views updated May 17 2018


A philosophical school named after the stoa (στόα),i.e., the porch, or painted colonnade where Zeno of Citium (c. 366c. 264 b.c.), its first exponent, used to teach in Athens. Stoicism stresses the seriousness of life. It emphasizes the individual and the concrete in opposition to Platonic ideas or Aristotelian universals. Among its characteristics, some of which it shares with other contemporary schools, are the primacy of the practical, the ideal of ataraxy or mental tranquillity, a pervading materialism, and, generally, a marked affinity for Oriental values and attitudes. This article treats of Stoicism in two parts, the first dealing with its philosophical teachings, the second with the influence of these on Christian thought.

Stoic Philosophy

Although Stoicism took many forms during its long existence, its principal thinkers are usually classified as belonging to one of three groups, viz, the Ancient Stoa, the Middle Stoa, and the Later Stoa.

Proponents and Their Works. Among the Ancient Stoa are enumerated three outstanding philosophers, Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes of Assos, and Chrysippus of Soloi. Zeno founded the school after studying under the Cynic Crates, the Megarians Stilpo and Diodorus, and the Platonist Xenocrates. His pupil Cleanthes (c. 331232) became head of the school at Zeno's death. Chrysippus (c. 282206) was referred to as the second founder of Stoicism. The Middle Stoa are represented by two main figures, Panaetius of Rhodes and Poseidonius of Apamea. Panaetius (c. 185109) was influenced by the philosophy of Plato, whom he considered to be the wisest and holiest of men, the Homer of philosophers (Cicero, Tusc. disp. 1; see Van Straaten, 83). Poseidonius (c. 135-50) appears, on some points at least, to have been more strongly swayed by platonism than even his master Panaetius. The Later Stoa developed largely in Rome. Its chief representatives were L. Annaeus seneca (a.d. 465), Nero's preceptor; epictetus of Hierapolis (c. 50138), a liberated slave, whose Discourses and Enchiridion (published by his disciple Arrianus) are classics of moral philosophy; and the Roman emperor marcus aurelius (121180).

The works of the ancient and middle Stoics exist only in fragmentary form. Hans Von Arnim collected these fragments in a monumental work that is the chief instrument for the study of Stoic philosophy. The works of the later Stoics, being mainly concerned with ethics, are of little help in determining the nature of Stoic physics and logic as expounded in the numerous writings of the school (Chrysippus alone is known to have written more than 700 works). Cicero's philosophical treatises have preserved a large number of fragments, while Plutarch (in his disputations against the Stoics), Galen, Sextus Empiricus, and Diogenes Laertius have transmitted countless other texts. Unfortunately for positive understanding, the doctrines of the Stoics are known largely through the polemical works of their adversaries. (see skepticism.)

Doctrines. The Stoics, with some minor exceptions, divide philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics (Diogenes Laertius, 7.39) and conceive these as closely interrelated. One Stoic analogy compares philosophy to an animal, logic constituting the bones and nerves; ethics, the flesh; and physics, the soul. Zeno and Chrysippus taught logic before physics and physics before ethics. Others preferred to teach the three parts at the same time (Diogenes, 7.40) or followed different orders.

Logic. Logic examines the elements of discourse or reasoning with their properties and relationships. Of presentations (φαντασίαι), some derive from sensations, others only appear to come from the senses, still others take their origin in reason, such as the incorporeals (τ σώματα) and other products of the mind (Diogenes, 7.51). The criterion of truth is the comprehensive presentation (φαντασία καταληπτική), which involves the firm conviction that it could not be so perceived by the mind if the reality were not such as it is represented to be. This criterion bore the brunt of countless attacks on the part of Pyrrhonians and Academics (see pyrrho nism). The comprehensive presentation makes the difference between ignorance and science, because through it men communicate with nature; in the words of Cicero natura quasi normam scientiae et principium sui dedisset (Von Arnim, 1:66). The implications of the empirical presentations are developed by means of a logic of propositions that differs from the Aristotelian logic of terms (Diogenes, 7.6983). see logic, history of.

Physics. Stoic physics deals with the cosmos, its principles and elements, space and the void, the gods, and their existence and their nature. Since everything natural, whether active or passive, is thought to be material, Stoic materialism has been aptly though paradoxically described as a "spiritualistic materialism." The activities and properties of matter are given enough range to allow for distinctions and operations that other philosophies place in the immaterial order. However, even the Stoic concept of the incorporeal does not involve a distinct spiritual domain. The incorporeal is divided into four categories: expressibles or λεκτά (such as mental terms or propositions), void, place, and time (Sextus Empiricus, Adv. math. 10.218). It can neither act nor be acted upon and always originates in the body; e.g., the λεκτν stating that something is burning depends on the physical fact of burning. In any case, the incorporeals depend on the body and are inseparable from it.

The world is one and is made up of four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. God, who seems to be more or less identified with primal fire, creates the elements out of himself through processes reminiscent of the pre-Socratic cosmogonies. Some parts (those partaking more fully of the primal element) are active (τ ποιο[symbol omitted]ν) and divine, whereas the rest of matter is passive (τ πάσχον). According to most Stoics, the entire cosmos moves in a fore ordained manner, throughout time, from states of fuller material differentiation to reabsorption into primal fire (κπύρωσις).

Fire is like a seed or germ having in itself the reasons of all things (σπερματικο λόγοι) and the causes of what was, is, and shall be (see seminal reasons). It is the vital principle from which all plants and animals spring. At any stage of natural development god remains as a living force, molding and dominating passive matter in view of further progress (Diogenes, 7.136, 148). Thus the entire world is animate, rational, and divine (see world soul). The first men were generated by the sun's fire (Von Arnim, 1:124) and made up of the four elements. The Stoics reasoned that the soul was corporeal, being that inner material breath (πνε[symbol omitted]μα) whose departure causes the body to be dead (ibid. 137). The human soul is but a fragment of the soul that animates the totality of matter (Diogenes, 7.142143); its separate existence is annihilated in the process of κπύρωσις. Most Stoics divide the soul into eight parts: the hegemonikon or ruling part, the five senses, the faculty of speech, and the generative faculty.

God is fire and logos diffused throughout the cosmos. The law of nature is his material presence in the universe. As cosmic reason he is ipso facto providence (πρόνοια), ordaining all things, and fate (εμαρμένη), imposing upon man a physical determinism that allows for freedom merely as man's inner acceptance of cosmic necessity.

Ethics. The Stoic conception of nature and of man's place in it necessarily leads to a science of human behavior. Self-preservation is an animal's first impulse (ρμή); it can be realized only by living in conformity with nature (Diogenes, 7.87). Similarly, the end of man coincides with the virtuous or rational life. Pleasure is not valued for its own sake but merely follows upon the attainment of the good. Most Stoics restrict the good to virtue and to what partakes of virtues (Diogenes, 7.94), defining virtue as the quality of a spirit in perfect harmony with itself (Von Arnim, 3:197200). The virtues are so connected that to possess one is to possess all.

Things that are neither good nor evil, i.e., neither virtuous nor vicious, are termed indifferent (διάφορα). Some of the latter can be used to good advantage (e.g., wealth, fame, and health) and are said to be "preferred" (προηγμένα). Others (e.g., poverty, disease, and weakness), without being evil in themselves, are classified as not-preferred (ποπροηγμένα). A third category of "indifferent things" is purely neutral (e.g., the number of hairs on one's head) and gives rise neither to preference nor to rejection.

Corresponding to the division of things into good, bad, and indifferent, and of the latter into preferred, notpreferred, and neutral, one finds in the subjective order a distinction between virtue, vice, and the sense of suitability (καθ[symbol omitted]κον). The last enables one to discriminate between the indifferent things and to behave in a fitting manner with respect to them. The Stoics generally consider the passions to be irrational and unnatural movements of the soul or, again, excessive impulses (Diogenes, 7.110). The wise man is free from all passions, but the Stoic is quick to point out that the apathy of the wise is not to be confused with that of the callous or evil man. The Stoic wise man is happy, free, godlike, never errs andunlike his Epicurean counterpartdoes not spurn political action.

Stoicism helped to establish cosmopolitan attitudes in ancient society through a conception of the individual's moral value that ignored national or class distinctions. Perhaps the best illustration of this lies in the fact that the former slave Epictetus and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius were equally honored as great exponents of the doctrines of the Later Stoa.

Appreciation. Though Stoicism as established by Zeno continued to exist as a major school of thought for about 800 years, it underwent many changes and adaptations. The most important of these, perhaps, was the shift from an explicit formulation of logic in the Ancient Stoa to what appears to have been an exclusive preoccupation with ethics in the Later Stoa. Despite a basic agreement on the nature of the cosmos and the requirements of human behavior, Stoics appear to have disagreed among themselves on a number of matters, such as the nature of logic, the divisions of philosophy, the relative immortality of human souls, or the possibility of dividing the category of preferred things.

Stoicism expounded a new outlook on personal dignity and on the nature of law, together with a new conception of the state as reflecting world order and as leading men of all origins and classes to personal fulfillment. It may be said that this philosophy not only presented a moral alternative to Christianity, but also that it helped develop a climate in which Christian teaching could take hold more firmly. Many of its doctrines were transposed into Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church (see below) and have become important aspects of modern civilization and thought.

See Also: greek philosophy.

Bibliography: Sources. h. f. von arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, 4 v. (Leipzig 190324), v.1 Zeno et Zenonis discipuli, v. 23 Chrysippi fragmenti, v.4 Index. m. van straaten, Panaetii Rhodii Fragmenta (Leiden 1952). diogenes laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, tr. r. d. hicks, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library London-New York-Cambridge, MA 184, 185; rev. ed. 1942) v.2, bk.7. Literature. f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, MD 1946) v.1. b. mates, Stoic Logic (Berkeley 1953). É. brÉhier, Chrysippe et l'ancien stoícisme (rev. ed. Paris 1951). e. r. bevan, Stoics and Sceptics (Oxford 1913; repr. New York 1959).

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Influence on Christian Thought

Despite its wide diffusion around the 1st century, Stoicism left little mark on Sacred Scripture. The Book of Wisdom, wrought in the cosmopolitan milieu of Egypt, sometimes borrowed its terminology when speaking of the pneuma (7.2224; 8.1). St. Paul used some terms, the images of city, construction, and body, and the processes of the Cynic-Stoic diatribe. He developed some related thesesequality of all men by the pneuma, absolute freedom of man, and natural knowledge of Godbut in such a way that the independence and Christian authenticity of his message were not put into question. Conversely, one may presume that Seneca and Epictetus were influenced by the new religion; certainly the Christianity of the Middle Ages laid claim to them.

However, a deep incompatibility existed between Christianity and Stoicism in its religious form. The Stoic ascetic effort resulted in an autarchic fulfillment of the personality. This was only temporary, however, since man's terminus was, after all, a return to primitive elements, while the Christian opened himself to the infinite and sought an eschatological conclusion. On the other hand, the God of the Portico was always the soul of the world, and the relationship of men to God was physical. This excluded true divine transcendency, the supernatural, and redemptive Incarnation.

