An Introduction to
Stoic Philosophy

by Beatrix Murrell of the Stoa Del Sol

Marcus Aurelius, famous Stoic philosopher and EmperorI thought I might share what little I know abut the ancient Stoic worldview, which in some ways will sound familiar. That's because some of their ideas were borrowed from and incorporated by later philosophies and religious traditions.

For the Stoics nothing passes unexplained. There's a reason for everything in Nature. They believed there is an active "force" which is everywhere coextensive with matter. The Stoics believed that there was something acting within them as they put it "a spirit deeply infused, germinating and developing as from a seed in the heart of each separate thing that exists."

For the Stoics God was Fire (active energy) and Logos (reason) diffused throughout the Cosmos.They believed, too, that the Law of Nature was God's material presence in the Universe. As cosmic reason, God was Providence. This Providence ordained all things.God was Fate, too.The Stoics believed Fate imposed upon humanity a certain determinism that allowed for freedom only within the context of a person's inner acceptance of cosmic necessity.

As for Fire, the Stoics likened this concept of God as seed that having in itself the "reasons of all things and the causes of what was, is, and shall be."This energy was the vital principle from which all the flora and fauna springs. The Stoics considered that through any stage of development, it was God (as a living force) who molded and dominated passive matter in terms of "progress."

The Stoics believed in soul even for the animals, though not a rational soul.In rational creatures, however, they considered the Pneuma (fiery breath) to be manifested at a higher degree of intensity as an "emanation from the world-soul."This Pneuma was a spark of the celestial Fire.

Essentially the Stoics believed that what God is for the world, the soul is for man.They declared that the Cosmos must be viewed as a single Whole with its "variety being referred to varying stages of condensation in Pneuma." Therefore, for the Stoics, the actual nature of a human person is the universal on a small scale a microcosm.

There is a parallel between the macrocosm and the microcosm. God, the Soul of the World, fills and penetrates it. Similarly, the human soul pervades and breathes through all the body informing and guiding it. In both the macrocosm and the microcosm, there is a ruling part.

The Stoics considered each human soul a "fragment of the universal divine force, yet not completely sundered from the parent-stock." They were talking about family. They declared that "We are thy offspring!"

Out of their cosmology the Stoics developed their ethics which focused on Virtue. They believed Virtue to be the law that governed the Universe. For them, that which Reason (God/Logos) ordained must be accepted as binding upon the "particle of reason which is in each one of us." In turn, human law comes into existence when persons recognize this obligation hence justice, responsibility, and freedom revolved around this obligation to God.

The Stoics expressed these ethics further into the ideas of community. The individual must recognize the "society of rational beings of which he is a member, and subordinate his own ends to the ends and needs of this society" the city of Zeus.

This city of Zeus was the ideal cosmopolis. In this city, the Stoics believed all is ordained by reason working intelligently. The citizens exist for the sake of one another, working towards contributing towards one another's good. Such intercourse would find expression in justice, in friendship, in family and political life.

More specifically in their own times the Stoics boldly and bravely declared there was no difference "between Greek and barbarian, between male and female, and bond and free." All persons were members of "one body as partaking in reason."

In terms of religion, the Stoics felt that its essential features were not ceremony or sacrifice, but prayer, self-examination, and praise. As they put it: "God is best worshiped in the shrine of the heart by the desire to know and obey him."

[Quotes derived from dictionaries, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia American, and the New Catholic Encyclopedia.]

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