By St. George William Joseph Stock.

When Socrates declared before his judges that “there is no evil to a good man either in life or after death, nor are his affairs neglected by the gods”, he sounded the keynote of Stoicism, with its two main doctrines of virtue as the only good, and the government of the world by Providence. Let us weigh his words, lest we interpret them by the light of a comfortable modern piety. A great many things that are commonly called evil may and do happen to a good man in this life, and therefore presumably misfortunes may also overtake him in any other life that there may be. The only evil that can never befall him is vice, because that would be a contradiction in terms. Unless therefore Socrates was uttering idle words on the most solemn occasion of his life, he must be taken to have meant that there is no evil but vice, which implies that there is no good but virtue. Thus we are landed at once in the heart of the Stoic morality. To the question why, if there be a providence, so many evils happen to good men, Seneca unflinchingly replies: “No evil can happen to a good man, contraries do not mix.” God has removed from the good all evil: because he has taken from them crimes and sins, bad thoughts and selfish designs and blind lust and grasping avarice. He has attended well to themselves, but he cannot be expected to look after their luggage: they relieve him of that care by being indifferent about it.  This is the only form in which the doctrine of divine providence can be held consistently with the facts of life Again, when Socrates on the same occasion expressed his belief that it was not “permitted by the divine law for a better man to be harmed by a worse”, he was asserting by implication the Stoic position. Neither Meletus nor Anytus could harm him, though they might have him killed or banished, or disfranchised. This passage of the Apology, in a condensed form, is adopted by Epictetus as one of the watchwords of Stoicism.

There is nothing more distinctive of Socrates than the doctrine that virtue is knowledge. Here too the Stoics followed him, ignoring all that Aristotle had done in showing the part played by the emotions and the will in virtue. Reason was with them a principle of action; with Aristotle it was a principle that guided action, but the motive power had to come from elsewhere. Socrates must even be held responsible for the Stoic paradox of the madness of all ordinary folk.

The Stoics did not owe much to the Peripatetics. There was too much balance about the master mind of Aristotle for their narrow intensity. His recognition of the value of the passions was to them an advocacy of disease in moderation: his admission of other elements besides virtue into the conception of happiness seemed to them to be a betrayal of the citadel, to say as he did that the exercise of virtue was the highest good was no merit in their eyes, unless it were added to the confession that there was none beside it. The Stoics tried to treat man as a being of pure reason. The Peripatetics would not shut their eyes to his mixed nature, and contended that the good of such a being must also be mixed, containing in it elements which had reference to the body and its environment. The goods of the soul indeed, they said, far outweighed those of body and estate, but still the latter had a right to be considered.

Though the Stoics were religious to the point of superstition, yet they did not invoke the terrors of theology to enforce the lesson of virtue. Plato does this even in the very work, the professed object of which is to prove the intrinsic superiority of justice to injustice. But Chrysippus protested against Plato’s procedure on this point, declaring that the talk about punishment by the gods was mere ‘bugaboo’. By the Stoics indeed, no less than by the Epicureans, fear of the gods was discarded from philosophy. The Epicurean gods took no part in the affairs of men; the Stoic God was incapable of anger.

The absence of any appeal to rewards and punishments was a natural consequence of the central tenet of the Stoic morality: that virtue is in itself the most desirable of all things. Another corollary that flows with equal directness from the same principle is that is better to be than to seem virtuous. Those who are sincerely convinced that happiness is to be found in wealth or pleasure or power prefer the reality to the appearance of these goods; it must be the same with him who is sincerely convinced that happiness lies in virtue.

Despite the want of feeling in which the Stoics gloried, it is yet true to say that the humanity of their system constitutes one of its most just claims on our admiration. They were the first fully to recognise the worth of man as man; they heralded the reign of peace for which we are yet waiting; they proclaimed to the world the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; they were convinced of the solidarity of mankind, and laid down that the interest of one must be subordinated to that of all. The word “philanthrop,” though not unheard before their time, was brought into prominence by them as a name for a virtue among the virtues.