Early Patristic Thought. In the patristic era the influence of this philosophy was pronounced until about 230 and became sporadic thereafter. In bk. 2 of his Paidagogos, clement of alexandria made at least 15 textual borrowings from Musonius; in the same work he sometimes used the text of Epictetus. Seneca provided a few lines for St. cyprian and minucius felix, but the effect of Stoicism is clearly noticeable in the theses they elaborated.

Man. The anthropology of all the Fathers had Stoic elements, although none omitted the presence of a supernatural reality in man. Almost all divided the human composite into body and soul in Stoic fashion, and ter tullian saw in it a "mixture" of two elements. The soul itself was considered corporeal by irenaeus and Tertullian, the latter supporting his position with the Stoic principle: "nihil si non corpus." The psychology of Clement of Alexandria had a materialistic bent, especially that in the Excerpta ex Theodoto. Finally, tatian and Irenaeus noted in the soul an element shared with universal life and thus reattached man to the cosmos. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria presented many other Stoic ideas in treating medical questions, developments relating to generation and heredity, and particularly theories of knowledge with their emphasis on the senses and "common notions." Finally ethics was frequently related to Stoicism in its terminology and in certain of its themes: indifference (justin martyr, athenagoras, Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and, with some variations, Clement of Alexandria), apathy and intellectualism (Justin, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, and especially Clement of Alexandria), conformity to the logos and to nature (Clement of Alexandria), natural law (Justin, the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, and particularly Tertullian), equality of man and cosmopolitanism (particularly Tertullian, Cyprian, and Minucius Felix), the model of the wise man (Tatian and Clement of Alexandria, for whom the wise man became the gnostic), and all of the themes of the diatribe.

God. There was less Stoic influence on matters relating to God. Some Fathers emphasized God's rational nature (Athenagoras, Minucius Felix, and Tertullian), others His material nature (Tertullian). Almost all, and especially Clement of Alexandria, noted His impassibility. All proved His existence rationally, usually taking the order of the universe as their point of departure. Their theories of the logos-pneuma also exhibited a Stoic aspect, and this apart from the terminology used: e.g., God's corporeal nature (Tertullian and the Excerpta ex Theodoto ) and His cyclic unfolding in the Incarnation (the paschal homily attributed to Hippolytus). One may even detect an animistic concept of the world in Tatian and theophilus of antioch, and secondarily in Tertullian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Novatian, and Clement of Alexandria, but for all these thinkers the pneuma of the world, instead of being God, became some ill-defined intermediate. Finally, Minucius Felix and Clement of Alexandria made the logos the law and order of the world. In all this God was viewed more as present in the universe than as functioning in His redemptive work. The World. Despite their theses about the initial creation, the Fathers sometimes saw the world as undergoing a cyclic evolution. They unanimously praised its beauty, order, and harmony, from Pope St. clement i of rome all the way to Clement of Alexandria, who was filled with wonder at the cosmos. The imperfection of detail in the universe contributes to the perfection of the All (Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria), which perfection results from the complementarity of opposites (Irenaeus, Tertullian, novatian, and Clement of Alexandria). For these writers, as for the Stoics, the world was at the disposal of man and was explained in anthropomorphic terms with a disconcerting optimism. Finally, the universe itself constituted a great All (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian), one "vast body" (Tatian and Tertullian); Tertullian's universal materialism unhesitatingly encompassed angels, the soul, and God. Many Fathers had materialistic leanings on the question of angels (Tatian, Minucius Felix, and Clement of Alexandria), and the meeting of body and spirit (in anthropology, the Incarnation, grace, and the matter of the Sacraments) presented no difficulty for any of them. Finally, everything was conceived in a spatiotemporal framework, even man, who was seen as subject to a uniform law of the cosmos. This law was seen variously as a "sympathy" among all spirits (Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria), an essential connection (Tertullian and particularly Minucius Felix), and a "combined effort uniting all in harmony" (Novatian). Everything was historically linked, physically (Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria) or rationally (Tertullian), with a determinism that extended to astral fatalism (Excerpta ex Theodoto and especially bardesanes).

A brief account does not permit the necessary references or useful precisions, but the fact is that a Stoic current ran through Christian thought before 250. In this the Fathers were influenced by the surrounding climate of opinion, adjusting themselves to the ideas of their pagan auditors and refuting the generally Platonic tendencies of the heretics, especially the Gnostics. But their philosophy was in the service of a Christian theology that was rarely betrayed.

Later Patristic Thought. A second era in patristic thought extends from about 230 to the beginning of the Middle Ages; its thought may be explained in terms of the principal theses and their application.

Theses. In this second period, which was dominated by Platonism, Stoic ethics remained influential. It left countless definitions in the works of origen and St. basil, intelligently adapted by St. ambrose (whose De officiis is clearly Stoical) and by St. augustine. The bipartite division of the moral universe into "what is within man's power and what is not," with the supremacy of "free choice" (προαίρεσις) over the "indifferents," passed from Origen and Basil to john chrysostom, who composed a discourse entitled "Who does not injure himself cannot be injured by anyone" (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne 52: 459480) and incessantly repeated these ideas; from him the division passed on to monasticism. Stoicism transmitted its positions on virtue: autarchy (lactantius and Ambrose), the necessary connection of the virtues (Origen, Ambrose, gregory of nyssa, John cassian, evagrius ponticus, and Pope St. gregory i), and the grouping of the four cardinal virtues, following Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria (Basil, Ambrose, jerome, Augustine, Cassian, Gregory, and isidore of seville). The notion of apathy, applied to God, to Christ, and especially to the Christian, received special emphasis; baptized from the time of Origen, it was used by all writers, particularly in treatises on anger, and became the ideal of the monk, the basis of his contemplation. The theme of the wise man was taken up especially by Lactantius, Ambrose, and boethius who, with gregory of nazianzus, also used the classical themes relating to consolation.

Stoicism also provided elements on the physical and metaphysical plane. Analyzed in Stoic terms by nemesius of emesa, man was the center of the universe for Ambrose, who attributed his anthropocentrism to the Stoics. Man's fate was sometimes linked to the evolution of the All (the De Incarnatione attributed to athanasius; Basil and Gregory of Nyssa). The materialistic pneumatology was repeated by Lactantius and macarius the Egyptian and left its traces in Augustine, who made frequent use of seminal reasons and never completely rejected the concept of world soul. nature ("common notions," natural knowledge, and natural law) occupied a prominent place. Central to most thought was the All, wherein the detail evident in the universe found its meaning and evil its place in the harmony of opposites (Origen and Augustine). Many other Stoic elements were intermingled in Christian thought, although Stoicism never appeared as the dominant philosophy except for Lactantius.

Adaptations. Christians often simply adopted the ethical works of the Stoics. martin of braga borrowed freely from Seneca. A treatise close to Epictetus, Christianized on the surface, figures at the head of the Philocalia, entitled "Exhortation of Our Holy Father Anthony the Great" (Athens 1893, 1:216). The Enchiridion itself, with minor modifications, has been attributed to nilus of ancyra (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne 79:12851312). Another adaptation of the Enchiridion, improperly called "Christian Paraphrase" (ed. J. Schweighäuser, Epictetae Philosophiae Monumenta 5:1094) also reproduces the text of Epictetus, Christianized and with a few touches relating to monastic life. Finally this last text has been the object of a Christian commentary, still unedited, that appears in 15 manuscripts but is not complete in any of them. These undertakings between the 5th and 10th centuries testify to the success some Stoics had with the monks.

Medieval Thought. The Middle Ages that Christianized Epictetus and Seneca took little from the Stoic system of thought. Stoic writers were represented by manuscripts of their entire works, florilegia, and various scholia. Byzantine thought was little influenced by Stoicism (arethas of caesarea and Kekaumenos), and the Latins were only a bit more sensitive to it. The Moralium dogma philosophorum, very likely the work of wil liam of conches, is a florilegium of Cicero, Seneca, Sallust, and some Fathers. john of salisbury was sympathetic to Stoicism in all his works, while John of Damback wrote a Consolatio theologiae that was greatly imbued with this philosophy and Barlaam of Seminara wrote an Ethica secundum Stoicos. Many moralists, moreover, mentioned Seneca by name.

Modern Thought. From the rediscovery of Stoicism with the first translators of Epictetus, N. Perotti in 1453 and A. Poliziano in 1497, Christian thinkers made use of Stoic doctrines, particularly against epicureanism. Among these may be mentioned Petrus Crinitus (P. Ricci), De honesta disciplina (1508); G. Budé, De contemptu rerum fortuitarum (1520); J. Clichtove, De doctrina moriendi opusculum (1538); A. Steucho, De perenni philosophia (1540), who even made use of the metaphysics; and T. Kirchmaier, called Naogeorgius, who wrote a translation and commentary of Epictetus with the meaningful title, Moralis philosophiae medulla (1554). Spiritual writers, both Protestant and Catholic, did not escape its influence. Trace are noted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. ignatius loyola (the διάφορα and the notion of conformity with God), while the biographers of SS. Charles borromeo, aloysius gonzaga, and John berchmans mention their interest in this philosophy. louis of granada made frequent use of it in all his works, including his sermons. While denouncing its polytheism, apathy, and pride, francis de sales made much of the Portico and showed great sympathy for the "poor soul, Epictetus," whose spirit of poverty he particularly admired. Among the Reformers, H. zwingli,A. de Rivaudeau, P. duplessis-mornay, and S. Goulard, illogically enough, were inspired by the Stoics. As early as 1532, J. calvin wrote a quite eulogistic commentary on the De clementia of Seneca.

At the juncture of the 16th and 17th centuries, Stoicism assumed a dominant place with J. lipsius, K. scioppius, Guillaume du Vair, P. charron, and F. de Quevedo y Villegas. Many religious writers took great advantage of its teachings. According to J. E. d'Angers, who has devoted some 20 articles to them, some are Christian humanists who use Stoic texts but refute the errors of the system, whereas others are Christian Stoics who, at the price of misinterpretation and scorn, put the pagan masters at the service of Christianity without reservation, even in defining sovereign good, wisdom, and virtue. The famous Bishop of Belley, J. P. Camus, illustrated this twofold attitude in the evolution of his Diversités (160918), which were published in the order of their composition. Among the Christian humanists are numerous Capuchins (Jacques d'Autun, Zacharie de Lisieux, Léandre de Dijon, Georges d'Amiens, and Yves de Paris); Jesuits (R. Ceriziers, J. Hayneuve, and F. Garasse); the Franciscan J. du Bosc; the Oratorian J. F. Senault; and the Carmelite leo of st. john. The Christian Stoics include the Jesuits B. Castori, N. Caussin, É. binet, P. Lescalopier, and M. Mourges; the Cistercian John of St. Francis; the Franciscan tertiary Jean Marie de Bordeaux; the Capuchin Sebastian de Senlis; and the Recollect Pascal Rapine de Sainte Marie, who even discovered in the Stoics the notions of purgatory, penance, and the resurrection of the dead.

