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Stoicism Philosophy logic, physics, and ethics

Stoicism Philosophy: Understanding the Logic Behind Physics and Ethics

 Stoicism Philosophy is an ancient philosophical practice that blends logic, physics, and ethics to create a holistic understanding of the world. This belief system focuses on cultivating inner peace by embracing change and living in harmony with oneself and the universe. With its logical grounds, it offers a unique perspective on life that can be applied to many different aspects of our lives today.

The Key Takeaways and Benefits of the Philosophy

Stoicism Philosophy will enable you to develop a better understanding of the logical grounds behind ethics and physics, and how they are intertwined. It provides valuable lessons on dealing with adversity, developing resilience and reframing your thoughts. You will learn to recognise negative emotions and how to manage them, as well as how to use your own reason as a tool for living in alignment with nature. With all this knowledge in hand, you should have a better idea of what kind of decision making is needed for a fulfilled life.

Stoicism Philosophy logic, physics, and ethics

Introduction of Stoicism Philosophy

 Stoicism, while in origin contemporaneous with Epicureanism, had a longer history and less constancy in doctrine. The teaching of its founder Zeno, in the early part of the third century B.C., was by no means identical with that of Marcus Aurelius in the latter half of the second century A.D. Zeno was a materialist, whose doctrines were, in the main, a combination of Cynicism and Heraclitus ; but gradually, through an admixture of Platonism, the Stoics abandoned materialism, until, in the end, little trace of it remained. Their ethical doctrine, it is true, changed very little, and was what most of them regarded as of the chief importance. Even in this respect, however, there is some change of emphasis. As time goes on, continually less is said about the other aspects of Stoicism, and continually more exclusive stress is laid upon ethics and those parts of theology that are most relevant to ethics. With regard to all the earlier Stoics, we are hampered by the fact that their works survive only in a few fragments. Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who belong to the first and second centuries A.D., alone survive in complete books. 

The principles of Cynic and Stoic philosophers are similar but one principle that Stoic philosophers do not follow is the life of poverty.

Stoicism is less Greek than any school of philosophy with which we have been hitherto concerned. The early Stoics were mostly Syrian, the later ones mostly Roman. Tarn ( Hellenistic Civilization,  suspects Chaldean influences in Stoicism. Ueberweg justly observes that, in Hellenizing the barbarian world, the Greeks dropped what only suited themselves.  

Stoicism, unlike the earlier purely Greek philosophies, is emotionally narrow, and in a certain sense fanatical; but it also contains religious elements of which the world felt the need, and which the Greeks seemed unable to supply. In particular, it appealed to rulers: "nearly all the successors of Alexander - we may say all the principal kings in existence in the generations following Zeno-- professed themselves Stoics," says Professor Gilbert Murray.

Zeno was a Phoenician, born at Citium, in Cyprus, at some. time during the latter half of the fourth century B.C. It seems probable that his family were engaged in commerce, and that business interests were what first took him to Athens. When there, however, he became anxious to study philosophy. The views of the Cynics were more congenial to him than those of any other school, but he was something of an eclectic. The followers of Plato accused him of plagiarizing the Academy. 

How was Stoicism influenced by Socrates?

The influence of Socrates on Zeno was mediated by the Cynics, but Roman Stoics  particularly Epictetus. Socrates was the chief saint of the Stoics throughout their history; his attitude at the time of his trial, his refusal to escape, his calmness in the face of death, and his contention that the perpetrator of injustice injures himself more than his victim, all fitted in perfectly with Stoic teaching. So did his indifference to heat and cold, his plainness in matters of food and dress, and his complete independence of all bodily comforts. 

 The Stoics never took over Plato's doctrine of ideas, and most of them rejected his arguments for immortality. Only the later Stoics followed him in regarding the soul as immaterial; the earlier Stoics agreed with Heraclitus in the view that the soul is composed of material fire. Verbally, this doctrine is also to be found in Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, but it seems that in them the fire is not to be taken literally as one of the four elements of which physical things are composed.

Explore Ancient Greek and Roman Writings on Physics and Ethics.

