in his doctrine of
hylomorphism, and the world of Soul which included both
form and matter alike and from which all virtues and vices had
their source.
True wisdom for the Stoics was in harnessing and utilizing
this commanding faculty which was unique to mankind to
“assent” only to impressions that were deemed consistent
with Truth according to their system of philosophy (enter the
importance of logic), thereby living completely in accordance
with Nature, or God, which abided by the very same
principles. By purifying the mind and attaining wisdom, one’s
commanding faculty could be honed to perfection and no false
judgment or “assent” (sugkatathesis) would in fact be
possible, hence again the ideal of the perfect Stoic sage, being
propelled by the pursuit of pure reason as it were and hence
also the modern associations of the term “Stoic” as being
bereft of emotion or feeling. In his sarcasm, representing the
position of the Academy relative to the Stoic school, Plutarch
from the first century CE refers to the Stoic Sage thus:
…but the Stoics
wise man is not detained when shut
up in a prison, suffers no compulsion by being thrown
down a precipice, is not tortured when on the rack,
takes no hurt by being maimed, and when he catches a
fall in wrestling he is still unconquered; when he is
encompassed with a rampire, he is not besieged; and
when sold by his enemies, he is still not made a
prisoner. The wonderful man is like to those ships that
have inscribed upon them a prosperous voyage, or
protecting providence, or a preservative against
dangers, and yet for all that endure storms, and are
miserably shattered and overturned.(Goodwin, W.,
1878 [A BREVIATE OF A DISCOURSE, SHOWING THAT
THE STOICS SPEAK GREATER IMPROBABILITIES THAN
THE POETS)
5. Summary: Stoicism’s Lasting
Impressions
The intellectual landscape within which Stoicism was born
was dominated by the teachings of Plato and his successors at
the Academy which was reflected by epistemological
skepticism and the supremacy of the world of Ideas over the
material world as the source of knowledge as well as the
Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle which expanded the
footprint of philosophy in general and was predicated on
causation and the notion of substantial form providing for a
much more extensive and cohesive epistemological system
than his predecessor, albeit not nearly as materialistic as the
Stoic and Epicurean systems, and bridged the gap between
Forms and Substance (essence) to a large extent. In
Aristotle’s doctrine of Substantial Form, the Stoics most
certainly found the core aspects of their physics, resting on
very similar epistemological foundations of causation and
change, or motion, with an additional fundamental biological
component (pneuma) added to their physics which established
the metaphysical bridge between the physical world, the
world of the Soul (which subsumed their ethics and system of
virtue), and the realm of the divine (theology), all of which
were considered to be “corporeal” in the sense that all these
principles could be acted upon and were subject to change or
evolution, well beyond Aristotle’s original conception of
change or motion no doubt, but an interesting and compelling
alternative solution to the metaphysical and theological
questions which Plato’s doctrines had brought to light.
The origins of Stoic cosmology, physics and psychology
Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68 67
in its earliest form clearly evolved out of the Academic and
Peripatetic traditions begun by Plato and Aristotle
respectively of which the early Stoa were no doubt intimately
familiar, along with some of the more ancient mythological
traditions which still held a prominent place in the
sociological psyche of the ancient Greeks in the time period
that Stoicism flourished in antiquity. The synthesis and
process of development of these aspects of Stoicism are
probably best summed up by the author of the defining work
on Stoic Cosmology, David E. Hahm (1977) who although
authored Origins of Stoic Cosmology in 1977 it still
nonetheless remains the most comprehensive and definitive
work on the subject.
In conclusion, it appears that the origin and
development of Stoic cosmobiology was no simple
process. The fundamental idea that the cosmos is a
living, sentient, intelligent animal was firmly
enunciated by Zeno and perpetuated by his successors.
This idea, rooted deeply in the mind of the ancient
world, Greek and non-Greek alike, was first stated by
Zeno in Platonic terms, after Theophrastus had shown
that Aristotle's attempt to eliminate the world soul had
left it as firmly implanted in the cosmos as Plato had
believed it to be. Cleanthes continued to support Zeno's
doctrine and to buttress it with new arguments. In so
doing, he expanded the concept of the world soul to
embrace Aristotle's three psychic functions; and he
identified the world soul with the heat of the cosmos,
an identification that Zeno must also have made, but
to which Aristotle's physiology now seemed to give
further support. Chrysippus, noticing that medical
theory had left his school behind, updated Stoic
cosmobiology by identifying the world soul with the
pneuma (air-fire mixture) that permeates the cosmos.
To this pneuma he assigned the three psychic functions
that Cleanthes had taken from Aristotle, but he broke
up the nutritive function into growth and a new
function called hexis or cohesion {συνεχεα). This last
function he used, probably following the precedent of
Cleanthes, to explain the cosmological problem of the
survival of the cosmos in the void. The ultimate result
was that the Stoic cosmos had a biological as well as
physical side. Though each side owed its existence to
the ideas of others, the total integration of the physical
and the biological sides of the cosmos resulted in a
totally new cosmology, one that can only be
characterized as purely Stoic (Hahm, D., 1977. Pgs.