A naturalist and rationalistic, indeed a Semi-Pelagian, tendency lay hidden behind this literature of confidence in man; on this account, it was denounced by the Jansenists, including B. pascal. The latter, in fighting its "presumption," exposed the philosophy of Epictetus with great admiration, exclaiming: "I dare say that he would be worthy of adoration had he known his powerlessness" (Entretien avec M. de Saci sur Epictète et Montaigne ). Stoicism waned before the end of the century. In the course of Christian thought it knew two great periods: the first 2 centuries, in which it seems to have set the tone; and the 16th and 17th centuries, when it again found favor despite strong opposition, particularly from jansenism, which negated its basic theses.

Bibliography: r. stob, "Stoicism and Christianity," Classical Journal 30 (193435) 217224. m. pohlenz, "Paulus und die Stoa," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 42 (1949) 69104. a. jagu, "Saint Paul et le Stoïcisme," Revue des sciences religieuses 32 (Strasbourg 1958) 225250. m. spanneut, Le Stoïcisme des Pères de l'Église de Clément de Rome à Clément d'Alexandrie (Paris 1957); Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)] 5:599681. j. stelzenberger, Die Beziehungen der frühchristlichen Sittenlehre zur Ethik der Stoa (Munich 1933). g. verbeke, L'Évolution de la doctrine du pneuma du Stoïcisme à s. Augustin: Étude philosophique (Louvain 1945). j. e. d'angers, "Étude sur les citations de Sénèque et d'Épictète dans L'Institutione civile christiana de B. Castori, S.J., 1622," Mélanges de science religieuse 17 (Lille 1960) 81130. j. n. sevenster, Paul and Seneca (Leiden 1961).

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views updated May 21 2018


STOICISM is a philosophy related to the ancient Greek Stoic school, which took its name from the painted "porch" (stoa ) on the northern side of the Athenian Agora (now ruins partially excavated along Hadrianos Street), where teachers and students of the school initially met. Later, however, lessons were also held in more suitable public buildings (cf. Diogenes Laertius, 7.184).

Historical Survey

The founder of the Stoic school was Zenon (c. 335263 bce). Born in Cithium, Cyprus, he traveled for business to Athens in his thirties and came in contact with Socratic circles there. Zenon devoted himself to philosophy and worked out a comprehensive and ethically oriented world vision, entirely different in its ontological framework from those Plato and Aristotle had produced a few decades earlier. Having lived a successful life in Athens, whose municipality honored him with a statue, Zenon committed suicide. According to Stoic doctrine, suicide is a proper way to end one's life when circumstances (chronic illness, external pressure, etc.) prevent one from continuing to live as a wise person.

Cleanthes (c. 331232 bce), a student of Zenon's from Assos (not far from ancient Troy), led the school until he let himself starve to death, having reached almost one hundred years of age. Cleanthes is believed to have been interested in religion, an opinion due apparently to his famous "Hymn to Zeus" (Stoicorum veterum fragmenta [SVF] 1.537). In fact, Cleanthes occupied himself with a wide range of philosophical topics, including logic as well as psychology.

The third head of the Stoa was Chrysippus (c. 280208 bce), who came from Soli, near modern Mersin, in Cilicia (southwestern Anatolia, bordering Syria). Chrysippus was a natural scholar who wrote numerous books (only fragments are extant) by which he improved the Stoic system in all branches of philosophy. Most of what is known as Stoicism comes from him. After his death the Stoa was directed by Diogenes of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris and, later, by Antipater of Tarsus. These Stoic leaders of the first half of the second century bce left the system set up by Chrysippus unchanged, for they were occupied in rebuking critics from rival schools, such as the Epicureans, the Peripatetics (Aristotle's followers), and especially Carneades of Cyrene, the director of the Academy (Plato's former school).

The two major Stoic figures of the following period, which August Schmekel labeled the Middle Stoa, are Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185c. 109 bce) and Posidonius of Apamea, Syria (c. 135c. 50 bce). Both were worldly philosophers who developed friendly ties with high-ranking politicians and intellectuals in Rome. Panaetius was mainly concerned with issues of a moral and social nature; in religious matters he seems to have expressed agnostic views. Posidonius, who was endowed with an encyclopedic mind, wrote books on cosmology, geography, and history, and he restyled the Stoic system. Several tenets of Posidonius's system differed from Chrysippean "orthodoxy." For example, Posidonius accepted the existence of an "irrational" part of the soul, following a rather Platonic psychological view (Fgm. 150 to 169, Edelstein-Kidd). Unlike Panaetius, Posidonius also had a genuine interest in theology and religious phenomena.

During the period of Panaetius's and Posidonius's leadership, Stoicism became one of the most followed philosophical trends of late Republican and early Imperial Rome. Representative of Roman Stoicism are Vergil's Aeneid, Seneca's moral essays, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. All these works exhibit a consistently Stoic inspiration, although it was developed in a personal, nonprofessional way. Little is known about the internal life of the school in later times. The Athenian Stoa apparently ceased to function as a center after the mid-first century bce, and many anonymous private teachers carried Stoic philosophy throughout the Hellenistic world. Only a few of their names have come down to us, the most famous being Epictetus of Hierapolis (Phrygia; c. 50130 bce), whose Manual was long admired as an outstanding outline of the Stoic moral attitude.

In 175 ce Marcus Aurelius establishedin Athens, the cradle of ancient Greek culturea school for the study of literature (rhetoric) and the four main philosophical trends, including Stoicism. Thus, Athens became once again the official seat of Stoicism, but no information about the names and activity of the appointed Stoic teachers has survived. This imperial school was ordered closed in 527 by the Christian emperor Justinian, after allegations that it was a haunt for pagan propaganda.

Both Jewish and Christian thinkers, including Philo, Clemens and Origen of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Augustine of Hippo, were well acquainted with Stoic philosophy and appreciated its doctrine of providence and its high ethical standards. But as a whole, Stoicism was rejected because of its alleged materialism, and Platonism seemed, for Christianity, a much better choice. Stoicism is rarely mentioned in the literature of the Middle Ages, although it should have been known through Latin sources. Additionally, it was no longer qualified as a philosophical movement or school. Only in the Renaissance did the ancient Stoa tradition find renewed appreciation. Blaise Pascal's assessment (suggested by Montaigne) of the Stoic as a person who confidently trusts in himself rather than God provoked a negative reaction from the Christian point of view. Stoic elements can be recognized in Barukh Spinoza's Ethics and in Immanuel Kant's moral theory.

Main Doctrines

The chief concern of ancient Stoic philosophy, as with other Hellenistic schools, was to lead human beings to happiness (eudaimonia ), which for the Stoics consists of moral virtue (aretē) that is, pursuing on every occasion what is kalon (good, or, originally, well-done) The wise, well-behaved person (sophos ) enjoys perfect happiness, for he is always coherent, firm, and internally appeased (SVF 3.2967; 548588). However, the sage's art of good living (eu zēn, SVF 3.16) requires a correct understanding of the nature of things and of the place of human beings in the world.

The Stoic approach is essentially a dynamic one. Reality, or nature, is a net of mutual interactions explaining the "growth" (the original meaning of phusis ), change, and decay of individual things. Every "real" entity must therefore be a body, because only a bodily being can act on other beings and be affected by them. The pure logical formulas are not bodily, as they do not exist anywhere (for instance, an utterance can be logically right, even though its content may never have taken place); they are simply something "one can say" (lekton ). Yet being "bodily" does not equal being material: in this sense Stoicism is not a materialistic theory like Epicureanism. The Stoics distinguished two aspects in reality as a whole: the active and the passive. The former is a producing principle, the "force" (dunamis ) or Godor, as Chrysippus and Posidonius put it, the "spirit" (pneuma ). The second aspect is proper matter (hulē) ; that is, the underlying material for the spirit's activity. Both aspects are intrinsically united: the spirit includes a material component of "fire," "heat," or "ether," while matter is always pervaded and shaped by spirit (SVF 2.299 to 313).

As a compound of matter and spirit, the world is represented by the Stoics as an organic, harmonic, and perfect living being (SVF 2.633641), in which each part has a mutual "solidarity" with all others (sumpatheia, SVF 2.475, 534, 546). The spiritual principle operating inside reality receives, in the Stoic system, various names according to its manifold functions. It is primarily the "reason" (logos ) through which all things of the world are brought about and linked in the most rational way (SVF 1.85, 160, 493, 2.1051). Each phenomenon takes its own place in a serial connection of causes and effects, but the particular causal chains, heterogeneous though they may appear in detail, all hang from one single principle and deploy themselves in conformity with a world plan laid down in the Logos at the beginning; thus the interlacing of all causes displayed by reason represents the all-determining "fate" (heimarmenē, SVF 2.912938; cf. Posidonius, Fgm. 377, Theiler).

Moreover, insofar as the spirit is identical with God, the Logos is the same as God's mind, and fate equals divine providence (pronoia ). The Stoics strongly stressed the rationality of the arrangement of the world and the providential disposition of all things, aimed ultimately at the wealth of humankind; a set of Stoic arguments thereon, recycled by Christian authors, provided the bulk of what was called theodicy in the seventeenth century (SVF 2.1106 to 1186). The existing world is, for the Stoics, neither infinite nor everlasting. The same spirit that produced it once and led its development will absorb it again in its original fire in due time, by means of an all-destroying conflagration (ekpurōsis ). Soon afterwards, another world will be shaped by it, similar to the preceding one, and so forth cyclically. This is because the spirit's Logos, and hence the resulting fate, cannot change (SVF 2.596632). This theory of "eternal recurrence" is a historical antecedent to Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas.

Rival schools objected that the Stoic doctrine of fate would abolish the human freedom of the will, but the Stoics denied it. As Chrysippus explained (see Cicero, On Fate 1819), fate does not have to be identified with a necessity that compels a person to do something he or she would not otherwise consent to do. Of course the environment lays down certain necessary conditions, but consent (sunkatathesis ) to action comes from the person's own nature. Fate does not fulfill its plan automatically, but coordinates the freely chosen actions of humans with the circumstances. For instance, it was fated for Oedipus to be born, but that would not have occurred if his parents had not decided to have intercourse. Their actions were spontaneous and, at the same time, "co-destined" (suneimarmenon ) in order to accomplish fate's end (Cicero, On Fate 13, cf. SVF 2.940). Augustine's late standpoint admitting compatibility between divine predestination and human free will was heavily influenced by this Stoic concept.

From an ethical point of view, a person's behavior, either right or wrong, depends on the strength of the soul's leading principle (hegemonikōn ), which is the spark of universal reason. The aim of human existence is to live in accordance with reason or nature (homologoumenōs ), that is, in a rational way. Evil doings and passions are the consequence of a degenerated rationality, not of an independent irrational faculty (SVF 3.456 to 480), an opinion from which Posidonius diverged. Even if fate has programmed everything, the human subject remains responsible for his or her actions and should be either blamed or rewarded by social authorities (in any case, the wicked are always unhappy). The Stoics did not believe in the immortality of the soul, but they allowed souls to survive for a while apart from their bodies, before melting away into the cosmic spirit (SVF 2.809 to 822).

