Stoicism is a school of philosophy that originates back to the Hellenistic period by a man named Zeno of Citium. It flourished throughout the Greek world until the 3rd century AD but has seen a revival in modern times.
A core maxim of Stoic philosophy is to "live according to nature", for it is believed that the universe is well-ordered and deterministic in nature. In such a universe, there are no accidents and everything that happens to its "parts" is beneficial for the "whole".
Greek Stoicism covers the first two periods of Stoicism (Early Stoa and Middle Stoa respectively) and extends from Zeno all the way to Posidonius. From its very beginning, it was primarily seen as a "Socratic" philosophy and was generally accepted by the Stoics themselves.
Prior to becoming a philosopher, it is reported that Zeno of Citium was a well-to-do merchant. According to legend, Zeno found himself inside of an Athenian bookshop after surviving a shipwreck.
It is said that after he read some writings on Socrates, he asked the librarian where he could find such a man. The librarian responded by pointing to Crates of Thebes, who was the most famous Cynic at the time living in Greece. Because of this, Stoicism was strongly influenced by Cynicism.
Besides Crates, Zeno studied under Polemo, whom was head of the Academy, as well as Stilpo, whom was head of the Megarian school. For those of you unfamiliar with Greek philosophy, the Academy is the school that was originally founded by Plato, a disciple of Socrates. Also, the Megarian school was originally founded by Euclid of Megaria, another pupil of Socrates.
Around 301 BC, Zeno began teaching philosophy from the "Stoa Poikile", which translates to "painted porch", which is how the philosophy got its name.
In addition to founding Stoicism, Zeno established the tripartite study of Stoicism, better known as Physics, Ethics, and Logic.
Later on, Chrysippus, one of Zeno's followers, became head of the school and did a massive overhaul of the entire philosophy. It was thanks to him that we understand Stoicism as we do today.
In fact, there was a catchphrase during the time that went "If Chrysippus had not existed, neither would the Stoa."
In 155 BCE, a group of 3 philosophers (Stoic, Academic skeptic, and Peripatetic) was sent to Rome to share their knowledge. Among the educated Romans, they were an absolute sensation. However, a strong conservative backlash followed that affected the likes of Cato the Elder and his followers. It wouldnt be until 86 BCE that Rome would be ready to accept Greek philosophy with open arms.
Contrary to the early and middle Stoa, we have a substantial number of writings from the late Stoa philosophers. The late Stoa philosophers include Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. Other late Stoas include Musonius Rufus and Hierocles the Stoic, whose works were not as well-preserved as the first 3 mentioned.
Contrary to their Greek counterparts, Roman Stoics were less interested in metaphysical phenomena and focused more on the "psychological and moral category of the self." Later Stoics also emphasized the importance of the stoic sage beung immune to bad fortune and that virtue is sufficient for attaining true happiness.
Roman Stoics also took the psychological approach to the idea of freedom, which is something we create in ourselves. For instance, an oppressive environment does not hinder someone to actung virtuously, even if it does hinder them in other ways.
In short, they believed that the chief cause of self-imposed slavery is taking anything external to yourself to be a genuine "good'.
If you"re familiar with ancient Greek philosophy, then you've probably heard the wowrd "logos" at one time or another. To the sophists, the logos represented discourse. Aristotle used the term to refer to "reasoned discourse".
The Stoics used logos to refer to the rational principle that governed the entire universe. Within the individual, the logos operates as the reasoning faculty. The Stoics have also characterized the logos as having an actual physical form made of "pneuma", also known as pure fire. It is believed that when an object perishes, it is reabsorbed into the logos as a whole.
On a larger scale, through a process called ekpyrosis, the entire universe is consumed by a great fire, only to be reborn again and start anew.
The logos is believed to have determined all things that have come to pass, as well as all things to come. This seems to suggest a deterministic viewpoint, which conflicts with the idea of "free will" as we generally understand it. As a way to get around this, the Stoics redefined free will as the willing acceptance of whats bound to happen.
Another way of putting is to imagine you're a dog tied to a car.
If the car is moving, you have one of two options: (1) you can try and resist and get dragged along for the ride or (2) you can match your pace with the car and move in the same direction it's going.
As we stated in the beginning, the Stoics held a firm belief that the world is ordered in a particular way. Therefore, the order it produces should be easily observable no matter how you look at it.