173-174)
Stoicism therefore not only offered up an alternative
materialistic and deterministic philosophical viewpoint to
Epicureanism which accepted the mythological tradition
which was still deeply engrained in the psyche of Greeks and
Romans, but also a more practical and sophisticated ethical
system based upon their innovative psychological framework
and their more broad epistemological position, at least more
broad than the view offered by the Platonic school. These no
doubt are some of the reasons why the philosophical system
was so popular in Hellenistic Greece and then the period of
Roman influence before being eclipsed, and in many respects
integrated into, Christianity.
Even if one takes the position that Stoicism does more
borrowing than innovating however, its influence in the
philosophical, political and theological landscape in the West
is substantial after the period of the late Stoa which ends with
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who authored
Meditations in the latter part of the second century CE. For
example we find many classically Stoic themes in the early
Christian tradition which, at least in the first few hundred
years before orthodoxy is established, leaned heavily on its
Greek philosophical predecessors to legitimize its teachings,
in much the same way that the early intellectual interpreters of
Islam did. The Stoic philosophical concepts of logos and
pneuma specifically both play a crucial theological roles in
defining early Christian theology, as the “Word of God” and
the “Holy Spirit” respectively, both of which display
remarkably Stoic features.
Genesis 1:1:“In the beginning God created the heaven
and the earth. And the earth was without form, and
void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And
the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and
the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos]
was God.”
The similarities between the Stoic concept of pneuma,
which sat at the heart of its corporeal conception of the
universe, as well as its notion of the divine logos which was
also the seat of the human intellect, and the Christian Holy
Spirit and their view of Christ as the manifestation of the
divine Logos (Word) in the flesh reflections of which can be
seen in the two oft quoted passages from the Old and New
Testament respectively above, are profound and telling and
speak to the strong influence that Stoicism had on Christianity
which dominated the Western theological and philosophical
intellectual landscape for some thousand years after Greek
(and pagan) philosophical traditions were persecuted into
nonexistence.
Furthermore, the first few (Judeo) Christian theologians
who established the philosophical backbone of Christianity
not only drew on Stoic metaphysics in order to shed light on
the intellectual depth and meaning of the Judeo-Christian
scripture, but also made extensive use of allegoresis, again a
uniquely Stoic intellectual contribution in antiquity, to
illustrate the hidden meanings of various parts of the Old and
New Testament outside of a simple literal interpretation
which even to the intellectuals of antiquity in some cased was
nonsensical.
These altogether Hellenistic philosophical trademarks to
which the Stoic tradition heavily contributed can be found in
the works of Philo Judaeus (c. 25 BCE c. 50 CE),
particularly in his works on Old Testament exegesis where he
made extensive use not only of allegoresis in general but also
68 Journal of Social Philosophy Research (2014) 56-68
of the Stoic theological construct of Logos as well which is
likely the ultimate source of its usage in the Gospel of John.
The same textual interpretative techniques can also be found
in the works of Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 c. 215 CE)
and Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 c. 254) who both drew
heavily on their Greek philosophical predecessors along with
Philo Judaeus and also made extensive use of allegoresis to
provide the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings to
the distinctly theological and mythological literature that
characterizes Christian Scriptures as they laid the groundwork
for early Christian theology.
Furthermore, the concept of natural law which has had a
profound influence on the development of jurisprudence, i.e.
legal theory, in the West has its roots with the Roman Stoic
philosopher/statesman Cicero (106-43 BCE), particularly in is
work On the Laws and On the Republic where he speaks to the
important significance of natural law in the proper governance
responsibilities of the state, a state governed by and held
together by jurisprudence or law in its most pure and objective
form as social good in and of itself.
Cicero was strongly influenced by Stoicism, at least in
terms of ethics and political philosophy and his theory of
natural law can be viewed as an extension of the Stoic precept
of “living according to the laws of Nature”, which was the
more common transliteration of the more technical Greek
term first attributed to Zenooikeiôsis, which is although
literally translated sometimes as “affiliation” or “orientation”
more broadly means “that which belongs to oneself”, like
familial affiliation for example. In the legal theory of natural
law, the authority of legal standards derives, at least in part,
from considerations having to do with the independent and
eternally existent moral merit of certain behaviors upon which
the laws are crafted and established. That is to say, in the
theory of natural law moral propositions are believed to have
objective, epistemological, standing in and of themselves and
derive from eternal laws of nature which are inherently
rational - i.e. reflect the divine Logos which in turn is
reflected in the rational faculties of man and contain inherent
value from a sociological and political perspective beyond
their personal and psychological value.
We can even find very Stoic like themes in the practical
philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724 1804) where he deals
specifically with ethics and the existence of God and the
immortality of the Soul. In his seminal work Critique of
Practical Reason he argues that morality stands on pure
rational and logical foundations, even if it has no grounding in
objective reality as bound by the epistemological stance he
puts forth in his theoretical philosophy outlined in his Critique
of Pure Reason. That is to say that according to Kant’s
philosophical framework, the existence of moral and ethical
standards and behavior was based upon pre reason itself and
exists for us as human beings as a byproduct of us being
rational, social interdependent creatures. He furthermore put
forth that the existence of these moral and ethical standards
was predicated on the belief in the immortality of the Soul, the
existence of a benevolent God, and the hypothetical existence
at least of what he referred to as the “highest good”, a
theoretical reality where all rational beings behave according
to pure reason which in turn aligned with perfect morality.