Religion and Theology

The early Hellenistic religious mentality was by no means an otherworldly one; religion was rather a consolidated social institution, and philosophy had to take it into account. The Stoa, and all other schools, recognized this common heritage and recommended that traditional polytheistic cults be preserved, although the philosopher should approach them rationally, not with superstition. Chrysippus in particular was eager to save the supposed "rational" meaning of the ancient myths, giving them an allegorical explanation, in most cases as if they were hinting at natural or astronomical phenomenaa method similar to the one already applied to the interpretation of the Homeric poems (SVF 2.10661100; see also Cornutus, Theology ). Moreover, on behalf of the concepts of solidarity, fate, and providence, the Stoics supported the reliability of forecasts of the future both by means of divinatory techniques and through superhuman revelation in dreams and visions (SVF 2.11871216). According to Posidonius (Fgm. 106, Edelstein-Kidd), the godhead does not simply intervene occasionally when a forecast is soughtfor instance, shaping instantly the liver of every single victim in order that it may signify somethingbut the cosmic sumpatheia and the order of fate arrange things from the beginning in such a way that a determinate liver with its natural appearance will also be a sign related to a determinate incoming event.

Theology (in the Greek sense of "talking about the gods"; see Plato, Republic 379a) belongs to the part of the Stoic system named "physics" (the other two parts being "logic" and "ethics"), that is, to the doctrine of reality (phusis ). The supreme God, namely Zeus, is said in religious speech to be the all-pervading and life-giving spirit of nature. Chrysippus etymologized quite falsely the two available accusatives of the God's name, Día and Zēna, respectively, from the Greek preposition diā (throughout) and the verb zēn (to live) (SVF 2.1069). Zeus alone represents the ruling reason, which continues shaping the cyclically recurrent worlds. He is, in a sense, a unique eternal being. All other gods are perishable beings because they exist merely in the framework of a single world and will be wiped out, as will everything else, by the final conflagration (SVF, 2.1049, 1055). Of course they will reappear, exactly the same, in the subsequent cosmic cycle. These gods were thought of as earthly elements and forces, or even as stars and planets (SVF 1.510, 2.613, 1009, 1076).

Stoic theology is a puzzling philosophical construction, as its contemporaries pointed out (see the discussion in Cicero, On Gods ). Since spirit and matter are but two aspects of the same reality, the godhead can also be considered a simultaneously spiritual and material being. God is both soul and body of the universereason, mind, and fate, and also the natural substance with all its parts, phenomena, and functions (SVF 2.1041, 1077, cf. Diogenes Laertius, 7.147). It is not surprising that Posidonius (Fgm. 369, Theiler) claimed the contemplation of heavenly bodies to be the true religious act, which uncultivated people had distorted in the worship of images. Some Stoic philosophers, however, demonstrate a less abstract idea of God and a more devotional attitude. Cleanthes, for example, spoke of Zeus as a personal ruler of the universe, whose fatal law everyone had to follow willingly; Seneca's writings exhibit a deep religious feeling, which led early Christians to imagine a friendship between him and the apostle Paul.

Alleged Semitic Roots

Max Pohlenz (1959) raised the question of whether Stoicism may have undergone a Semitic influence due to the Eastern origin of most of its leaders. This assumption is groundless. In the globalized Hellenistic world, the Middle East did not mean what it does in today's geopolitical context, and local provenance made little, if any, difference. The only "Semite" in the history of the Stoa was Zenon, who belonged to the Phoenician Aramaic-speaking minority of the island of Cyprus; other Stoics came from Greek colonies or from highly Hellenized areas of Asia Minor, such as Cilicia. Diogenes and Posidonius were indeed Syrian, but their native cities had been founded by Seleucid kings and populated with Macedonian military settlers. In any case, all philosophers of this age, even if they were born near Palestine (e.g., Antiochus of Ascalone, Philodemus of Gadara), had an entirely Greek education and way of life.

It is even less likely that a "Semitic" background can be understood as a source of "Jewish" influence. The Stoic "spirit" has nothing to do with biblical rua, being rooted in the concept of warm breath as theorized by Greek medical science. Cleanthes' "Law of Zeus" is no philosophical Torah, because Stoic morality was not grounded in specific precepts or forbiddances. It is plausible that no Stoic teacher ever held a Bible in his hands. Posidonius, for instance, is assumed to have had somewhat anti-Jewish feelings (Fgm. 278, Edelstein-Kidd; 133, Theiler). One could more reasonably argue that some features of ancient Stoicism suggest Indian philosophythe immanence of God in the universe, the conflagration, the imperturbability of the sagebut there is a lack of evidence to elaborate the issue.

See Also

Cosmology; Hellenistic Religions; Logos; Monotheism; Study of Religion; Suicide; Tertullian; Zeus.


Primary Sources

Alesse, Francesca, ed. and trans. Panezio di Rodi e la tradizione stoica. Naples, 1994.

Arnim, Hans Friedrich August von. Stoicorum veterum fragmenta (SVF ). Reprint of 1905 edition. Stuttgart, 1978.

Cornutus, Lucius Annaeus. Theologiae graecae compendium. Edited by Carl Lang. Leipzig, 1881. Translated into Italian and edited by Ilaria Ramelli (Milan, 2003).

Epictetus. Handbook of Epictetus. Translated by Nicholas White. Indianapolis, 1983.

Epictetus. Discourses, Book I. Translated by Robert F. Dobbin. Oxford, 1998.

Long, A. A., and David Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. An anthology of Stoic texts, with translations, philosophical commentary, and a full bibliography.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays. New York, 2002.

Panaetius. Panaetii Rhodii fragmenta. Edited by Modestus van Straaten. Rev. ed. Leiden, 1962.

Posidonius. The Fragments. Edited by Ludwig Edelstein and Ian G. Kidd. Cambridge, U.K., 1972. Reprinted with a commentary in three volumes by Ian G. Kidd. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Posidonius. Die Fragmente. 2 vols. Edited with commentary by Willy Theiler. Berlin and New York, 1982.

Seneca. Moral Epistles. Edited and translated by Anna Lydia Motto. Chico, Calif., 1985.

Seneca. Moral and Political Essays. Edited and translated by John M. Cooper and J. F. Procopé. New York and Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Seneca. Dialogues and Letters. Edited and translated by C. D. N. Costa. New York, 1997.

General Literature

Bréhier, Emile. Chrysippe et l'ancien stoïcisme (1910). Paris, 1951.

Colish, Marcia L. The Stoic Tradition from the Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. 2 vols. Leiden, 1985.

Duhut, Jean-Joël. Epictète et la sagesse stoïcienne. Paris, 1996.

Gould, Josiah B. The Philosophy of Chrysippus. New York, 1970.

Hadot, Pierre. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Laffranque, Marie. Posidonius d'Apamée. Paris, 1964.

Long, A. A. Problems in Stoicism. London, 1971.

Long, A. A. Stoic Studies. New York, 1996.

Pohlenz, Max. Die Stoa: Geschichte einer geistigen Bewegung (1959). 4th ed. Göttingen, Germany, 1970.

Rist, John M. Stoic Philosophy. London, 1969.

Rist, John M., ed. The Stoics. Berkeley, 1978. Includes many important essays on different topics.

Sandbach, F. H. The Stoics. 2d ed. London, 1989.

Schmekel, August. Philosophie der mittleren Stoa. Berlin, 1892.

Sharples, Robert W. Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy. London, 1996.

Veyne, Paul. Seneca: The Life of a Stoic. Translated by David Sullivan. New York, 2003.


Bobzien, Suzanne. Die stoische Modallogik. Würzburg, Germany, 1986.

Frede, Michael. Die stoische Logik. Göttingen, Germany, 1974.

Mates, Benson. Stoic Logic. Berkeley, 1961.

Mignucci, Mario. Il significato della logica stoica. Bologna, Italy, 1965.


Goldschmidt, Victor. Le système stoïcien et l'idée du temps. Paris, 1977.

Sambursky, Samuel. Physics of the Stoics. New York, 1959.

Determinism and Theodicy

Bobzien, Suzanne. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy. Oxford, 1988.

Dalfen, Johannes. "Das Gebet des Kleanthes an Zeus und das Schicksal." Hermes 99 (1971): 173184.

Duhut, Jean-Joël. La conception stoïcienne de la causalité. Paris, 1989.

Magris, Aldo. L'idea di destino nel pensiero antico. 2 vols. Udine, Italy, 19841985. See pages 514607.

Theiler, Willy. "Tacitus und die antike Schicksalslehre." In Forschungen zum Neuplatonismus, pp. 46103. Berlin, 1966.


Campbell, Keith. A Stoic Philosophy of Life. Lanham, Md., 1986.

Erskine, Andrew. The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action. London, 1990.

Nussbaum, Martha Craven. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton, 1994.

Radice, Roberto. Oikeiosis: Ricerche sul fondamento del pensiero stoico e sulla sua genesi. Milan, Italy, 2000.

Reesor, Margaret. The Nature of Man in Early Stoic Philosophy. London, 1989.


Dragona Monachou, Myrto. Stoic Arguments for the Existence and the Providence of the Gods. Athens, 1976.

Drozdek, Adam. "Theology of the Early Stoa." Emerita 52 (2003): 7393.

Frede, Dorothea, and André Laks, eds. Traditions of Theology : Studies in Hellenistic Theology, Its Background and Aftermath. Leiden, 2002.

Hoven, René. Stoïcisme et stoïciens face au problème de l'au-delà. Paris, 1971.

Stoicism and Early Christianity

Spanneut, Michel. Le stoïcisme des Pères de l'eglise: De Clément de Rome à Clément d'Alexandrie. Paris, 1957.

Stoicism and Gnosticism

Onuki, Takashi. Gnosis und Stoa: Eine Untersuchung zum Apokryphon des Johannes. Göttingen, Germany, 1989.

Aldo Magris (2005)


views updated May 21 2018


Stoicism was a philosophical movement founded in Athens in the late fourth century BCE by Zeno of Citium. Although Stoicism was shaped by many philosophical influences (including the thought of Heraclitus), it was throughout its history an essential part of the mainstream Socratic tradition of ancient philosophy. Inspired as well by the Cynics (Zeno was taught by Crates, a student of Diogenes of Sinope), Stoicism developed alongside and in competition with Platonism and Aristotelianism over the next 500 years. For centuries it was the main rival to Epicurean thought as well. Virtually no works survive from the early period of the school's history. Yet its doctrines have been reconstructed with a fair level of reliability on the basis of later accounts, critical discussions by non-Stoics, and the surviving works of later Stoic writers.


