See J. M. Rist, Stoic Philosophy (1969); A. A. Long, ed., Problems in Stoicism (1971); A. A. Long and P. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, (2 vol., 1987); M. Reesor, The Nature of Man in Early Stoic Philosophy (1989).
School of philosophy in Greco-Roman antiquity. Inspired by the teaching of Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope, Stoicism was founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium circa 300 BC and was influential throughout the Greco-Roman world until at least AD 200. It stressed duty and held that, through reason, mankind can come to regard the universe as governed by fate and, despite appearances, as fundamentally rational, and that, in regulating one's life, one can emulate the grandeur of the calm and order of the universe by learning to accept events with a stern and tranquil mind and to achieve a lofty moral worth. Its teachings have been transmitted to later generations largely through the surviving books of Cicero and the Roman Stoics Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
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Stoic doctrine proved to be a popular and durable philosophy, with a following throughout Greece and the Roman Empire from its founding until all the schools of philosophy were ordered closed in 529 AD by the Emperor Justinian I, who perceived their pagan character to be at odds with his Christian faith.
Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person's own life. - Epictetus
The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic, non-dualistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge, though their logical theories were to be of more interest for many later philosophers.
Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: "Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature." This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; "to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy", and to accept even slaves as "equals of other men, because all alike are sons of God."
The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective; in regards to those who lack Stoic virtue, Cleanthes once opined that the wicked man is "like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes." A Stoic of virtue, by contrast, would amend his will to suit the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy," thus positing a "completely autonomous" individual will, and at the same time a universe that is "a rigidly deterministic single whole".
Stoicism became the foremost popular philosophy among the educated elite in the Greco-Roman Empire, to the point where, in the words of Gilbert Murray, "nearly all the successors of Alexander [...] professed themselves Stoics.
Beginning at around 301 BC, Zeno taught philosophy at the Stoa Poikile (i.e., "the painted porch"), from which his philosophy got its name. Unlike the other schools of philosophy, such as the Epicureans, Zeno chose to teach his philosophy in a public space, which was a colonnade overlooking the central gathering place of Athens, the Agora.
Zeno's ideas developed from those of the Cynics, whose founding father, Antisthenes, had been a disciple of Socrates. Zeno's most influential follower was Chrysippus, who was responsible for the molding of what we now call Stoicism. Later Roman Stoics focused on promoting a life in harmony within the universe, over which one has no direct control.
Scholars usually divide the history of Stoicism into three phases:
Unfortunately, as A. A. Long states, no complete work by any Stoic philosopher survives from the first two phases of Stoicism. Only Roman texts from the Late Stoa survive.
Make for yourself a definition or description of the thing which is presented to you, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing it is in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell yourself its proper name, and the names of the things of which it has been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole.
The universe itself is god and the universal outpouring of its soul; it is this same world's guiding principle, operating in mind and reason, together with the common nature of things and the totality which embraces all existence; then the foreordained might and necessity of the future; then fire and the principle of aether; then those elements whose natural state is one of flux and transition, such as water, earth, and air; then the sun, the moon, the stars; and the universal existence in which all things are contained.
Everything is subject to the laws of Fate, for the Universe acts only according to its own nature, and the nature of the passive matter which it governs. The souls of people and animals are emanations from this primordial fire, and are, likewise, subject to Fate:
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web.
Individual souls are perishable by nature, and can be "transmuted and diffused, assuming a fiery nature by being received into the Seminal Reason (logos spermatikos) of the Universe. Since right Reason is the foundation of both humanity and the universe, it follows that the goal of life is to live according to Reason, that is, to live a life according to Nature.
Borrowing from the Cynics, the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: "Follow where reason leads." One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of passion was "anguish" or "suffering", that is, "passively" reacting to external events — somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A distinction was made between pathos (plural pathe) which is normally translated as "passion", propathos or instinctive reaction (e.g. turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage (sophos). The eupatheia are feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as the passions result from incorrect judgment.
The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia (απαθεια) (Greek) or apathy, where apathy was understood in the ancient sense — being objective or having "clear judgment" — rather than simple indifference, as apathy implies today. Stoic apatheia is rather the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life's highs and lows - getting carried away by neither.
For the Stoics, reason meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature — the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people. The four cardinal virtues of the Stoic philosophy are wisdom (Sophia), courage (Andreia), justice (Dikaiosyne), and temperance (Sophrosyne), a classification derived from the teachings of Plato.
Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of ignorance. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason. Likewise, if they are unhappy, it is because they have forgotten how nature actually functions. The solution to evil and unhappiness then, is the practice of Stoic philosophy — to examine one's own judgments and behaviour and determine where they have diverged from the universal reason of nature.
Eventually three sub-classes of "things indifferent" developed: things to be preferred because they assisted life according to nature; things to be avoided because they hindered it; and things indifferent in the narrower sense.
The principle of ἀδιάφορα was also common to the Cynics and Sceptics. The conception of things indifferent is, according to Kant, extra-moral. The doctrine of things indifferent was revived during the Renaissance by Philip Melanchthon.
Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together...
They held that external differences such as rank and wealth are of no importance in social relationships. Thus, before the rise of Christianity, Stoics advocated the brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings. Stoicism became the most influential school of the Greco–Roman world, and produced a number of remarkable writers and personalities, such as Cato the Younger and Epictetus.
In particular, they were noted for their urging of clemency toward slaves. Seneca exhorted, "Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.
The central Stoic idea of logos had an encounter with early Orthodox Christianity through Arius and his supporters. The ecumenical rejection of this belief was evidenced and deemed heretical at the Council at Nicea. Stoicism influenced Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, which was highly influential in the Middle Ages in its promotion of Christian morality via secular philosophy.
For example, the Serenity Prayer:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.