To gain a deeper understanding of the Stoic philosophy, it’s important to explore the writings of Ancient Greek and Roman authors on physics and ethics. The writings provide perspectives on how Stoics addressed moral dilemmas, virtue and duty as well as their interpretations of physical laws. Additionally, there are plenty of philosophical books that can be read to gain insight into this field, such as Discourses by Epictetus, De Finibus by Cicero and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Finally, attending lectures or seminars on the Stoic philosophy could help those looking to deepen their understanding of its logic.

The Three Disciplines of Stoic Philosophy

Stoic philosophy is based on three primary disciplines: physics, logic, and ethics. The practice focuses in part on mastering these fields of study to become emotionally steadier and live with greater clarity and purpose. Stoic ethics - the recognition of how we ought to act, think, feel, and interact with others - is the cornerstone for the Stoic approach to life.

Stoic philosophy is divided into three parts. 1. Logic 2. Physics 3. Ethics 

Stoic logic

‘Logic’ was a broad topic for the Stoics, including not just reasoning and its science but also epistemology and philosophical grammar. Their contributions to logic strictly so called were significant; unlike Aristotle’s logic of terms they explored the inferential relations between whole propositions, and identified three basic rules of inference (actually they thought there were five, but three of them are the same rule written three different ways), which are familiar and central in today’s propositional calculus. An interesting feature of their logic is that it is committed to strict bivalence, that is, the principle that there are two and only two ‘truth values’, namely, true and false, and that every assertion must be one or the other. Aristotle had wrestled with the question whether this must be so, by contemplating a proposition about the future: ‘there will be a sea battle tomorrow.’ Is this now definitely either true or false? If it is either, there must now be a fact about the future. But the future does not exist, so how can there be a fact about it? Aristotle therefore decided that the proposition is neither true nor false – bivalence does not, he said, apply to future-tensed propositions about contingent matters.

Stoic logic examples

Logic propositional - And, or, if then...
For example 

1. If it is raining this afternoon.
Then I shall not go out for a walk .

2. It is raining this afternoon
Therefore, I shall not go out for a walk 

1. If P. then Q.
2. P
3. therefore, Q

‘A logical relationship to foundational or “self-evident’ or “basic” propositions’ – the candidates have been numerous. Zeno of Citium had himself given the following illustration: hold out your hand: that is perceiving. Fold the fingers back: that is believing. Clench your fist: that is comprehending. Grasp your fist very tightly and securely in your other fist, so that it is supported: that is knowing. Like these other suggestions this indicates the form of what a definition of knowledge should be like, but not the substance. choosing those things that are good, and those things that are appropriate when consistent with things that are good, and the choices will be governed by seeking to conform to nature. 

It may well be that we do not succeed in achieving certain of the ‘indifferents’ which we rationally and appropriately pursue, such as wealth; but if we have what is good – courage, prudence, moderation – we will still be happy. An important aspect of this is the idea that what lies within our own control, for example our appetites, desires and fears, we should seek to master; but as to what lies beyond our control, those things we can do nothing about such as ageing, or suffering because of an illness or earthquake, we must face them with courage. The difference is between action and passion: action is what we do, passion is what we undergo or suffer as recipients without a choice. To bear the passions, pathe, courageously means not letting them master us; we must be apathetic with regard to them. That is the original meaning of this term.

Chrysippus however thought that all statements, even future-tensed ones, must be definitely either true or false, and this therefore committed him to strict determinism: if ‘there will be a sea battle tomorrow’ is now either true or false, it is now already settled that there will or will not be a sea battle tomorrow. In asserting the Stoic metaphysical principle that logos as ‘fate’ drives the universe through its repeating cycles of history, he is to be taken quite literally.

Physics of the stoics

Stoic physics refers to the natural philosophy of the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome which they used to explain the natural processes at work in the universe. To the Stoics, the cosmos is a single pantheistic god, one which is rational and creative, and which is the basis of everything which exists. 

''Everything is subject to the laws of fate.'' - Stoic

In their physics the Stoics were committed to the view that the signature of reality is the capacity to act or be acted upon, and they therefore said that the only things that exist are physical bodies. Matter, therefore, is a fundamental principle  of the universe. But they pointed out that we also refer to many other things that are not bodies, for example places, times and imaginary objects such as mythical beasts. These things do not exist but ‘subsist’, that is, have a kind of courtesy semi-existence because they can be talked about. Unlike Plato who held that universals really exist (albeit in a Realm of Being accessible only to the intellect), they described these objects of reference as mental entities only, much as did the nominalists of later philosophy.