When Zeno arrived in Athens, attracted from his home on Cyprus by Socratic philosophy, Plato's Academy was led by Polemo and was soon to make its historic shift away from what we now recognize as Platonism toward a form of skepticism under the leadership of Arcesilaus. Aristotle's legacy was still in the hands of Theophrastus, head of the Lyceum, though in the third century BCE the school would decline in philosophical power as it concentrated on more narrowly scientific problems. Nevertheless, the Aristotelian drive for broad-based philosophical synthesis had an impact on the shape of Stoicism. A significant group of philosophers, forming no particular school but many coming from nearby Megara, concentrated on dialectic as their principal activity. These included Stilpo, also interested in ethics and metaphysics, and Diodorus Cronus, whose sharply formulated arguments provided powerful challenges in physics and metaphysics and challenged the Stoics to develop dialectic as a central part of their system. The Cynics in turn championed nature (as opposed to narrow polis-based social norms) as the foundation of ethics. All of this contributed to Zeno's formation of a powerful philosophical system whose internal articulation into three parts (logic, physics, ethics) was inspired by the Academic Xenocrates.

Stoicism was named for Zeno's favorite meeting place, the Painted Stoa in the Athenian marketplace. The movement was concentrated in a formal philosophical school in Athens for more than 200 years until political changes resulting from Rome's rise to power led prominent philosophers to spread out around the Mediterranean world, especially to Rhodes, Alexandria, and Rome itself. The climax of this process came when the Roman general Sulla sacked Athens in 86 BCE during the Mithridatic Wars. By the end of the first century BCE, Stoic activity was widely dispersed and had become a central part of intellectual culture in the Greco-Roman world. In the early second century CE, the emperor Hadrian founded a chair of Stoic philosophy in Rome (as well as chairs for the other major schools). With the rise of Neoplatonism, Stoicism gradually faded in prominence, though its influence persisted until the end of antiquity. Its impact on medieval philosophy was sporadic, but in the Renaissance it became an important part of the philosophical legacy of the ancient world to modern philosophy.

Principal Stoics and Their Works

The founder of the school, Zeno, was a prolific author whose best-known work was his utopian Republic, influenced by his Cynic teachers and by Plato's Republic. He wrote extensively on ethics and politics (e.g., On the Life according to Nature ; On Law ; On Human Nature ; On Passions ; On Greek Education ), on cosmology (On the Universe ), on poetry (Homeric Problems ; On Listening to Poetry ), and on dialectic (On Signs ; Refutations,; Solutions ). Of his many students, some (Persaeus and Sphaerus) also involved themselves in politics. Cleanthes was a highly prolific writer in the areas of cosmology, physics, ethics, and dialectic. He was also known for his poetry, especially the Hymn to Zeus (which has survived entire) and for his interest in Heraclitus. Cleanthes' contemporary Aristo of Chios favored the Cynic side of the school's heritage and rejected physics and dialectic in favor of a teaching based solely on ethics. Though eclipsed by Cleanthes (who succeeded Zeno as head of the school) and Chrysippus (the third head of the school), Aristo's influence continued to be felt at least until the first century CE.

Chrysippus, the great systematizer of the Stoic tradition, put the school's doctrines on a solid footing after a long period of debate and criticism, especially by the Academic Arcesilaus. Respected as a second founder of the school, he and his students dominated its leadership for many decades. He argued that Zeno's philosophy (as he interpreted it) was essentially correct and thereby stabilized the essential doctrines of the school, which nevertheless continued to be open to internal debate. A highly prolific author (more than 700 books are attributed to him and a partial catalog survives in book 7 of Diogenes' Lives ), Chrysippus revised and rounded out the areas of physics and ethics and put dialectic, especially the study of formal inference and the theory of language, on a new foundation. He wrote a work in defense of Zeno's Republic, evidently declining to abandon the school's Cynic roots, a large number of works on logic and dialectic (including Logical Investigations, of which a few fragments have survived among the Herculaneum papyri), and a nearly equal number on logic and physics. The best attested work is certainly his On Passions, from which Galen quotes many passages in the course of his criticism of Stoic views on psychology and ethics.

The next phase in the school's history came in the late second and early first centuries BCE, when Panaetius of Rhodes and subsequently Posidonius of Apamea adopted a more open stance toward Platonic and Aristotelian approaches than seems to have been characteristic of Chrysippus. There was, however, no dramatic departure from the earlier school. Prominent among later Stoics is Seneca the Younger, a Roman politician of the first century CE. Many of his works, including the Moral Epistles to Lucilius, were highly influential in the early modern period. Other works of Seneca's include On Benefits (which offers important arguments in ethics) and Natural Questions (on physics and meteorology). His works form the earliest corpus of Stoic writing that has survived to the modern era. Another Stoic was Epictetus, a prolific writer and teacher, mostly of ethics, in the late first century CE. He owed a great deal to Musonius Rufus, a Roman citizen from Etruria who wrote in Greek in the early first century CE. Epictetus's lectures were very influential in later antiquity and the early modern period; this is especially true of his Handbook, a compendium drawn from the Discourses, which in turn was compiled by his student Arrian from his lectures. The emperor Marcus Aurelius left a set of personal philosophical reflections, To Himself, more commonly titled Meditations. In no sense a professional philosopher, Marcus combines a profoundly Stoic point of view, deeply influenced by Epictetus, with a more generalized "philosophical" stance reflecting influences from many traditions.

Central Ideas

The concept of nature played a central role in Stoicism. The key to human fulfillment or happiness (eudaimonia ) is living according to nature, and Stoic philosophy was based on this conception of the goal of life. The study of the natural world, physics, was a major occupation of virtually all Stoics (Aristo of Chios being a notable early exception). Human nature for the Stoics is characterized by a rationality that, when fully developed, is divine in its perfection. A deep expression of our nature and of that of the cosmos is our capacity for logic. Nature was formally defined as "a craftsmanlike fire, proceeding methodically to creation (genesis )" (Diogenes 7.156). God, a fully rational and providential force causally responsible for the world and its orderliness, was equated with nature. Whereas the divine craftsman of Plato's Timaeus stood outside the physical cosmos, the rational creator god of Stoicism is completely immanent in the material world.

The Stoics, more than any other ancient school, emphasized the interdependence among the parts of philosophy. They used various similes to illustrate the point. Philosophy is like an animallogic is the bones and sinews; ethics the flesh; physics the soul. Or it is like an egglogic is the shell; ethics the white; physics the yolk. Or like agricultural landlogic is the wall around the field; ethics the fruit; physics the land or trees that bear the fruit. Ideas varied about the ordering and relative importance of the three parts and their subdivisions, but all agreed that philosophy, when properly taught, demanded an intimate blend of all three disciplines, regardless of the pedagogical order chosen (Diogenes 7.3941).

The Stoics based all areas of their thought on a rigorous metaphysical principle that sharply distinguished the corporeal and the incorporeal. The key to this distinction is the argument that only bodies can interact causally, an argument that seems to have emerged from a critique of Plato's metaphysics. Hence god, the soul, nature, and the principles that organize raw matter into intelligible natural kinds are all forms of matter for the Stoics. Even cognitive states such as knowledge are treated as corporeal dispositions of the material mind, since they have causal impact; so too for virtue and other dispositions. Their theory of perception similarly posits corporeal entities, lending weight to their essentially empiricist epistemology. The Stoics recognized only four incorporeal entities: void, space, time, and "sayables" (lekta, roughly, the meanings of thought and speech). Each of these incorporeal entities is parasitic on bodies, a necessary feature of the world but in itself causally inefficacious.

In ethics the central concept was virtue, understood in a distinctively Stoic manner. Human life has a single goal (telos ): to live according to nature. Following Aristotle, the Stoics called achieving this goal "happiness" (eudaimonia ). Perfection of our intrinsically rational nature is the only way to do this. This perfection, which they called "virtue" (aretē ), is the necessary and sufficient condition for achieving our goal. This robust conception of virtue is at the center of Stoic thought and became the defining feature of the school.


Stoic logic has two parts: dialectic and rhetoric. Dialectic is broader in scope than logic in the modern sense. Yet the Stoics made crucial advances even in logic understood in the narrower modern sense.

Traditionally, rhetoric had been the art of persuasion through speech. As such it was either condemned, as by Plato, or reformed, as by Aristotle. The Stoics restricted rhetoric by insisting that it, like other crafts, must be conducted under norms of truth and virtue. Hence rhetoric became the art of persuading an audience of the truth through orderly discourse and argument, differing from dialectic only in form; rhetoric is merely a more expansive way of achieving such conviction. As Zeno said, rhetoric is an open hand, while dialectic is a closed fist (Sextus 1935, 2.7 [= Adv. Mathematicos 2.7]). Stoic ideas about rhetoric understandably had limited influence.

In contrast, their dialectic had considerable influence, since it aimed to be a comprehensive study of human discourse and its relation to truth about the world. It covered the content of discourse as well as the utterances that express that content, both what is signified and what does the signifying. The relationship between linguistic signifiers and their meaning lies at the heart of Stoic dialectic. Accordingly, dialectic covered much of what we classify as epistemology and philosophy of language (including semantics), as well as the study of propositions and their relations. But since what is signified by speech are incorporeal sayables, dialectic also included aspects of metaphysics and philosophy of mind. The broad Stoic conception of dialectic also covered what we would consider linguistics and grammar, the parts of speech and various forms of speech acts; their theories had great influence on the development of grammar as a discipline.

In perception, on the Stoic theory, we receive through the senses representations of objects and events. A rational animal becomes aware of this representational content by way of a sayable (usually a proposition [axiōma ], defined as what admits of being true or false), which is dependent on the physical change in the mind. We either assent to this proposition, reject it as being unrepresentative of its alleged correlate in the world, or suspend judgment about its truth. This is the heart of Stoic epistemology. Academic critics of the Stoic theory argued that no sensory representation could be satisfactorily reliable. In defending their theory (in part by positing self-verifying cataleptic representations) and in elaborating how perceptual experience formed the basis for concepts, memories, and the like, the Stoics expanded on the foundations for empirical epistemology that Aristotle had laid.

The most important aspect of Stoic logic is its study of the forms of argument, inference, and validity. Stoics undertook this to defend the truth of their substantive doctrines and to demonstrate the pervasiveness of rational structures in the world. Chrysippus went beyond that goal and plunged into had been the starting point, and the subject had been advanced by the development of challenging paradoxes and puzzles by Megarian and other dialecticians. Chrysippus made the logic of propositions and arguments into a discipline.

Stoic logic takes the proposition (axiōma, often symbolized by an ordinal number) as its basic unit of analysis and works with a small set of operators used to connect them: "if," "and," "not," and exclusive "or." Five basic inference forms were recognized; all valid arguments were supposed to be derivable from these indemonstrable arguments by purely logical means. Stoics attempted to prove this completeness claim with the aid of higher-order logical principles. The five indemonstrables are the following:

If the first, the second.
But the first.
Therefore, the second.

If the first, the second.
But not the second.
Therefore, not the first.

Not both the first and the second.
But the first.
Therefore, not the second.

Either the first or the second.
But the first.
Therefore, not the second.

