Monthly Archives: February, 2012

What Do Stoics Believe?

Many people visiting this page will be unfamiliar with Stoicism, except in the most basic sense. For their benefit, I think it would be useful to set out a brief overview of Stoic beliefs. I’m indebted to Beliefnet for the format, which is borrowed from their “What Do ___ Believe” pages.

Belief in Deity
Stoicism is theist. Ancient Stoics paid lip service to the Classical Greek gods, but saw them as tools for human understanding of a single deity. The Stoic concept of deity was expressed through the word Logos, which the Stoics used as a term of art to describe the active reason which plans and organizes creation.The Stoic concept of God can be thought of as having three parts: (1) Physis – Nature or that which dictates how things grow and develop, (2) Fate – the certainty of things progressing according to their Physis, and (3) Providence – the purpose to which things develop; generally aimed at the good order and maintenance of creation.
Stoics believed in no incarnations of deity.
Origin of Universe and Life

Ancient Stoics attempted to be scientific, which in Classical times meant an acceptance of variations on the theory of four elements. Modern Stoics are more likely to accept a theory of creation supported by modern science.In either instance, Stoicism assumes that the universe is the product of a deity and operates according to laws created by that deity, which are largely discoverable through investigation and reason. Throughout history, Stoics have been largely unconcerned with demonstrating the existence of that deity, but have assumed its existence from the apparent order and majesty of the universe.

After Death
The ancient Stoics held a variety of beliefs about the period after death. Generally, the spirit was not believed to survive the body. Some Stoics believed that the spirit (pneuma) did survive in some form, but would eventually come to its own end or, at the end, would be destroyed at the end of the world.Any period after death was not of great concern to the Stoics. The human physis tends toward death, so death was accepted as being in accordance with nature and as a thing to be accepted.
Why Evil?
Stoics did not believe in an incarnate force of evil. Instead, Stoics believed that all people were imperfect except for the perfectly wise. Therefore, every person had the possibility to commit wicked acts. Stoics also believed every action had a voluntary component; that is, even an impassioned action required that the person assent to acting out of their passion. For that reason, Stoics held the individual responsible for all of their acts.That said, many Stoics considered that wickedness was often the result of a lack of understanding or that what one person may consider a wicked act by another might be justifiable. Because of that, Stoics looked to the guidance of reason to educate people away from committing further wickedness or to understand the rational justification behind acts.
Undeserving Suffering
Stoics did not believe in undeserving suffering. In fact, one of the goals of Stoicism was to reach the understanding that many of the things people think of as “good” or “bad” are really just preferable or not preferable. The core of Stoic teaching was that one’s outlook and attitude determines whether one suffers from hardship.Additionally, some Stoics taught that hardship was a blessing because it would cause a person to test the development of their virtue. Those Stoics believed it would be foolish to seek out hardship, but if one were fated to face hardship, one should view it as an opportunity to develop the appropriate attitude.Finally, the Stoics believed that a person guided correctly by reason would recognize that the universe has its own Physis. That was an explanation for why people suffer some hardships. For example, sickness and death are contrary to a human being’s physis, but are perfectly consonant with the physis of the universe. Therefore, a person guided by perfect reason would recognize the propriety of the hardship and submit to it without grief.

Hello world!

This blog is a place to spread out and organize my views on two things I hold dear: Stoic philosophy and its place in the modern world and the effective and ethical practice of law.  through writing, I hope to discover ways those two interests coincide and ways to deal with the conflicts between my desire to be wise and my duties as an attorney.

In the early posts, I intend to journal my notes and reactions on some reading material. Much of that material will be in the public domain; when it is, I will link to available editions so that readers can follow along.

I hope you will enjoy reading and commenting.