The  matter, is indestructible and eternal. But there is another fundamental principle of the universe alongside matter, also indestructible and eternal; this is logos, reason. It pervades and organizes the universe, making it go through a cycle of changes beginning with fire, passing through the formation of the elements – fire, air, water and earth, the first two active and the latter two passive – thence on to the emergence of the world as we know it, constituted by combinations of these elements, and thence back again to the universal fire, which begins the cycle over again, in eternal recurrence. This logos the Stoics also called ‘fate’ and ‘god’, and it is a material thing, like the physical universe which it orders through these endlessly repeating cycles

Zeno had no patience with metaphysical subtleties. Virtue was what he thought important, and he only valued physics and metaphysics in so far as they contributed to virtue. He attempted to combat the metaphysical tendencies of the age by means of common sense, which, in Greece, meant materialism. Doubts as to the trustworthiness of the senses annoyed him, and he pushed the opposite doctrine to extremes.

" Zeno began by asserting the existence of the real world. 'What do you mean by real?' asked the Sceptic. 'I mean solid and material. I mean that this table is solid matter.'' And God,' asked the Sceptic, 'and the Soul.' 'Perfectly solid,' said Zeno, 'more solid, if anything, than the table.''And virtue or justice or the Rule of Three; also solid matter?'' Of course,' said Zeno, 'quite solid.''

It is evident that, at this point, Zeno, like many others, was hurried by anti-metaphysical zeal into a metaphysic of his own.

Stoic cosmology

The main doctrines to which the school remained constant throughout are concerned with cosmic determinism and human freedom. Zeno believed that there is no such thing as chance, and that the course of nature is rigidly determined by natural laws. Originally there was only fire; then the other elements--air, water, earth, in that order--gradually emerged. But sooner or later there will be a cosmic conflagration, and all will again become fire. This, according to most Stoics, is not a final consummation, like the end of the world in Christian doctrine, but only the conclusion of a cycle; the whole process will be repeated endlessly. Everything that happens has happened before, and will happen again, not once, but countless times.

What is the Stoic universe theory?

The Stoics held that the universe is a plenum of matter, meaning that there is no empty space. This raises the question of how things can be individuated – told apart – externally, and how they can maintain themselves internally as individual things. The answer is that they are kept apart as different individuals, and kept together internally each as a single individual, by pneuma or breath, which is a combination of fire and air. Pneuma penetrates all things, and because it comes in different ‘grades’ it is the cause of things having different properties. It is what gives plants and animals their respective kinds of life, and it is what gives reason to humans. It is unclear whether this view committed the Stoics to thinking that, because pneuma is physical stuff, its role as the rational part of a human being cannot survive a bodily dissolution at death. Chrysippus said that the pneuma of the wise would survive the  death of their associated bodies until the next fiery conflagration, perhaps because the pneuma of the wise has greater self-integrating power than that of the unwise; but the view smacks of compromise.

So far, the doctrine might seem cheerless, and in no respect more comforting than ordinary materialism such as that of Democritus. But this was only one aspect of it. The course of nature, in Stoicism as in eighteenth-century theology, was ordained by a Lawgiver who was also a beneficent Providence. Down to the smallest detail, the whole was designed to secure certain ends by natural means. 

Stoic Gods

These ends, except in so far as they concern gods and daemons, are to be found in the life of man. Everything has a purpose connected with human beings. Some animals are good to eat, some afford tests of courage; even bed bugs are useful, since they help us to wake in the morning and not lie in bed too long. The supreme Power is called sometimes God, sometimes Zeus. Seneca distinguished this Zeus from the object of popular belief, who was also real, but subordinate.

God is not separate from the world. He is the soul of the world, and each of us contains a part of the Divine Fire. All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature. In one sense, every life is in harmony with Nature, since it is such as Nature's laws have caused it to be; but in another sense a human life is only in harmony with Nature when the individual will is directed to ends which are among those of Nature. Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature. The wicked, though perforce they obey God's law, do so involuntarily; in the simile of Cleanthes, they are like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes.

Stoic virtue ethics

''To live according to reason and nature is virtue.'' - Stoic

What are the stoic virtues
Stoic virtues  → 1. Wisdom  2. Courage  3. Justice  4. Temperance

Stoic Morals and Values.