Either the first or the second.
But not the second.
Therefore, the first.


Stoic physics was, in its day, the most up-to-date and influential version of the nonatomistic physics pioneered by Empedocles and developed by Aristotle. Stoics posited a geocentric cosmos made up of earth, air, fire, and water arranged in four roughly concentric spheres. Although the cosmos has no void within it, it is surrounded by an indefinitely large void, which provides room for expansion when the cosmos reaches the end of its finite life span. The Stoics held that the cosmos was generated by the creative intelligence of Zeus and eventually ends by returning to the fire from which it was born. This process repeats itself forevera doctrine that responds in part to Aristotle's arguments for the eternity of the cosmos. Since things expand when heated, the conflagration that occurs at the end of each cycle requires that there be empty space outside the physical world.

Zeus is a craftsman-god modeled on the creator god of Plato's Timaeus and initially identified with a kind of fire. Cosmogony begins when this fire transforms itself in a quasi-biological process that generates the four elements that are the stuff of the world. Fire has a dual role, both as the original divine source and as one of the four elements. Each element is analyzable into two principles, the active and the passive, but these principles are themselves corporeal. The active principle (like Aristotelian form) is immanent everywhere and is responsible for the structure and comprehensibility of things; hence it is often identified as god and reason, a creative form of fire that embodies a divine plan for every aspect of the physical world. This emphasis on unified and immanent divine power made the Stoics pioneers for later forms of pantheism.

Later Stoics (including Chrysippus) revised the role of fire and claimed that the immanent shaping power was better understood as pneuma, a unique blend of fire and air with an optimal combination of fluidity and tensile strength. Pneuma gives order and shape to things in varying degrees. In lifeless things like rocks it is a disposition (hexis ), giving them coherence and shape. In plants it is their "nature" (phusis ) and accounts for their ability to grow and change. In animals it accounts for the full range of dynamic attributes, including perception and desire; hence it is there called "soul" (psuchē ). In humans and gods this divine shaping power is labeled "reason" (logos ). These various forms of a single power unite all entities into a single order, the cosmos. Since both the active shaping power and the passive component of a thing are corporeal, the Stoics had to give an account of how two such bodies could be fused into a perfect mixture. Their sophisticated theory of "total blending" was frequently criticized, but the concept of pneuma itself had considerable influence in later centuries.

The Stoics analyzed each individual entity by means of a complex theory that today would fall under the heading of metaphysics. They posit four "genera" or kinds (less helpfully, "categories"), all of which apply to every object. First, each object can be treated as a "substrate"; this merely asserts that it is a material object, a being, without specifying its attributes. Second, each object is "qualified," endowed (by the active principle or by pneuma ) with structure sufficient to make it a definite thing. Qualities are either common (making the object a kind of thing, such as a human) or peculiar (making it a unique individual, such as Socrates). The third genus specifies dispositions or conditions of an entity (Socrates may be courageous or have frost-bitten feet), while the fourth is termed "relative disposition" and picks out relations such as being the father of someone or being on the right of someone. Though we cannot be certain of all its details, this theory clearly provided the analytical framework for Stoic corporealist physics.

Since the cosmos is a whole united by reason (i.e., the pneuma that pervades it), it can be regarded as a single living entity. In this perspective, everything else is a part of the whole, even humans, whose reason is the same in nature as that of Zeus. Hence humans are uniquely situated in the world, subordinate to it as parts but able to understand in principle the unified plan determining all that happens.

From a theological perspective, this plan appears as a providential divine arrangement, but in Stoic physics, it is actually a mere consequence of Stoic causal determinism. There are no uncaused events, so all that happens is determined by antecedent events and states of affairs in the world. The world, then, is a network of causal relationships capable in principle of being explained. If this were not the case, there would be uncaused events, which Stoics thought unacceptable; even the principle of bivalence (the claim that every proposition is either true or false) would be threatened, and Chrysippus (contrary to Aristotle and Epicurus) held that this logical principle obtains even for future-tense propositions.

Human thoughts, actions, and decisions are a part of this causally deterministic system, but moral responsibility is not threatened (according to the Stoics), since the decisive causal factor is the character and disposition of the agent as he or she reacts to the world. Critics in the ancient world argued that causal determinism jeopardized moral accountability, but Chrysippus stoutly maintained a distinction between being caused (as human actions are) and being necessitated by factors wholly external to the agent. Stoic compatibilism still seems reasonable to many philosophers, but it remained contentious in the ancient world.


It is tempting to suppose that for the Stoics ethics is the most important branch of philosophy, subserved by logic and physics. But of all the similes used to described the relationship among the parts of philosophy, only two support this claim: Posidonius's assertion that ethics is like the soul of an animal (Sextus 1935, 1..19 [= Adv. Mathematicos 7.19]) and the claim that ethics is like fruit on the trees (Diogenes 7.3941). Other Stoics make physics the culmination of philosophical activity. Three factors incline us to regard ethics as the core of Stoic thought: the pattern of ancient philosophical controversy, the accidental bias of the surviving sources, and the fact that Stoic physics is today more obviously obsolete than Stoic ethics. To yield to this tendency is to take sides in a debate within the ancient school, to support the Socratic mission of Aristo of Chios against, for example, Chrysippus, who regarded theology (part of physics) as the culmination of philosophy (Plutarch 1035a).

Philosophy is a craft for living (technē tou biou ). As a craft, it is based on a body of knowledge, consists in a stable disposition of a rational agent, and has a determinate function (ergon ) and goal (telos ). Stoicism is firmly embedded in the eudaimonistic tradition of ancient ethics, where the goal is eudaimonia, conventionally translated as "happiness." For Stoics, the goal is to live in accordance with nature, and their claim is that this consists in living in accordance with virtue, since human virtue is the excellence of our nature. But our nature is fundamentally rational. Hence perfection of human reason is another summary expression of the goal. This remains a merely formal account until substantive Stoic views about human nature are considered. In contrast to Plato and Aristotle, Stoics denied that the mature human soul contains essentially irrational components. In Stoic thought, there is no lower part of the soul to be tamed and managed by reason; rather, our rational faculties have an affective component, and so emotion and desire are features of some of our cognitive processes. Further, the Stoics held that our rational nature is qualitatively the same as the divine reason embedded in nature, so that our goal requires living in accordance with both human nature and cosmic nature (Diogenes 7.88).

Like all living things, humans are shaped by a fundamental drive to preserve and enhance their nature, a drive visible even in infants but taking on its characteristic form when they mature. This basic drive involves a commitment to pursue the good, understood as what is truly beneficial. Stoics accept the Socratic argument that only virtue is consistently and genuinely beneficial, since an excellence cannot be misused. Other advantageous things (health, pleasure, social standing, etc.) admit of misuse, so their value is merely provisional. They are preferred but not good. There is a similar account of vice (the only truly bad thing) and disadvantageous things like disease and poverty, which are dispreferred but not genuinely bad. This basic duality in Stoic value theory is a central feature of Stoic ethics. Though it is rational to avoid dispreferred things and embrace preferred things in the course of a well-planned human life, only genuine goods demand unconditional commitment.

This is the basis for the notorious Stoic rejection of passions, which are understood as unreasonable and excessive reactions to preferred and dispreferred things. If sickness and poverty are not bad but merely dispreferred, we should not grieve over them (but, of course, we should do our best to avoid them). If wealth is not a strict good, we should not be elated at achieving it (though there is nothing wrong with enjoying it). If a favorable reputation in our community is not an unconditional good, then we need not fear losing it. If romantic attachments are worth having but are not the sine qua non of human flourishing, then we should pursue potential partners without obsession. And so forth. Life according to our purely rational nature will be free of passions, but not devoid of affect. For in a life of virtuous choices and actions, there will be many things to want, to shun, and to rejoice over. Such positive affective states were called eupatheiai.

Most Stoics accepted the doctrine of the unity of virtues, though there was serious debate about the nature of that unity. But all Stoics held that virtuous action was limited to the sagea normative ideal of perfected virtue used as a benchmark for good action. The Stoics distinguished between appropriate actions (kathēkonta ), which can be determined by the proper application of moral guidelines and maxims, and genuinely good actions (katorthōmata ), which are appropriate actions performed from the perfected disposition of a sage. Nonsages may have little real chance to attain wisdom, but their constant striving to determine the appropriate thing and to do is guided by the ideal of the sage. Stoic recommendations for appropriate actions (such as participation in civic life, unless it is hopelessly corrupt) are routinely presented as descriptions of what the sage will do, yet Stoicism does not categorically prescribe any particular actions. Only the commands to follow (or accommodate oneself to) nature and to act virtuously are unconditional.

Stoic ethics is often portrayed as mired in paradox, but we can make better sense of the persistent philosophical appeal of Stoicism if we focus instead on Stoics' stringent and carefully formulated theories in all branches of philosophy and their insistence that these parts should fit together into a coordinated whole, that they should combine the best understanding of the natural world available in their day with a deep commitment to the exercise of human reason as the key to human fulfillment.

See also Arcesilaus; Aristotelianism; Chrysippus; Cleanthes; Cynics; Diodorus Cronus; Epictetus; Epicureanism and the Epicurean School; Greek Academy; Heraclitus of Ephesus; Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; Musonius Rufus; Panaetius of Rhodes; Posidonius; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Zeno of Citium.


works by stoics

Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by R. D. Hicks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Epictetus. The Discourses of Epictetus. London: J. M. Dent, 1995.

Epictetus. Handbook of Epictetus. Translated by Nicholas P. White. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1983.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Translated by A. S. L. Farquharson. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Plutarch. "On Stoic Self-Contradictions." In his Moralia. Vol. 13, Pt. 2: Stoic Essays, translated by Harold Cherniss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Seneca's Letters to Lucilius. Translated by E. Phillips Barker. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1932.

Sextus Empiricus. Against the Logicians. Translated by R. G. Bury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935.

Sextus Empiricus. Against the Physicists. Against the Ethicists. Translated by R. G. Bury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936.

Sextus Empiricus. Against the Professors. Translated by R. G. Bury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Sextus Empiricus. The Skeptic Way: Sextus Empiricus's "Outlines of Pyrrhonism." Translated by Benson Mates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

works on stoic philosophy

Algra, Keimpe, et al. Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Becker, Lawrence C. A New Stoicism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Bobzien, Susanne. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1998.

Frede, Michael. Die stoische Logik. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1974.

Hahm, David E. The Origins of Stoic Cosmology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977.

Inwood, Brad, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Long, A. A., ed. Problems in Stoicism. London: Athlone Press, 1971.

Long, A. A., and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. Chaps. 2667. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Mates, Benson. Stoic Logic. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953.

Rist, John M., ed. The Stoics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Sandbach, F. H. The Stoics. London: Chatto and Windus, 1975.

Striker, Gisela. "Following Nature: A Study in Stoic Ethics." Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 10 (1996): 173.

