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Who were the stoics and what did they believe?
Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium (334-262 b.c.e.), whose work was carried on by Cleanthes (331-322 b.c.e.), who was then succeeded by Chrusippus (c. 280-206 b.c.e.). The name "stoic' came from the Stoa Poikile, or painted colonnade, where stoics first gathered in Athens. According to these early stoics, the entire world is a morally good organism, with different phases in which events operate according to divine reason, or logos. The sequence of events is predetermined by fate. Each world phase ends in a big fire and is then repeated in a continuous, never-ending cycle.
Early stoic ethics held that only virtue is good, and only vice is bad. Other things, such as health or wealth, may be preferred, but they are morally indifferent. We each have a unique role in the world plan and our job is to learn what it is. Such learning creates concern for the self, which can and should be extended to close relatives and friends and, after them, all humanity. (The stoics may have been the first cosmopolitans.) Learning is based on assent to impressions, until all of a person's thoughts become related and "unassailable by reason." By counseling that we "assent to impressions," the stoics meant that we should not deny anything that is presented to us as either a fact or an opinion but simply acknowledge its effect on us. Such stoic certainty formed the "dogmatism" opposed by the skeptics.
Who were the important philosophers of middle stoicism?
Middle stoicism matured in Rhodes, with Panaetius (c. 185-110 b.c.e.) and Posidonius (c. 125-50 b.c.e.), both of whom influenced the statesman and writer Cicero (106-43 b.c.e.). Posidonius (c. 125-50 b.c.e.) incorporated both Platonic and Aristotelian ideas into his views. The main accomplishment of Middle stoicism was to apply Greek ideas to military and political life in Roman culture. Middle stoicism was generally more focused on how those who were stoics could weather specific life problems, such as defeat in war, or imprisonment.
What is Roman stoicism?
Roman stoicism was developed by Seneca the Younger (1-65 c.e.), Epictetus (c. 55-135 c.e.) and the emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-80 c.e.), who wrote Meditations. Many were moved by Marcus Aurelius' advice about restraining anger at his weak subjects: "Do not be turned into 'Caesar,' or dyed by the purple: for that happens." Roman stoicism was influential in the Renaissance and the modern period, and to this day it underlies codes of behavior and moral values in military communities.
The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was also a productive philosopher who wrote on stoicism (Art Archive).
Seneca was a playwright, statesman, and one-time tutor to Roman emperor Nero. He was also a contributor to stoic philosophy (Art Archive).
The basic stoic premise is that we are obligated to understand the nature of the things we deal with and be prepared to accept, without fuss, unwanted events that are not under our control. Epictetus is famous for saying that if your favorite clay pot breaks, you should remember that it was always fragile and not yours to begin with. And if your spouse or child dies, that is a reminder that they are mortals, something that we should always remember about the human beings we love.
What is Epicureanism?
Unlike its namesake today, which connotes an enjoyment of good food and fine wine, ancient Epicureanism was an austere doctrine. It was founded by Epicurus (341-271 b.c.e.) and his colleagues Metrodorus of Lampsacus (331-277 b.c.e.), Hermarchus (dates unknown), and Polyaenus (dates unknown). Epicurus set up communities at Mytilene, Lampsacus, and on the outskirts of Athens, where his school was known as "The Garden." Epicurean practice required detachment from political life—although not opposition to it—and time spent in philosophical discussion with friends.
Epicurus wrote "letters" on physics, astronomy, and ethics, as well as maxims, and a major work, On Nature, little of which has survived. He was an atomist, as Democratus (c. 460-371 b.c.e.) had developed the theory, except that he thought atoms themselves contained sets of "minima" (parts of atoms that cannot be further divided). According to Epicurus, the atoms are in constant motion, with swerves and collisions that have resulted in the formation of bodies as we experience them. There is nothing godlike outside of life and society as we known them, and the gods should just be viewed as ideal models for our own behavior. Death is not to be feared, because we will
Today, we often associate Epicurus with the idea of Epicureanism, or enjoyment of food and drink. But Epicureanism actually began as an austere doctrine of serious reflection (Art Archive).
Antisthenes of Athens thought that a virtuous person could always be happier than a non-virtuous one and that the soul was more important than the body (Art Archive).
merely dissolve into our constituent atoms, which are incapable of feeling pain—or anything else.
Epicurean ethics held that pleasure is our only good; it is better even than virtue. Pain is the only evil. Pleasure should be sought in stable ways, which makes a simple life necessary. We should satisfy only our most necessary desires in the company of friends like us. The highest pleasures are "katastematic," or those related to satisfaction. The "kinetic" pleasures that result from stimulation merely increase our insecurity (they are like desires). Our ultimate goal should therefore be the absence of pain via a simple life for the body and the study of physics for the soul. This will result in ataraxia, or "freedom from disturbance."
What is ancient cynicism?
The cynics were eccentrics who chose to be outcasts rather than kow-tow to social norms that did not make sense to them. Ancient cynicism was generally an attempt to reassert the importance of human nature as independent of society and custom. This
Diogenes, depicted in a painting by Flemish artist Pieter Van Mol, was an unusual philosopher given to rude and obscene public gestures that displayed his contempt for social conventions (Art Archive).
was very different from our modern definition of a cynic as someone who is skeptical and tends to believe the worst about people.
The cynics derived from Antisthenes of Athens (c. 445-360 b.c.e.), who studied with Gorgias (c. 485-380 b.c.e.) and was a good friend of Socrates (460-399 b.c.e.), even being present at his death. Antisthenes claimed to be proudest of his wealth, because, having no money, he was pleased with what he had. He thought that a virtuous person could always be happier than a non-virtuous one and that the soul was more important than the body.
Antisthenes' minimalist ideas about what was necessary to live well were carried on by Diogenes of Sinope (400-325 b.c.e.), who lived in a wine barrel, claimed that cannibalism and incest were fine practices, and was said to carry a lamp in daylight in search of an honest person. Diogenes' successor was crates of Thebes (fl. 328 B.c.E.), who gave up his wealth to practice cynicism, but also married. He believed that asceticism was necessary for independence and claimed that lentils were better than oysters.
How are dogs like cynics?
The English word "cynic" comes from the Greek "kyon," which means "dog." Diogenes of Synope thought people could learn much from dogs, who were not ashamed of their bodily functions, not picky eaters, and did not care where they slept. Dogs neither worry, nor care about academic philosophy, and they know immediately if someone is a friend or an enemy. What's more, dogs, unlike humans, are honest. Like a dog, Diogenes had no use for family structures, social organizations, politics, private property, or good reputation. He is said to have masturbated in the agora (market place) and replied to those who insulted him by urinating on them. He also gestured at others with his middle finger. Plato described him as "a Socrates gone mad."
Because of his contempt for convention and knowledge of philosophy, many considered Diogenes a man of wisdom. Alexander the Great once sought Diogenes out, when the philosopher was bathing in his wine barrel, which he did often because of a painful skin condition. When Alexander offered to give him anything in the world he wanted, Diogenes replied, "Please get out of my sunlight" (or words to that effect).
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