Monday, 3 June 2013

Stoics - Core Concepts and Divine Providence

It's Systematic, it's's greased Lightnin' (or Zeno's version of it anyway)

Sort of Place Zeno and Friends might have strolled in

Stoicism seems to have started out with a more systematic approach than Epicurean thought and as a result it has had a greater influence on philosophical systems to come due to its rational and ordered appearance. It went on to influence later systems of thought concerned with epistemology and ethics as well as logic.

So what are the core ideas?

Its all connected

Firstly that there is a coherent system to philosophy all parts of which mutually support each other to result in a harmonious whole. So its all connected and everything links to something else to build up the total world view of the Stoic. Note that this is in contrast to the claims of Socrates who said that he need not know about the cosmos in order to enquire into the nature of virtue. For Stoics, if you don't have the whole picture, you cant know anything properly.

Second. All fundamental philosophical questions are related. this seems to follow on from a extension from the first idea. So its all connected and you need to make all the connections to see things properly.

Thirdly, Zeno's assertion that ' our chief goal in life is to live in agreement with nature'. But there are difficulties with what nature might be understood as being and not being, for it to accord with a morally meaningful position. At least that appears to be a common contention of other thinkers of the time.

Fourthly, that 'ratio' rationality or reason is the only thing that can be called good. What we have control over and what we can be held responsible for are our inner moral impulses (presumably in accordance with Stoic ' nature'). Stoics should rely only on the inner as the compass of the soul and not by any external contingencies (the vagaries of life and 'fate').

Divine Providence vs. Random Access Memories

Stoics in contrast to Epicurus strongly adhered to the providence of the gods and a determined divine rational plan and order for the universe. In other words Stoicism was a deterministic system. You could be true to your inner self and that resulted with you falling in line with the divine plan. It must be the case that the gods or God (as embodiment of the universal supreme reason) existed for the Stoics but beyond that general statement it is not fleshed out in any detailed cosmology or physical description of the nature of the universe. It is here that we find the greatest division with Epicurus, and also what constituted a strong appeal to Christian thought with its 'divine plan'.

Epicurus: God is not there or he is not listening, Stoics: God has a plan for all of us and there is no or limited free will.

It seems that the mood of the times was such that Epicureans would have had a very hard time convincing people that the gods just didn't exist or care about us and that ' it is all random - there is no divine plan..and that the deviation in the fall of atoms provides just enough random effect for free will to be a viable idea. Epicureans are still on an uphill struggle..2,000 years later!


  1. Hi Stephen
    Thanks for all these posts, for some reason my bookmarked page for the blog stayed on the first one and I've only just picked up the more recent ones. Perhaps we could pick something stoical for our next reading? I've been reading some Marcus Aurelius which has a lot to say of modern relevance so it would be good to read some of his source material.

  2. Thanks Duncan! You are a regular here now! Keep the comments coming and yes, I think Marcus Aurelius could be a good idea for next text.