Brad Inwood (2005)


views updated May 08 2018


STOICISM. In the century after Aristotle's death, the Greek founders of Stoicism recognized three interrelated constituents of philosophy: logic, physics, and ethics. The study of logic taught the recognition of truth and the avoidance of error, preparing the mind to understand the physical construction of the world and to engage in ethical behavior. The Stoic cosmos was an organic unity that unfolded according to the logos or plan of a universal mind or soul. The physical basis for the universal mind was the pneuma, an all-pervasive animating spirit. At the beginning of each cosmic cycle, the pneuma condensed, producing the terrestrial elements of earth, water, and air at the center of a spherical universe but continuing to pervade the heavens as life-giving fire. The planets were regarded as the natural creatures of this celestial region: they burned fuel provided by transporting terrestrial elements into the heavens. When this process had exhausted the finite supply of terrestrial elements, the cosmos returned to its primordial state and the entire cycle repeated. Within this cosmos individual entities, including human beings, were defined by the portion of the universal pneuma that animated them, and they played roles in the history of the cosmos completely controlled by the logos.

For the Stoics, ethical action accorded with the steadily unfolding plan of the cosmos. But the cosmos frequently unfolded in ways that were painful or frustrating to human beings. The Stoics believed that control over nature was illusory except for the contents of the human mind. Practically, they taught the cultivation of apatheia, a state of mind permitting the tranquil disregard of suffering, and autarcheia, or self-sufficiency. Equally indifferent to wealth and poverty, fame and disrepute, Stoic sages were rendered immune to the vicissitudes of human life. Drawing all three aspects of philosophy together, they were expected to carry out their ethical duty, following the physical plan of the cosmos as revealed by logic, regardless of personal cost.


Although Roman authors like Cicero and Seneca examined all aspects of Stoic doctrine, later writers, for example Epictetus (fl. 90115 c.e.) and Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome, 161180), were primarily interested in the ethical teachings. Their works were known in various forms throughout the Middle Ages but received new attention when humanist philological skills were applied to newly available Greek texts during the Renaissance, and the recovery of Diogenes Laertius provided new information on both Stoic doctrines and the biographies of the founders. Early modern interest in Stoicism developed from an initial phase, in which Stoic ideas were combined eclectically with other doctrines, until writers like Justus Lipsius (15471606) attempted to renovate the Stoic doctrines as a distinct school. Parallel to this later stage, Stoic physical ideas were briefly important in debates on the nature of the heavens and planetary motion.

Throughout this period Stoic doctrines entered humanist literature, although they were limited and conditioned by the authors' Christian opinions. Petrarch (13041374) advocated an essentially Stoic scheme for the subjugation of the passions in De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (Remedies against good and ill fortune) and became the first of many Renaissance writers to borrow Stoic providential design arguments to prove the existence of God. Politian (Angelo Ambrogini; 14541494) translated Epictetus's Enchiridion (Handbook) into Latin; Politian's translation appeared in 1497, and the work was published in Greek in 1528. François Rabelais's Pantagruel stories appeared between 1532 and 1564. Later books in the series presented central characters who exemplified the virtues of Stoic sages and a Stoic worldview identifying God and nature as a single, all-pervasive creative principle. However, Desiderius Erasmus and later Michel de Montaigne denied that a Stoic sage could achieve happiness without divine assistance, while Philipp Melanchthon criticized the Stoic ambition to achieve by human reason what can only be achieved with God's assistance, although he freely used the same Stoic proofs of God's existence that had attracted Petrarch.

The most important reviver of Stoic doctrines was Lipsius, who taught at Louvain. In 1584 he published De Constantia (On constancy), the title indicating a form of apatheia that would help its readers cope with the religious and civil strife of their times. Lipsius attempted to collate the surviving fragments of Stoic doctrine in ancient literature in his Manuductionis ad Stoicam Philosophiam (1604; Guide to Stoic philosophy). In his Physiologiae Stoicorum (1604; Physiology of the Stoics) he attempted to reconcile Stoicism with Christian doctrine. At about the same time, translations of Epictetus appeared in France, England, and Spain.


Stoic physical ideas reappeared later than Stoic ethics. A renewed interest in Pliny revived the doctrine that the substance of the heavens was a fluid through which the planets moved themselves. An early endorsement came from Jacob Ziegler (1531). The Parisian mathematician Ioannes Pena (Jean de la Pène; 15281558) derived the same idea from Cicero. Pena explained the apparent failure to observe the bending of light rays as they entered the atmosphere from the ether above by denying that there was any sharp boundary between the earth and the heavens, which were occupied by Stoic vital air. Writing in 1586, the German astronomer Christoph Rothmann borrowed Pena's arguments to explain why comets were able to move freely in regions that should have been impenetrable ether according to Aristotle. Rothmann corresponded with the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (15461601), who saw these ideas as the solution to a central problem facing the cosmology he favored, in which the sun went round a central earth, but the planets went round the sun. In this system the spheres supporting the sun and Mars interpenetrated in ways forbidden for the Aristotelian celestial substance. Brahe adopted a fluid heavens and redefined the celestial spheres as geometrical boundaries in it (1588). Johannes Kepler (15711630) adopted the latter view in a sustained defense of heliocentrism (1596), although he later rejected the Stoic view that the planets moved themselves and was led thereby to introduce a force, emanating from the sun, to do the same work.

Early in the seventeenth century, the revival of atomism and the appearance of the mechanical philosophy limited the development of exclusively Stoic physical ideas, although they remained influential in alchemy and chemistry throughout Isaac Newton's lifetime. But Stoic ethical doctrines held a continuing appeal, as shown by the favorable treatment of Stoicism in Ralph Cudworth, new editions of Epictetus, and Thomas Stanley's 16551662 history of philosophy, which allots more space to Stoicism and its rival Epicureanism than to the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

See also Astronomy ; Brahe, Tycho ; Cosmology ; Humanists and Humanism ; Kepler, Johannes ; Lipsius, Justus ; Philosophy ; Rabelais, François ; Scientific Revolution .


Primary Sources

Brahe, Tycho De Mundi Aetherei Recentioribus Phaenomenis. Uraniburg, 1588.

Cudworth, Ralph. The True Intellectual System of the World. Bristol, U.K., 1995. Originally published London, 1678.

Epictetus. The Handbook of Epictetus. Translated by Nicholas P. White. Indianapolis, 1983.

Kepler, Ioannes. The Secret of the Universe =Mysterium Cosmographicum. Translated by A. M. Duncan. New York, 1981. Translation of the 1621 edition, containing the complete text of the first edition (Tübingen, 1596).

Lipsius, Justus. Manuductionis ad Stoicam Philosophiam. Antwerp, 1604.

. Physiologiae Stoicorum Libri Tres. Antwerp, 1604.

. Two Bookes of Constancie. Edited by Rudolf Kirk. New Brunswick, N.J., 1939. A new version of Sir John Stradling's 1594 translation of De Constantia.

Marcus Aurelius. The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations. Translated by C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks. New York, 2002.

Rabelais, François. Gargantua and Pantagruel. Translated by Burton Raffel. New York, 1991.

Stanley, Thomas. A History of Philosophy. 3 vols. New York, 1978. Originally published London, 16551662.

Ziegler, Jacob. Iacobi Ziegleri, Landavi, Bavari, In C. Plinii De Natvrali Historia Librum Secundum Commentarius. Basel, 1531.

Secondary Sources

Barbour, Reid. English Epicures and Stoics: Ancient Legacies in Early Stuart Culture. Amherst, Mass., 1998.

Barker, Peter. "Stoic contributions to early modern science." In Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquillity: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought. Edited by Margaret J. Osler. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Chew, Audrey. Stoicism in Renaissance English Literature: An Introduction. New York, 1988.

Monsarrat, Giles. Light from the Porch: Stoicism and English Renaissance Literature. Paris, 1984.

Oestreich, Gerhard. Neostoicism and the Early Modern State. Edited by Brigitta Oestreich and H.G. Koenigsberger. Translated by David McLintock. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1982.

Shifflett, Andrew Eric. Stoicism, Politics, and Literature in the Age of Milton: War and Peace Reconciled. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1998.

Zanta, Léontine. La renaissance du stoïcisme au XVIe siècle. Paris, 1914.

Peter Barker


views updated May 23 2018


Stoicism, from its foundation, has been most famous for its ethical ideas. Even now, stoical suggests a particular ethical stance, endurance of pain or misfortune without complaint. But in antiquity Stoicism was notable also for its unified view of the scope of philosophy and of the nature of reality.

The Stoic School in Antiquity

Stoicism, alongside Epicureanism, was one of the two most important philosophical movements in ancient Greece in the Hellenistic period (after the transformation of the Greek world by Alexander the Great). Both schools were founded in Athens at the end of the fourth century b.c.e.; both offered a distinctive way of life and an integrated theory and worldview. Ancient philosophical schools were not formal institutions but rather groups of intellectuals and students centered on a leading figure (the head of the school). Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium (c. 335c. 263 b.c.e.), and developed by a series of subsequent heads, particularly Chrysippus (c. 280c. 206 b.c.e.) in the late third century, who systematized the teachings of Zeno and made special contributions in logic. From the first century b.c.e. onward, the school was not based at Athens or centered on a specific head, but became a more diffuse movement, with Stoic teachers and adherents throughout the Greco-Roman world. Stoic teachings were transmitted by an extensive body of treatises, especially by Chrysippus, supplemented by summaries of doctrines and more popular writings especially in practical ethics. Stoicism was a powerful philosophical force throughout the Hellenistic period (until the late first century b.c.e.) and in the first two centuries c.e. under the Roman Empire. It died out as a creative movement in the third century c.e., though its influence remained important in later antiquity.

Main Doctrines

In ethics, Stoics saw themselves as perpetuating the key ideas of Socrates (c. 470399 b.c.e.), especially as presented in Plato's (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) dialogues. These ideas were combined with the view of philosophy as an integrated system of branches of knowledge and a picture of reality as an intelligible and unified whole. For the Stoics, complete wisdom consisted in a synthesis of ethics, physics (study of nature), and logic.

The Stoic ethical ideas drawn from Socrates were that virtue was unified, a type of knowledge, and the only thing that was good in itself. Also Socratic were the ideas that virtue was the sole basis for happiness and that all human beings were capable of achieving full virtue. The Stoics developed these ideas into a systematic theory of value linked with a normative picture of human development. Apart from virtue, the other so-called good things in human life, such as one's own health or prosperity and that of one's family or friends, were "matters of indifference," not goods, though they were naturally "preferable." In a complete process of ethical development, human beings would progress from valuing "preferable" things to recognizing that virtue (conceived as order and rationality) was the only good. Failure to develop an understanding of what was really good produced emotions, such as anger and grief, that were defective and misguided reactions. One of the main objectives of Stoic practical ethics was to cure people of the misconceptions that produced these emotions and to promote the development toward full wisdom that alone brought true peace of mind. Sociability and the desire to benefit others was also seen as a natural instinct in human beings, which should develop toward a sense of kinship with all other human beings as rational animals. The realization of the brotherhood of humankind (which was also seen as the expression of "natural law") was the ultimate ideal and desired objective of Stoic political thinking. Stoics did not favor any specific type of conventional constitution such as democracy or monarchy.

