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Index by Period

Stoicism

The Passions are Diseases which can and must be Extirpated.
THE LOGIC OF STOICISM.--Stoicism existed as a germ in the Cynic philosophy (and also in Socrates) as did Epicureanism in Aristippus. Zeno was the pupil of Crates. In extreme youth he opened a school at Athens in the Poecile. The Poecile was a portico; portico in Greek isstoa hence the name of Stoic. Zeno taught for about thirty years; then, on the approach of age, he died by his own hand. Zeno thought, as did Epicurus and Socrates, that philosophy should only be the science of life and that the science of life lay in wisdom. Wisdom consists in thinking justly and acting rightly; but to think justly only in order to act rightly--which is quite in the spirit of Socrates, and eliminates all the science of research, all consideration of the constitution of the world as well as the total and even the details of matter. Therein is Stoicism more narrow than Epicureanism.

In consequence, man needs clear, precise, and severe "logic" (the Stoics were the first to use this word). Armed with this weapon, and only employing it for self-knowledge and self-control, man makes himself wise. The "wise man" of the Stoic is a kind of saint--a superman, as it has since been called--very analogous to his God. All his efforts are concentrated on safeguarding, conquering, and suppressing his passions, which are nothing save "diseases of the soul." In the external world he disregards all the "things of chance"--everything, that is, that does not depend on human will--and considers them as non-existent: the ailments of the body, pangs, sufferings, misfortunes, and humiliations are not evils, they are things indifferent. On the contrary, crimes and errors are such evils that they areequally execrable, and the wise man should reproach himself as severely for the slightest fault as for the greatest crime--a paradoxical doctrine which has aroused the warmth of even respectful opponents of Stoicism, notably Cicero.

MAXIMS OF THE STOICS.--Their most frequently repeated maxim is "abstain and endure"; abstain from all evil, suffer all aggression and so-called misfortune without rebelling or complaining. Another precept widely propagated among them and by them, "Live according to nature," remarkably resembles an Epicurean maxim. This must be made clear. This precept as they interpreted it meant: adhere freely and respectfully to the laws of the universe. The world is a God who lives according to the laws He Himself made, and of which we are not judges. These laws surround us and compel us; sometimes they wound us. We must respect and obey them, have a sort of pious desire that they should operate even against ourselves, and live in reverent conformity with them. Thus understood, the "life in conformity with nature" is nothing else than an aspect of the maxim, "Endure."

PRINCIPAL STOICS.--The principal adepts and masters of Stoicism with and after Zeno were Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Aristo, and Herillus in Greece; at Rome, Cato, Brutus, Cicero to a certain degree, Thrasea, Epictetus (withal a Greek, who wrote in Greek), Seneca, and finally the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism rapidly developed into a religion, having its rites, obediences, ascetic practices, directors of conscience, examination of conscience, and its adepts with a traditional dress, long cloak, and long beard. It exerted considerable influence, comparable (comparable only) to Christianity, but it penetrated only the upper and middle classes of society in antiquity without descending, or barely descending, to the masses. Like Epicureanism, Stoicism had a renaissance in modern times in opposition to Christianity; this will be dealt with later.

Philosophers Related Articles
Chrysippus
Cleanthes
Epictetus
Epictetus
Zeno of Citium
The Stoics


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