How Stoic Metaphysics leads to Stoic Ethics
 
1. The Stoic position in metaphysics is materialistic.

2. The Stoic position in epistemology is rationalistic.

3. Stoicism is a deterministic theory.

4. The Stoic position in ethics is a deontological theory.

5. The Stoic psychology assumes attitudes are under our control.

6. The sort of attitude one must have to live virtuously is one of "apathy".

7. For a Stoic the ideal life is a "life in accord with nature"

8. Stoic ethics leads to the conclusion that all persons are fellow citizens in a universal city-state (cosmopolis).

9. Stoic philosophy reflected values useful to the Roman empire.

10. Stoic ethics is still afflicted by the inconsistency between deterministic metaphysics and normative ethics.

11. Stoic ethics is not a doctrine for making this a better world.


 
 
1. The Stoic position in metaphysics is materialistic.

Stoics held that all reality was material or physical stuff, but they took as their paradigm of a material thing a living organism. To saysomething is a living organism is to say it has both a body and a "soul" or animating principle, that which directs the activity of the body. For the stoics both body and soul are material things, soul just being a special kind of material element, often identified by Stoics with "fire" of the ancient four "elements": "earth, air, fire, and water". To say the universe is one vast living organism was to say that the universe has a body, the whole physical world, or what stoicsd called "Nature," and also that this body is directed by a universal "soul" which the Stoics called "The Logos" and often identified with Zeus. "Logos" is often translated "Reason"; it may be thought of as the "mind" which directs the cosmos.

2. The Stoic position in epistemology is rationalistic.

As the Universe is a vast living organism directed by a universal mind or logos, one can understand the nature of reality when one can understand how The Logos directs the universe. Thus it is by reasoning that one attains knowledge of the universe, and hence of how to live an ethically correct life (the life of virtue). In particular the Stoics reasoned according to what was called the micro/macrocosmic analogy. We humans are small living organisms (micro universes or "microcosms"); the universe as a whole is one great living organism ("Macrocosm"). Thus what we know of our own mind or soul, by analogy is true of the universe as a whole. In the microcosmic case of the human organism the should directs the body to achieve certain purposes; thus the same must whole for the universe: what happens is all part of some universal purpose.

3. Stoicism is a deterministic theory.

The Logos, as rational, directs the universe for a purpose. Assuming the universe to be eternal, Stoics concluded that The Logos was immortal, hence divine, hence perfect. From this it followed that The Logos directs all things that happen in the universe for the reason that it is best that it happen that way. Therefore, the Stoics reached the conclusion that we live in a deterministic universe.

4. The Stoic position in ethics is a deontological theory.

From their determinism the Stoics deduced the consequences of our actions are out of our control, so they (the consequences) cannot be the grounds of moral value. We need not only recognize by reasoning that what happens is for the best, but also we have a "duty" to play our part in bringing it about as best we can. The nature of moral value thus lies in being motivated by a sense of a duty to play your part as well as you can in the cosmic drama.

5. The Stoic psychology assumes attitudes are under our control.

Determinism implies that what is going to happen is going to happen and there's nothing humans can do about that. But they can, so the Stoics argued, control their attitudes towards what happens. Thus normative claims become possible with respect to controlling our attitudes: we should have certain attitudes and should not have others. Given their determinism the only rational attitude is one of "acceptance" of what happens as for the best. What gives an action its moral value is the attitude with which it is done: it must be an attitude of acceptance of what happens as for the best; when you so act you act out of a sense of stoic duty to do what you have to do as best you can

6. The sort of attitude one must have to live virtuously is one of "apathy".

Sorrow is a result of regretting the way things happen, happiness is a result of things happening the way we want. But both are the result of contrasting what we want to happen with what actually happens; thus both joy and sorrow represent a rejection of "acceptance" of what happens. We should not rejoice when things go our way, much lest boast about it, for they are not under our control; nor should be grieve when they don't. "Our" way should be "The Logos's" way, just simple acceptance. A life so lived is "above" joy and sorrow, without emotion, which in Greek is "a-pathos" (i.e. "apathy") or emotionlessness.

7. For a Stoic the ideal life is a "life in accord with nature"

Every action is part of the Divine Logos's ordering of the universe for the best, so we must do that action as conscientiously as possible. Since the Stoics held the Logos directs all "nature," the Stoics expressed this by saying we have a duty to play our role in "accord with nature". Our role in society is our "natural" place within the cosmic scheme of things; in which all roles played by all actors are on an equal footing whether they be Emperor or slave. (In historical fact, two of the greatest stoic writers were the Roman Emporer, Marcus Aurelius and the Greek slave, Epictetus.)

8. Stoic ethics leads to the conclusion that all persons are fellow citizens in a universal city-state (cosmopolis).

Since we are all playing parts of the same divinely scripted play we are, so to speak all in this together. From this stoic doctrine Roman jurists developed the idea of the whole of humanity as members of a common "polis" (which previously had been thought of as very much based on kinship ties and so very "local") which consists of all humankind. The conception of Roman citizenship was the legal correlative of this philosophical doctrine. Insofar as this cosmic drama is, for the Stoics, "Nature", we may consider this the birth of the notion of "natural rights" or the notion of "rights" acquired not by being a citizen of this or that polis, or as we would say, "state," but simply by virtue of being a member of humankind.

9. Stoic philosophy reflected values useful to the Roman empire.

The emphasis on acceptance, doing one's duty, the universality of a single law for all people, and the view that there is no use in trying to change the order of "nature" are all doctrines which were obviously useful to the Romans in attempting to manage their vast empire, and can be credited with having a salutary effect on the development of civilization in the earlier years of the Roman imperium. Through its status in the Roman empire, as well as through direct knowledge of Greek philosophy on the part of many early Christian philosophers, Stoicism has many obvious links with later specifically Christian ideas such as the notion of Divine Providence, Predestination, the "Brotherhood of Man," and the notion of natural rights acquired simply by virtue of being a human being.

10. Stoic ethics is still afflicted by the inconsistency between deterministic metaphysics and normative ethics.

The Stoic doctrine concerning our attitudes and hence the moral status of our actions assumes that attitudes are under our control. But this is inconsistent with their universal determinism; if living organisms are just material things and that's why they are determined, then attitudes of living organisms are just special properties of material things, and they should be just as much determined as the consequences of our actions. But this would make normative ethics pointless.

11. Stoic ethics is not a doctrine for making this a better world.

Given their determinism and their attitude that consequences are out of our control, Stoics are very indifferent to attempts to change this world so as to make it better. Like the Epicureans, Stoics essentially teach a doctrine of not tying your fate to that of your society. While it can encourage altruistic behavior, it is not likely to produce revolutionaries.