Stoic morals and values are at the foundation of Stoicism, focusing on the idea that inner peace and a fulfilled life come from accepting what is outside of our control. This includes focusing on our own personal effort, developing resilience to face unexpected events, and letting go of attachment to material things. Furthermore, Stoic ethics honours virtues such as courage, justice, temperance, wisdom and self-control as essential elements in our lives. Finally, reason is seen as the ultimate tool for understanding the world around us so that we may respond to it with clarity.

It was however the ethics of Stoicism that made it so influential for so long, especially in the Roman world. The fundamental Stoic idea in ethics is that happiness – which they agreed is the end or goal, telos, of life – consists in ‘living in accordance with nature’. What is in accordance with nature is what is good. The good is what benefits us in all circumstances, unlike things which are only good in some circumstances and not in others, for example, wealth. Things that are sometimes good and sometimes bad the Stoics called ‘indifferents’. The things that are always good are the virtues of prudence, courage, moderation and justice. Given that wealth can sometimes be good though it is not an unqualified good like prudence, we need to distinguish between ‘what is good’ as such and what can sometimes have value (axia). Things which have value can be preferred over their opposites – wealth, health and honour can be preferred to poverty, illness and dishonour – because they are usually of advantage to us, or ‘appropriate’, oikeion, for us; and as such we have a natural tendency to seek them. But if they interfere with the realization of what is wholly and unqualifiedly good, they are of course not to be preferred to it.

Living well consists in rationally choosing those things that are good, and those things that are appropriate when consistent with things that are good, and the choices will be governed by seeking to conform to nature. It may well be that we do not succeed in achieving certain of the ‘indifferents’ which we rationally and appropriately pursue, such as wealth; but if we have what is good – courage, prudence, moderation – we will still be happy. An important aspect of this is the idea that what lies within our own control, for example our appetites, desires and fears, we should seek to master; but as to what lies beyond our control, those things we can do nothing about such as ageing, or suffering because of an illness or earthquake, we must face them with courage. The difference is between action and passion: action is what we do, passion is what we undergo or suffer as recipients without a choice. To bear the passions, pathe, courageously means not letting them master us; we must be apathetic with regard to them. That is the original meaning of this term.

In the life of an individual man, virtue is the sole good; such things as health, happiness, possessions, are of no account. Since virtue resides in the will, everything really good or bad in a man's life depends only upon himself. He may become poor, but what of it? He can still be virtuous. A tyrant may put him in prison, but he can still persevere in living in harmony with Nature. He may be sentenced to death, but he can die nobly, like Socrates. Other men have power only over externals; virtue, which alone is truly good, rests entirely with the individual. Therefore every man has perfect freedom, provided he emancipates himself from mundane desires. It is only through false judgements that such desires prevail; the sage whose judgements are true is master of his fate in all that he values, since no outside force can deprive him of virtue.

There are obvious logical difficulties about this doctrine. If virtue is really the sole good, a beneficent Providence must be solely concerned to cause virtue, yet the laws of Nature have produced abundance of sinners. If virtue is the sole good, there can be no reason against cruelty and injustice, since, as the Stoics are never tired of pointing out, cruelty and injustice afford the sufferer the best opportunities for the exercise of virtue. If the world is completely deterministic, natural laws will decide whether I shall be virtuous or not. If I am wicked, Nature compels me to be wicked, and the freedom which virtue is supposed to give is not possible for me.

We admire a medical man who risks his life in an epidemic of plague, because we think illness is an evil, and we hope to diminish its frequency. But if illness is no evil, the medical man might as well stay comfortably at home. To the Stoic, his virtue is an end in itself, not something that does good. And when we take a longer view, what is the ultimate outcome? A destruction of the present world by fire, and then a repetition of the whole process. Could anything be more devastatingly futile? There may be progress here and there, for a time, but in the long run there is only recurrence. When we see something unbearably painful, we hope that in time such things will cease to happen; but the Stoic assures us that what is happening now will happen over and over again. Providence, which sees the whole, must, one would think, ultimately grow weary through despair.

