Stoicism

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Founded by Xeno in the 4th Century BC and flourished in Greece and Rome and won praise for its ideas of inner solitude fortitude and forbearance.

Stoicism took its name for the Stoa or Colonnade where Xeno and his followers discussed their ideas. It resents us with a coherent system of logic, physics and ethics. It argues for a materialistic and deterministic cosmos. At the conceptual level it is composed of passive matter interpenetrated by active divine reason. At the observaervable level, this passive matter takes the form of earth and water and the divine reason takes thre form of fire and air which is known as pneuma. This divine reason organizes everthing for the best. The cosmos only has a finite life span . When it comes to the end it transmutes itself in to creative ration fire from which the next identical cosmos is formed. It has to be identical because it was perfect the forst time. We are part of a greater whole and our happiness and virtue rest on acknolwledgment of that. If we can live in accordance of the plan then and accept it then we are living in harmony with nature.

At the time these ideas are coiming to fruition we are hundred year after the Plato's academy and after the coming to power of Philip of Macedonia and Alexander The Great. Given those unstable times and the disintegration of the Polis people will trying to seek solace by thinking in terms of a greater plan

At the same times the Cynics and Epicurians and thinking along similar lines. All of these schools were teaching you how you could leave a live of Virtue and seek happiness

Xeno and Stoicism

Diogenes the Cynic took Platonism very seriously. He gave up all outward signs of possessions or conformity, living in a tub, etc. His rich pupil Crates gave away his money and could say now he can care about no one. Xeno meets Crates while looking for followers of Socrates. He tells Xeno to carry Lentil soup in the market. Xeno is embarrassed and ties to hide the soup under his clothes. Crates smashes the bowl and now the soup is dripping down his leg and tells him not to be ashamed of his embarrassment. Xeno continued to be uneasy and from this story we can see that although these two philosophies are similar one can argue Stoicism is cynicism for the shy.

Xeno was a too conventional to follow cynicism. However, He found a way to follow the Socratic value system but nevertheless pursue a conventional life. Even though wealth foe instance is not intrinsically good it depends on how we use it. But it is our instinct from birth to follow these goals so these it would be foolish to suppress them. Instead you need to conform to nature's rational plan. For instance we should aim to be healthy but if you become sick there maybe some higher reason for it. e.g. To experience ill health and then help other people, like a Florence Nightingale figure.

Romans and Stoicism

Stoicism was introduced to the Romans and the beginning of the first millennium. The first Roman cynics were Cicero and Cato the Younger. Cato became a stoic hero after he committed suicide rather than accept Caesar's pardon. After he had been defeated he went to Tunisia and read Plato's Fido in one hand and sword in the other and disemboweled himself in the morning. He was later canonized as a philosopher/ warrior / politician.

Seneca was political advisor to Nero and an eminent Stoic philosopher. He was forced to commit suicide by Nero but ensured that his suicide mirrored Socrates in its theatrics. He belief is if you are miserable then the idea is not trying to be cheerful but instead you have to accept it and conquer it.

Stoicism was regarded with a marked degree of cynicism. Mucianus said of them they are full of empty boasting, and that if one of them lets his beard grow long, elevates his eyebrows, wears his coarse brown mantle thrown back over his shoulder and goes barefooted, he straightway lays claim to wisdom, bravery and righteousness, and gives himself great airs, even though he may not know either his letters or how to swim, as the saying goes. They look down upon everybody and call a man of good family a mollycoddle, the low-born slender-witted, a handsome person licentious, an ugly person a simpleton, the rich man greedy, and the poor man servile. Vespasian immediately expelled from Rome all the philosophers except Musonius; Demetrius and Hostilianus he even deported to islands [1]


Emperor Marcus Aurelius took up Stoicism but was not on the same intellectual level although he came up with one good observation (in his Meditations) that if some one says "I will be frank" it implies that you are trying you are actually doing the opposite. He also said we live our life in the present moment The past has already gone and future has not happened so when you die you are only losing a moment. But Seneca says you have to understand a life as a whole so Marcus Aurelius is prim and simplistic compared with Seneca.

Stoicism began to influence other empires a thousand years later. Especially the British Empire view of self-sacrifice. There has been a tension between Christianity and Stoicism. Some have equated them as similar but other like Milton were appalled by the Stoic notions. Stoicism equates God with the totality of the universe, which was deeply contrary to Christianity. Also, Stoicism, unlike Christianity, does not posit a beginning or end to the universe, nor does it assert that the individual continues to exist beyond death.

Stoicism was later regarded by the Church as a 'pagan philosophy'; nonetheless, some of the central philosophical concepts of Stoicism were employed by the early Christian writers


  1. Cassius Dio, Roman History Book 65]]
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