In Stoic physics, the natural universe was seen as unified and coherent. Reality, including god and the human mind, was conceived in wholly material terms. The universe was a total fusion of active and passive principles; the active principle could be understood as fiery air or animate breath (pneuma ), and also as immanent god, reason, or fate. The universe was also seen as a seamless web of interconnected causes with no random events. This nexus of events, and the universe as a whole, was understood in teleological terms, as expressing underlying providential purpose or rationality and as being, in that sense, good.

For the Stoics the scope of logic included the philosophy of language and epistemology as well as the systematization of arguments. Chrysippus in particular developed formal logic to a very high level, especially the logic of propositions; Stoics also partly anticipated Gottlob Frege's (18481925) distinction between sense and reference. In epistemology, they maintained the empiricist claim that certain kinds of sensory "appearances" form the basis of an infallible grasp of reality. However, they also held that complete knowledge, or wisdom, involves a systematic, theoretically based understanding of reality as a whole.

The goal of philosophical enquiry was an integrated grasp of these three areas. For instance, the Stoic theory of determinism embraces a conception of universal causation (derived from physics), a logical analysis of possibility and necessity, and an ethical account of human responsibility, based on the idea of humans as both rational agents and an integral part of the causal chain. The modern stereotype of the stoical person as one who accepts life's vicissitudes as the work of fate derives from this conceptually powerful set of theories. The seemingly idealized picture of natural human development adopted in Stoic ethics was seen as consistent with the idea, fundamental to Stoic physics, that nature forms an organic and providential whole. The Stoic conception of the good was, in essence, that of structure, order, and rationality, manifested as virtue in the sphere of ethics, as the order of the universe in physics, and as a system of argumentation and knowledge in logic.

The Medieval and Modern Reception of Stoicism

From the third century c.e., Stoicism was eclipsed as a creative force by Neoplatonism and Christianity. Both those movements replaced the Stoic holistic worldview with transcendent ideals, but they also absorbed and transformed key Stoic themes. The Stoic idea of logos (reason) as a bridge between the divine and the human, and as a fundamental principle of reality, was embraced in different ways by both Neoplatonists and Christians in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. One possible response was to draw on Stoic writings for their moral rigor but to ignore or revise their larger philosophical framework. This approach was applied to Epictetus's (c. 55c. 135 c.e.) Handbook, a pithy statement of Stoic practical ethics; by the Neoplatonist commentator Simplicius (fl. c. 530 c.e.); and by medieval Christian ascetics, who used the text as a guide for monastic self-scrutiny. Christian philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas (12251274) and Francisco Suárez (15481617) similarly drew on Stoic ideas to define the idea of virtue as a natural property. In the Enlightenment period, engagement with Stoicism was more full-hearted, and the Neo-Stoic Justus Lipsius (15471606) argued for the fundamental equivalence of Stoic and Christian ethics and theology. In the nineteenth century, Hellenistic thought was often regarded as an inferior phase of ancient thought by philosophers (notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) and scholars. But in the twentieth century, especially its last thirty years, Stoicism was an object of intensive scholarly study. The modern revival of virtue-ethics and cognitive approaches to emotion, and current interest in nonreligious practical ethics, have given Stoic ideas renewed appeal. In the twenty-first century, we may expect to find Stoicism also valued for its holistic approach to the universe and the mind-body relationship and the attempt to integrate ethics, science, and logic.

See also Christianity ; Epicureanism ; Epistemology ; Language, Philosophy of: Ancient and Medieval ; Logic ; Neoplatonism .


Algra, Keimpe, et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Bobzien, Susanne. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Inwood, Brad, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Long, Anthony. Stoic Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Long, Anthony, and David Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Christopher Gill


views updated May 17 2018


STOICISM , one of the influential post-Socratic philosophies of antiquity, founded by the Hellenized Phoenician Zeno (335–263 b.c.e.). It was popular with Roman jurists and became a major ingredient in Greco-Roman rhetorical culture. As such it met Judaism, probably even before the Hasmonean revolt. The extent and nature of this meeting are still under debate. Stoicism lent itself to an explanation of how the bridging of the chasm between God and man, actualized in creation, revelation, and history, was accomplished in detail (mediation). The Stoic theory of the Logos ("Word," "Reason") became therefore central in Philo and after him in the Gospel according to St. John, and traces of it are found in the Midrash. The metabolism of elements, the World Soul, and Providence appear in the Wisdom of Solomon, shades of the quasi-material Spirit and of ecpyrosis (successive conflagrations of the world) in the Midrash. Less obvious is the possibility that the large-scale midrashic attempt to see latent "ethical" situations everywhere in cosmos and history may have been furthered by the panlogistic mood of Stoicism and its doctrine of cosmic "sympathy." Rabbinism, however, insisted on hashgaḥah peratit ("individual providence") and rejected the impersonal Stoic concept (Greek pronoia). Stoicism in all these adaptations has sometimes been regarded as an aid to the clarification of earlier Jewish beliefs. Occasionally, Jewish sources such as Josephus and the talmudic dialogues about *Antoninus Pius try to outdo the Stoicism of the Stoics (iv Macc.) or to portray Pharisaic Judaism as an up-to-date Stoicism. The Jewish and Hellenistic bureaucrat-scholar classes, i.e., the rhetorician-philosophers, Philo, and the rabbis, were compelled to reinterpret sacred writ in an age of change. Stoic allegory came to their aid. Both were involved in legal exegesis, and Stoic techniques of expounding and expanding law were useful. Some rabbinic hermeneutical rules have thus been regarded as having a Stoic-rhetorical coloring, at least in their terminology. Stoic casuistry was known to the rabbis, and the prevailing sense of "etiquette" is reflected in rules for table and toilet in Cicero and the Talmud alike.

Perhaps the Stoic mood is most strongly in evidence in rabbinic ethics, part of which could thus be considered as an intercultural ideology of a bureaucrat-scholar class elevating the ideal Sage. Here values and problems emerge that were not found (or not stressed) in the Bible: health, the simple life, self-improvement, fortitude, the ethos of work, imitatio dei, generosity, theory versus practice, the good versus the merely valuable, new interpretations of suffering etc. The biblical roots amal ("to labor") and zaʿar ("to take pains") acquire positive connotations. Beyond these, however, the native ethos prevailed: empathy, repentance, hope, and rule over the emotions, not their extirpation. Strong, too, is the acceptance of Stoic-rhetorical literary forms in rabbinism, such as catalogs of virtues and vices, sorites, consolation formulae (life as a deposit), eristic dialogues, diatribic sequences, and certain similes (athletics, household, civic life). The Letter of Aristeas is an example of Stoic instructions for kings. The immediate source for rabbinism (and early Christianity) must have been Greco-Roman rhetoric rather than the ubiquitous Posidonius of earlier research. Yet, "what is received is received according to the way of the receiver," i.e., selectively, and is synthesized with the unaffected transcendental and humanitarian tradition of Judaism.

[Henry Albert Fischel]

Medieval Jewish Philosophy

Stoic influence on Jewish religious philosophy in the medieval period was mainly indirect, that is, through the Neoplatonic philosophers (see *Neoplatonism) and commentators on Aristotle who had undergone Stoic influence. The Stoic ideal of the cosmopolis, a state covering the whole of mankind, may have had some influence on the political ideas of al-Fārābī and through him on *Maimonides in his conception of the Law of Moses as the constitution of the ideal state and in his vision of the Messianic age (Yad, Melakhim, end). It is possible that Isaac *Abrabanel was influenced by Stoic views in his criticisms of luxurious living and its consequences for human life. In *Spinoza, one finds a material conception of God which is analogous to the Stoic conception, and Spinoza's ideal of the free man corresponds to that of the Stoic sage.

[Lawrence V. Berman]


Kaminka, in: rej, 82 (1926), 233–52; L. Wallach, in: jqr, 31 (1940/41), 259–86; Daube, in: huca, 22 (1949), 239–64; S. Lieberman, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Biblical and Other Studies (1963), 123–41; Urbach, in: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Proceedings, 2 (1966), no. 4. medieval jewish philosophy: Guttmann, Philosophies, index; H.A. Wolfson, Philosophy of Spinoza, 2 vols. (1934), index; idem, Philo, Foundations of Religious Philosophy, 2 vols. (1947), index.


views updated Jun 11 2018

stoicism Stoic philosophy was developed in Athens in the third century bc, and reached the peak of its popularity among the upper classes of Rome during the first century bc and the first century ad. The Stoic view of knowledge is empirical; knowledge comes to us from the world through ‘appearances’, which are impressed on our minds. Reason, seen as the quintessentially human characteristic, enables us to understand the world; it is possible to form a community of those who use reason, which will be superior to any secular community. While in pursuit of this ideal, Stoics did not always withdraw from participation in political life; the Roman Stoic Seneca served in the Roman senate and influenced the emperor Nero, although in later life he moved away from Rome to concentrate on writing.

Stoicism denied the importance of all bodily conditions, and emotions were always regarded as bad. The only factor seen as essential to human happiness was virtue, all else in life having significance only as an opportunity to demonstrate that one possesses virtue. Seneca claimed that one could demonstrate virtue equally well through pleasure or through pain, whether enjoying a banquet or submitting to torture. Since all bodily experience equally provided an opportunity to show virtue, no experience was to be deliberately sought out over another. This contrasted with other philosophical approaches; for example, Epicureanism, which regarded pleasure as the goal of life. For the Stoic, poverty and detachment from the world were not seen as essential for the achievement of the good life, nor need worldly wealth be abandoned in the quest for virtue.

In the treatise De Officiis (On Duties), written after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 bc, the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero gave a Stoic account of the correct use of the body as part of his advice to his son — and to the Roman governing classes in general — on how to make moral decisions and to live in the best way possible. As a manual for the upper classes, this text was highly influential in Western political and social thought. Cicero says that both the mind and the body should be trained from childhood into moderate and appropriate behaviour, and this should be expressed through every action — there being a seemly way to stand, walk, or sit. Nature, Cicero argues, has constructed the body so that the most honourable parts are the most visible. Sane people mirror Nature's wisdom in keeping out of sight the parts Nature has hidden away, and in performing bodily functions in private. Moving too slowly is seen as effeminate: hurrying around makes someone out of breath, thus distorting the face. Anger, pleasure, and fear equally transform the faces, voices, and gestures of those experiencing them: the ideal is to control the body, avoid excessive gestures, and follow a moderate way of life. While recommending following ‘Nature’, Cicero also recommends training the body in such a way that one's natural faults are played down; presentation of self can thus be achieved in a way which deceives the onlooker.

Helen King


views updated Jun 27 2018

sto·i·cism / ˈstō-iˌsizəm/ • n. 1. the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.2. (Stoicism) an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Stoicism an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium, and named for the Stoa in which he taught. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.