There goes with this a certain coldness in the Stoic conception of virtue. Not only bad passions are condemned, but all passions. The sage does not feel sympathy: when his wife or his children die, he reflects that this event is no obstacle to his own virtue, and therefore he does not suffer deeply. Friendship, so highly prized by Epicurus, is all very well, but it must not be carried to the point where your friend's misfortunes can destroy your holy calm. As for public life, it may be your duty to engage in it, since it gives opportunities for justice, fortitude, and so on; but you must not be actuated by a desire to benefit mankind, since the benefits you can confer - such as peace, or a more adequate supply of food - are no true benefits, and, in any case, nothing matters to you except your own virtue. The Stoic is not virtuous in order to do good, but does good in order to be virtuous. It has not occurred to him to love his neighbour as himself; love, except in a superficial sense, is absent from his conception of virtue.

Stoicism on emotions

The ancients also thought that emotions we now regard as active ones, such as love and anger, and to which we give the name of passions, were indeed truly so in the sense of their being inflicted on us as passive recipients of them: the passion of erotic desire, lust, was thought to be an infliction, even a punishment, from the gods. Excessive versions of the passions are ‘disobedient to reason’ and it is necessary to school oneself to be ready for them, so that one can be – well, stoical about them.

When I say this, I am thinking of love as an emotion, not as a principle. As a principle, the Stoics preached universal love; this principle is found in Seneca and his successors, and probably was taken by them from earlier Stoics. The logic of the school led to doctrines which were softened by the humanity of its adherents, who were much better men than they would have been if they had been consistent. Kant-who resembles them-says that you must be kind to your brother, not because you are fond of him, but because the moral law enjoins kindness; I doubt, however, whether, in private life, he lived down to this precept.

The doctrine of natural right, as it appears in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, is a revival of a Stoic doctrine, though with important modifications. It was the Stoics who distinguished jus naturale from jus gentium. Natural law was derived from first principles of the kind held to underlie all general knowledge. By nature, the Stoics held, all human beings are equal. Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, favours "a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed." This was an ideal which could not be consistently realized in the Roman Empire, but it influenced legislation, particularly in improving the status of women and slaves. Christianity took over this part of Stoic teaching along with much of the rest. 

Slaves are the equals of other men, because all alike are sons of God. We must submit to God as a good citizen submits to the law. "The soldier swears to respect no man above Caesar, but we to respect ourselves first of all."  "When you appear before the mighty of the earth, remember that Another looks from above on what is happening, and that you must please Him rather than this man."

On earth, says Epictetus, we are prisoners, and in an earthly body. According to Marcus Aurelius, he used to say "Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse." Zeus could not make the body free, but he gave us a portion of his divinity. God is the father of men, and we are all brothers. We should not say "I am an Athenian" or "I am a Roman," but "I am a citizen of the universe." If you were a kinsman of Caesar, you would feel safe; how much more should you feel safe in being a kinsman of God? If we understand that virtue is the only true good, we shall see that no real evil can befall us. Stoic are coin the term citizen .

There is nothing theoretical about the adjurations of the Stoics, for whom philosophy was a practical matter, aimed at making a real difference to the felt quality of life. Understanding oneself and how things are in the world is liberating, they argued, precisely because it puts the key to happiness into our own hands: we can choose to be indifferent to what we cannot influence, while at the same time rationally governing our own feelings. It was a commentator on Stoicism, Cicero, who best found a way of summing up their ethical outlook: ‘to learn to philosophize’, he wrote, ‘is to learn how to die,’ meaning that a right understanding of death frees one from the fear of it, so that one can live with greater courage and autonomy. If you are not afraid of death you are ultimately and completely free, because you always have an escape from the intolerable. Freedom from the oppression of anxiety and fear, and from desiring what one cannot oneself achieve or gain, is happiness itself.

Stoics happiness

The idea that happiness is the aim is, as we shall see, shared by all in the ethical debate from Aristotle onwards. Ideas about how to achieve it have much in common too, for in Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics reason is the liberator. The differences between them, on this particular point, lie chiefly in what aspect of reason’s application they emphasize.
         "Claim is superpower " - Stoic   

A History of Western Philosophy Book by Bertrand Russell
Inwood, B. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003
Long, A. A., Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002
Long, A. A., Stoic Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996
Rist, J. M., Stoic Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969
Sellars, J. (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition, London: Routledge, 2016   


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