This led the Stoics to not only investigate the physical world, but in other areas as well such as the nature and structure of language. For example, Marcus Aurelius took a keen interest in etymology throughout the Meditations. We learn from Diogenes Laertius, a third-century biographer, that Chrysippus had a rather large body of work (over 705) which included topics like "On How To Read Poetry", and "Against the Touching Up Of Paintings". Later on, Stoics would also delve into topics like history, anthropology and more conventional philosophical topics.
Traditionally, the Stoics have 3 main areas of focus: Physics, Ethics, and Logic. Physics refers to the structure of the physical world. Ethics is the study of the proper role of human beings in the world and in regards to each other. Lastly, Logic refers to the nature of knowledge.
Stoic physics can be described in terms of: materialism, dynamic materialism and monism.
Prior to Stoicism, countless philosophers since the time of Plato have pondered whether abstract qualities like wisdom, justice, courage, etc. have an independent existence. The Stoics believed everything, including abstract quality, was corporeal in nature, which in a sense, made them materialist.
According to the Stoics, there exists two principles: the active and the passive. The active principle characterizes matter, and gives it its quality. For all that happens there is a cause, and as only body can act on body, this cause is as corporeal as the matter upon which it acts. The active principle or "force" is everywhere coextensive with "matter," pervading and permeating it, and, together with it, occupying and filling space.
A Stoic might maintain that World-Soul, Providence, Destiny and Seminal Reason are not mere synonyms, for they express different aspects of God or different relations of God to things, but there were no different substances underlying the different forces of nature. The pneuma neither increases nor diminishes; but its modes of working, its different currents, can be conveniently distinguished and enumerated as evidence of so many distinct attributes.
Borrowing from the Cynics, the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. This is only possible by subduing the "passions' (which we'll discuss later) and not reacting negatively to external events and circumstances.
The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια; literally, "without passion") or peace of mind, where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being objective or having "clear judgment" and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life's highs and lows.
For the Stoics, reason meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people.
Diodorus Cronus, one of Zeno's teachers, is considered the philosopher who first introduced and developed an approach to logic now known as propositional logic. This is an approach to logic based on statements or propositions, rather than terms, making it very different from Aristotle's term logic.
Later, Chrysippus developed a system that became known as Stoic logic and included a deductive system, Stoic Syllogistic, which was considered a rival to Aristotle's Syllogistic.
Susanne Bobzien, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, also notes that "Chrysippus wrote over 300 books on logic, on virtually any topic logic today concerns itself with, including speech act theory, sentence analysis, singular and plural expressions, types of predicates, indexicals, existential propositions, sentential connectives, negations, disjunctions, conditionals, logical consequence, valid argument forms, theory of deduction, propositional logic, modal logic, tense logic, epistemic logic, logic of suppositions, logic of imperatives, ambiguity and logical paradoxes."
In addition, the Stoic had a formalized set of categories which was used to describe the "fundamental class of being for all things". There were four categories in particular they were concerned with:
- substance ("ypokeímenon") - the primary matter aka the formless substance, which makes up all things
- quality ("poión") - the way in which matter is organized to form an individual object
- somehow disposed ("pós échon") - particular characteristics not present in an object (e.g.; size, shape, posture, action)
- somehow disposed in relation to something ("prós tí pos échon").- The characteristics in relation to other phenomena such as position in time and space relative to other objects.
The 3 Disciplines
The 3 disciplines refers to a specific refers to a triad of concepts that is central to both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and has been identified and documented in detail by Pierre Hadot. These 3 disciplines are the discipline of perception, of action and of will.
Discipline of Perception
The discipline of perception refers to the act of maintaining objectivity in our thinking. We must see things for what they are, and accept it fully and completely.
Discipline of Action
The discipline of action refers to how we act towards other people. Stoics believed that humans are inherently rational creatures and we were made to cooperate with one another. As rational creatures, we each possess a share of the logos as well as the ability to use it.
Marcus Aurelius went so far as to say that "any action not directed towards a social end (directly or indirectly) is a disturbance to your life, an obstacle to wholeness, a source of dissension."
Discipline of Will
Contrary to the discipline of action, the discipline of will has less to do with how we act on the things we can control and more to do with our attitude towards the things we can't control.
In short, the things that are not within our control cannot harm us, only our perceptions. And at any moment, we can choose to change our perception for the better.
