What are some criticisms of Stoic philosophy

The stoic conception of the role of the individual in society

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Natural philosophy
2.1 Physics
2.2 Theology

3. The state and society

4. The role of the individual
4.1 Doctrine of Virtue
4.2 Life according to nature
4.3 Doctrine of Fate

5. Criticisms

6. Closing remarks

7. Bibliography

1 Introduction

The Stoa was a Hellenistic philosophy that was particularly noticeable for its ethics, which aimed to face life with peace of mind and serenity, whereby man could evade life's worries. Here they saw the human being as part of a divine world order, which takes on a certain role in it.

This homework tries to show what role the stoic philosophy assigns to the individual in society. In order to keep the scope of the work within the given framework, but still be able to guarantee a sufficient presentation of the Stoic philosophy, only a part of the teachings and concepts will be explained in detail below. A clear and concise presentation is aimed for by restricting it to essential features and positions.

To achieve this, the basic stoic concepts are presented at the beginning. So that the scope of the housework does not become too extensive, only the basic and essential views are given for the housework. Here reference is first made to natural philosophy, which represents the world in its basic features. Then the state and social structure of the world is discussed, which represents a transition to the main part of this housework. During the explanation of the stoic ethics, the aim is to combine these with the previous concepts and thus to be able to deal with the role of the individual in society. Here Epictetus is taken as the main source because he made many statements on the subject. The following is a criticism of the philosophy and the views captured in the previous chapter. This work finds its conclusion in the concluding remarks, which summarize the results of the points presented above.

2. Natural philosophy

In order to be able to understand the role of the individual in society, it is first of all important to study the natural philosophy of the Stoics. This shows us the structure of the world and thus also what place we humans occupy in this structure. Here the focus is mainly on physics and theology, as these are predominant topics of natural philosophy and are important for the presentation of the content of this work.

2.1 Physics

The Stoics represent a monistic doctrine of nature. For them the world is (cosmos) on the one hand God himself (detailed in 2.2), who creates and controls a world order; on the other hand, they understand the world to mean the world order itself. Even if Stoics sometimes have different points of view from one another, it can be said that a world order is in place.1 Within this cosmos, only something that is physical can work and be effected (e.g. space and emptiness are immaterial). This includes all bodies, forms, and the soul - precisely because they are brought about and can work of their own accord.2 Thus the world is a physical and unified substance that can exert power.

This world arises and is shaped by a primordial substance: the so-called Fire (= God). Everything emerges from this original substance, including the elements. The world and its parts are neatly structured and created:

The original fire, however, is, so to speak, a seed that contains the principles for everything and the reasons for what was, what is, and what will be. Their connection and sequence is fate, knowledge, truth and a law of everything that is inevitable and cannot be escaped. In this way everything in the world is perfectly arranged, as in a state endowed with the best of laws. " (Aristocles with Eusebius, Praep. evang. 15.14.2 [Presentation of stoic teaching])

They also assume that a so-called breath flow, which consists of air and fire, flows through everything and thus holds together.3 So everything in the world follows this primordial substance or primordial force, which creates an immanent cosmic order that has existed since the creation of the world. Everything, good or bad, depends on the cosmos, because

"He is powerful and stronger than us and has drawn up a better plan for our existence than we can, in that he rules over us together with the whole" (Epictetus: Doctrinal discussions, 3)

The Stoics also spoke of a cosmic cycle. Since the cosmos is created according to the same principle as other objects that are perishable, let it itself be perishable.4 So it would come at a time when the world is being burned by fire (World fire) and then rearranged again by the fire. When this will take place has already been determined with the creation of the cosmos.5

The human being is part of the aforementioned overall order and arises from the cosmos at birth.

2.2 Theology

With regard to theology, the Stoics take a pantheistic position. For them, God is the creator of the world and so is the world itself. Further god characteristics are immortality, the gift of reason, all-embracing and the power of fate. He orders the world and is necessary for the existence of things.6 Two of the most important reasons for the existence of God are the natural disposition of people to believe in God, regardless of which people they belong to, and the size, functional arrangement and harmony of the cosmos, which could only be created by a reasonable deity. Thus everything that happens in the cosmos is a divine destination.7

Man differs from other living beings in that he has a God-given disposition over reason and thus possesses divine properties.8 He (man) was created by God's will for himself, the animals of the world in turn for man.9 Thus there is a fundamental connection between man and God. This connection is very important to the Stoics. Epictetus puts it in such a way that God has given us some of his power (reason) and not the rest. He now sees it as important that we do not act against God's plan, but subordinate ourselves to it - only take care of the things that are in our power. We should hand over things like personal possessions and family to the cosmos and not fight against them10. Thus, God's will is to be subordinated to and to be satisfied. Man should thank God and praise him for this plan, which means an inevitable fate, as well as for its existence11. The question of theodicy arises here, but God is not responsible for anything bad in the world - everything bad arises from human defects, so Epictetus. God always wants only good for all human beings, which can only be implemented if human beings conform to nature.12

The human soul is also in contact with God because it contains a divine part. Although it is of a physical nature, it does not die with the death of the body, but continues, and only becomes part of the fire in the world fire and part of the original substance again when the world is re-created (see 2.1).

3. The state and society

The state and the structure of society also play an important role in the Stoa in understanding what part one takes as an individual in these two things. It is important to mention here that the views mentioned are mostly only ideals, not reality.

Plutarch mentions in his work " De Alexandri magni fortuna " Zeno's writing " The State ", and summarizes Zeno's idea of ​​an ideal church as follows: Cities or communities should not be structured in such a way that different laws differ from one another. Rather, one should see all people as part of a single large community in which there is only one structure

“[...] similar to a flock that grazes together and is fed by a common law. " (Plutarch, De Alexandri magni fortuna 6, 329A-B)13

The Stoics define a city as a simple place of residence on the one hand, and a unity of the citizens who live there together on the other. It does not exist naturally, but is something civilized and furnished14. Such a community prevails in great form throughout the world, consisting of God and man, since both are gifted with reason and the world was created because of them15.


1 Long, A. A. / Sedley, D. N .. The Hellenistic Philosophers: Texts and Commentaries. Translated by Karlheinz Hülser. Stuttgart; Weimar: Metzler, 2000. pp. 321 F, Diogenes Laertius 7.137-138; unless otherwise stated, this book is the source

2 P. 323 A, Cicero, Academica 1.39

3 P. 338 M-N, Plutarch, De Stoic. Repugn. 43, 1053F-1064B & Galen, Introductio sive medicus 14,726.7-11

4 P. 329 J, Diogenes Laertius 7.141

5 P. 328 G, Aristocles in Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 15.14.2

6 P. 385 A, Diogenes Laertius 7.147

7 P. 386 C, Cicero, De nat. deor. 2.12-15

8 P. 389 f. I, Kleanthes, Zeus-Hymnos, in Stobaeus 1.25,3-27.4

9 P. 392 P, Porphyrios, De abstinentia 3.20.1, 3

10 Epictetus: Doctrinal discussions 4; all sources of the doctrinal conversations Epictetus: Ways to Happy Action, translated from the Greek by Wilhelm Capelle. First edition 1992. Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig: Insel Verlag 1992

11 P. 389 f. I, Kleanthes, Zeus-Hymnos, in Stobaeus 1.25,3-27.4

12 Long, A. A .. Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Lif e. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2002, p. 145

13 P. 512 A, Plutarch, De Alexandri magni fortuna 6, 329A-B

14 P. 514f. H - I, Plutarch, De exilio 5, 600E & Stobaeus 2.103, 14-17

15 S. 515 L, Arius Didymus in Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 15.15.3-5

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