From ancient to modern Stoicism — part I

Stoicism invented hereI have now being studying Stoicism intensively for close to a year and a half, and this year I’m ratcheting things up by devoting my sabbatical to it, a project that will culminate in the writing of How To Be A Stoic (the book), and the offering at City College of a course on ancient vs modern Stoicism.

Which brings me to the topic of this post. I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the project of modernizing Stoicism, and here I will like to present my preliminary suggestions in a bit of a more systematic manner than I’ve done so far.

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Stoic naturalism and its critics

Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas had a complex relationship with Stoicism

We are getting near the end of my running commentary on the wonderful Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, this time tackling the Stoic take on naturalism — a term in philosophy that has taken on a variety of meanings over the past two millennia or so.

The relevant chapter, written by T.H. Irwin, begins with a useful reminder of the three Stoic doctrines that have markedly influenced later moral philosophy: “(1) Eudaemonism: the ultimate end for rational action is the agent’s own happiness. (2) Naturalism: happiness and virtue consist in living in accord with nature. (3) Moralism: moral virtue is to be chosen for its own sake and is to be preferred above any combination of items with non-moral value.”

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Stoic astronomy

solar systemThe Stoics were not interested just in ethics, even though that was the crucial aspect of their very practical philosophy. In going through the various chapters of the Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, we have looked at aspects of their “logic,” including moral psychology and logic proper; and our explorations of their “physics” has led us through discussions of natural philosophy and more recently of medicine. Today is the turn of Stoic astronomy.

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Stoicism and medicine

Greek medicineI am continuing my commentary of the excellent Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, of which I have published a number of installments already (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). I’ve got to the chapter by R.J. Hankinson, on “Stoicism and medicine.” And no, this isn’t going to be a post directing you to use some kind of Greco-Roman “alternative” treatments for your cold.

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Stoic moral psychology

Inside Out emotionsContinuing my survey of the excellent Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (see examples here, here, and here), it’s time to discuss Tad Brennan’s chapter on Stoic moral psychology. This is an interesting field in and of itself, since psychology is a descriptive discipline, while ethics is prescriptive, so moral psychology is precisely the sort of interface between theory and practice that the Stoics made central to their philosophy. As Brennan puts it: “Because they all embrace some type of naturalism in their ethical foundations, ancient theories tend to begin their ethical theorizing along with their psychology, not prior to it.”

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Stoic ethics, Cambridge edition

ethicsI have commented on the general topic of Stoic ethics before (here and here), but given that ethics is the fundamental pillar of Stoic philosophy, I’m sure there will be plenty of other occasions to return to the subject. This post is about the treatment of Stoic ethics to be found in a chapter by Malcolm Schofield in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics.

The first interesting bit comes when Schofield discusses Zeno’s views on ethics, as presented by Stobaeus. According to Schofield, Zeno’s views are eminently Socratic, in particular he adopts the four fundamental virtues (wisdom, courage, justice and temperance) from Plato’s Republic, and imports the idea that things like health and sickness are not bad or good in themselves from the Apology and especially Euthydemus.

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