Theory of Appropriation
The Theory of Appropriation, or oikeiôsis, refers to the Stoic's psychological theory on how reason fundamentally changes the worldview of humans as they mature. According to the theory, there are 2 stages that every human being goes through.
In the first stage, the organism is driven by self-love. They associate their constitution with their body and is directed towards maintaining their constitution in proper working order. As a result of that, the organism is driven towards that which promotes its well-being and avoids that which can potentially cause it harm.
For example, a baby is motivated to go after its mother's milk because it is nourishing and promotes its well-being. A similar parallel can be drawn for any other animal that takes care of its young. The baby is naturally compelled towards pleasure and retreats from pain.
By the second stage, the organism has matured to the point where it can look beyond its own physical body and regards its reasoning faculty as its constitution in relation to the body. In short, the mature adult realizes that the attainment of perfect reason is the supreme good and takes an active role in bringing it to fruition.
The Stoics had a well-developed taxonomy of virtues that they held themselves to. The four main virtues are wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.
Wisdom is subdivided into:
- Good Sense
- Good calculation
Justice is subdivided into:
Courage is subdivided into:
Moderation is subdivided into:
- Good Discipline
The Stoics believed that the virtues were uniform and to possess one of them is to possess them all. They believe that the sage is wise, just, courageous and modest much like how someone can be an author, speaker, and politican, and yet still be the same person.
The Stoics recognized 4 main categories of vice, which were Foolishness, Injustice, Cowardice, and Intemperance. To possess any one of these 4 vices was to risk not living in accordance with Nature, and thus separating yourself from the Whole.
Besides the first 2 classes, the Stoics recognized a 3rd class of things which is judged neither to be good nor bad. They were called indifferents because they neither contributed nor took away from the happy life.
Among the indifferents, the Stoics recognize 3 classes of indifferents: preferred, dispreferred and absolute.
Preferred indifferents are seen as being "according to Nature." and usually promotes the natural condition of a person. These include health, beauty, strength, wealth, good reputation, etc.
Dispreferred indifferents are seen as "contrary to nature' and usually go against the natural condition of a person. These include things like disease, pain, ugliness, poverty, etc.
Finally, absolute indifferents refers to things that make no difference whatsoever. Some examples of this include the number of grains of sand on a beach, the number of shoes you have, the amount of hair on your head, etc.
The Stoics used the word "passion" ("pathos") in a much different way than we use it. For them, a passion represented a judgment that is disobedient to reason. Another way of putting it is the fact that most people judge certain things to be good or bad, when they are in fact 'indifferent."
Marcus Aurelius touches on this point in the Meditations in the following passage:
"You take things you don’t control and define them as “good” or “bad.” And so of course when the “bad” things happen, or the “good” ones don’t, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible—or those you decide to make responsible. Much of our bad behavior stems from trying to apply those criteria. If we limited “good” and “bad” to our own actions, we’d have no call to challenge God, or to treat other people as enemies."
There are 4 general types of passions that were recognized: pleasure, distress, appetite, and fear. Pleasure and distress refer to present objects, while appetite and fear referred to future objects.
Pleasure is an "irrational elation" over what seems desirable to have.
Distress is an "irrational contraction" of the soul and has been variously described as ,malice, envy, jealousy and/or pity.
Appetite is an "irrational stretching" over some future desired state. It is also called want, yearning, or sexual craving, among others.
Fear is the "irrational shrinking" of the soul . This occurs when someone is fantasizing about all of the bad things that could happen. Agony, shock, panic, and the like, fall under this category.
To counteract the passions, the wise man has 3 "affective reponses" (eupatheiai) to help him stay in accordance with Nature. These 3 states are Joy (chara), Wish (eulabeia) and Caution (boulêsis).
Joy is described as a "reasonable elation" and the opposite of pleasure. Enjoyment, good spirits, and Tranquillity are subcategories of Joy.
Wish is "reasonable striving" and is the opposite of appetite. Other ways of describing it include good will, acceptance, and contentment.
Caution is "reasonable avoidance" and is the opposite of fear. Respect and sanctity are classed under Caution.
The Stoics do not define an "affective response" against distress but there is an exercise from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations that offers one possible way of dealing with stress.
He writes, "People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.
By going within.
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.
So keep getting away from it all—like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward off all < . . . > and send you back ready to face what awaits you."
P.S., if you got value from this post, please like and share it with others!