[See Rohlf (2014) for a more detailed look at Kant’s practical
philosophical framework and origins.]
Lastly, we can even find many Stoic philosophical
parallels in Eastern philosophic traditions such as Yoga and
Vedanta, where pneuma, divine and individual corporealism,
the idea of the existence of a commanding faculty which
governs human behavior, the idea of living according to the
laws of Nature and natural law, and even the idea of the
eternal creation, preservation and destruction of the universe
in fire (conflagration) all have direct parallels in the Yogic
concepts of prana, Brahman and Atman, buddhi, dharma, and
the cosmic cycles of Brahman or Yugas. While we cannot
trace these Eastern motifs directly back to Stoic origins in the
West their philosophic similarities and terminological
parallels are remarkably similar. [See Valdez, J. (2014) pgs.
58-69 for a detailed review of Indo-Aryan philosophy.]
To conclude then, despite Stoicism’s clear borrowed and
synthesized heritage, the philosophical school made distinct,
unique and lasting contributions to philosophy proper, ethics,
political philosophy and theology in the West. And
furthermore some of its unique intellectual contributions,
particularly in the realm of ethics and epistemology
(allegoresis specifically), can provide us with the basis for
having a more inclusive and holistic perspective on the
seemingly disparate disciplines of science and religion even
today.
References
Goodwin, W. (1878). Plutarch, Moralia, Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.
Hahm, D. (1977). The Origins of Stoic Cosmology, Ohio State University
Press.
Hicks, R. D. (1972). “Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers”,
Harvard University Press.
Konstan, D. (2013). "Epicurus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
Long, A.(2006). “From Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and
Roman Philosophy”, Oxford University Press.
Ramelli, I. (2011). The Philosophical Stance of Allegory in Stoicism and its
Reception in Platonism, Pagan and Christian: Origen in Dialogue with
the Stoics and Plato”, International Journal of the Classical Tradition,
18(3), 335-371.
Rohlf, M. (2014). "Immanuel Kant", The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
Salles, R. (2013). “God and Cosmos in Stoicism”, Oxford University Press.
Shields, C. (2011). "Aristotle's Psychology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
Tredennick, H. (1989). Aristotle, Metaphysics, Harvard University Press;
William Heinemann Ltd.
Valdez, J. (2014). Snow Cone Diaries: A Philosopher’s Guide to the
Information Age”, Authorhouse LLC.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
This is a collective study, in nine chapters, of the close connection between theology and cosmology in Stoic philosophy. The Stoic god is best described as the single active physical principle that governs the whole cosmos. The first part of the book covers three essential topics in Stoic theology: the active and demiurgical character of god, his corporeal nature and irreducibility to matter, and fate as the network of causes through which god acts upon the cosmos. The second part turns to Stoic cosmology, and how it relates to other cosmologies of the time. The third part examines the ethical and religious consequences of the Stoic theories of god and cosmos.
Article
This article is composed of three parts and an epilogue. In the first part, its point is that in Stoicism allegory was part and parcel of philosophy, and the author endeavors to clarify the reason why the Stoics integrated it in their philosophical system. The author tends to rule out that it was only for an “apologetic” reason, in order to defend the Stoic doctrines, and a different explanation is offered. In the second section it is argued that allegory became part of philosophy in Middle and Neoplatonism as well, both “pagan” and Christian, and the author studies how a harsh debate arose between the “pagan” and the Christian sides about which texts, myths, and traditions to consider susceptible of allegoresis (i.e., rich in philosophical truths expressed symbolically). Similarities and differences are also pointed out between Origen’s and “pagan” allegoresis, Stoic and Platonic. The third part concentrates on Origen’s theorization of biblical allegoresis – significantly included in his philosophical masterpiece, again qua part and parcel of philosophy –, on the three exegetical levels he defines, literal, moral, and spiritual, on their antecedents, and on the special status of the scriptural narratives on the arkhē and the telos in his own theorization and exegetical practice. In relation to these exceptions (narratives that have only an allegorical meaning), the author argues that Origen was inspired by the special epistemological status of Plato’s myths, which he moreover praises. Providing some telling examples, the author demonstrates how Origen even enters in conversation with Plato’s myths on the arkhē and the telos and, if necessary, corrects them, and directly compares them with the biblical stories on the arkhē and the telos.
From Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy
  • A Long
Long, A.(2006). "From Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy", Oxford University Press.
  • H Tredennick
Tredennick, H. (1989). "Aristotle, Metaphysics", Harvard University Press;
Snow Cone Diaries: A Philosopher's Guide to the Information Age
  • J Valdez
  • Llc Authorhouse
Valdez, J. (2014). "Snow Cone Diaries: A Philosopher's Guide to the Information Age", Authorhouse LLC.