Aristotle’s ideal state, like the Republic of Plato, is still an Hellenic city; Zeno was the first to dream of a republic which should embrace all mankind. In Plato’s Republic all the material goods are contemptuously thrown to the lower classes, all the mental and spiritual reserved for the higher. In Aristotle’s ideal the bulk of the population are mere conditions, not integral parts of the state.  Aristotle’s callous acceptance of the existing fact of slavery blinded his eyes to the wider outlook, which already in his time was beginning to be taken. His theories of the natural slave and of the natural nobility of the Greeks are mere attempts to justify practice.  In the Ethics there is indeed a recognition of the rights of man, but it is faint and grudging. Aristotle there tells us that a slave, as a man, admits of justice, and therefore of friendship, but unfortunately it is not this concession which is dominant in his system, but rather the reduction of a slave to a living tool by which it is immediately preceded. In another passage Aristotle points out that men, like other animals, have a natural affection for the members of their own species, a fact, he adds, which is best seen in travelling. This incipient humanitarianism seems to have been developed in a much more marked way by Aristotle’s followers, but it is the Stoics who have won the glory of having initiated humanitarian sentiment.

Virtue, with the earlier Greek philosophers, was aristocratic and exclusive. Stoicism, like Christianity, threw it open to the meanest of mankind. In the kingdom of wisdom, as in the kingdom of Christ, there was neither barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free. The only true freedom was to serve philosophy, or, which was the same thing, to serve God; and that could be done in any station in life. The sole condition of communion with gods and good men was the possession of a certain frame of mind, which might belong equally to a gentleman, to a freedman, or to a slave. In place of the arrogant assertion of the natural nobility of the Greeks, we now hear that a good mind is the true nobility. Birth is of no importance; all are sprung from the gods. “The door of virtue is shut to no man; it is open to all, admits all, invites all—free men, freedmen, slaves, kings and exiles. Its election is not of family or fortune; it is content with the bare man.” Wherever there was a human being, there Stoicism saw a field for well doing. Its followers were always to have in their mouths and hearts the well-known line—

Homo sum humani nihil a me allenum puto

Closely connected with the humanitarianism of the Greeks is their cosmopolitanism.

Cosmopolitanism is a word which has contracted rather than expanded in meaning with the advance of time. We mean by it freedom from the shackles of nationality. The Stoics meant this and more. The city of which they claimed to be citizens was not merely this round world on which we dwell, but the universe at large with all the mighty life therein contained. In this city, the greatest of earth’s cities—Rome, Ephesus or Alexandria, were but houses. To be exiled from one of them was only like changing your lodgings, and death but a removal from one quarter to another. The freemen of this city were all rational beings—sages on earth and the stars in heaven. Such an idea was thoroughly in keeping with the soaring genius of Stoicism.  It was proclaimed by Zeno in his Republic, and after him by Chrysippus and his followers. It caught the imagination of alien writers as of the author of the Peripatetic De Mundo who was possibly of Jewish origin and of Philo and St Paul who were certainly so. Cicero does not fail to make of it on behalf of the Stoics;

Seneca revels in it; Epictetus employs it for edification and Maucus Aurelius finds solace in his heavenly citizenship for the cares of an earthly ruler—as Antoninus indeed his city is Rome, but as a man it is the universe.

The philosophy of an age cannot perhaps be inferred from its political conditions with that certainty which some writers assume; still there are cases in which the connection is obvious. On a wide view of the matter we may say that the opening up of the East by the arms of Alexander was the cause of the shifting of the philosophic standpoint from Hellenism to cosmopolitanism. If we reflect that the Cynic and Stoic teachers were mostly foreigners in Greece we shall find a very tangible reason for the change of view. Greece had done her work in educating the world and the world was beginning to make payment in kind. Those who had been branded as natural slaves were now giving laws to philosophy. The kingdom of wisdom was suffering violence at the hands of barbarians.




Death of Socrates                              399

Death of Plato                                 347

Zeno                                       347 275

  Studied under Crates                         325

  Studied under Stilpo and Xenocrates      325 315

  Began teaching                               315

Epicurus                                   341 270

Death of Aristotle                             322

Death of Xenocrates                            315

Cleanthes succeeded Zeno                       275

Chrysippus died                                207

Zeno of Tarsus succeeded Chrysippus            ---

Decree of the Senate forbidding the

teaching of philosophy at Rome      161

Diogenes of Babylon

Embassy of the philosophers to Rome            155

Antipater of Tarsus

Panaetius Accompanied Africanus on his mission to the East                      143
His treatise on Propriety was the basis of Cicero’s De Officiis.

The Scipionic Circle at Rome

The coterie was deeply tinctured with Stoicism. Its chief members were—

The younger Africanus

the younger Laelius

L. Furius Philus


Spurius Mummius

P. Rutillus Rufus

Q. Aelius,


Polybius and


Suicide of Blossius of Cumae, the adviser of Tiberius Gracchus and a disciple of Antipater of Tarsus                       130

Mnesarchus, a disciple of Panaetius, was teaching at Athens when the orator Crassus visited that  city                    111

Hecaton of Rhodes

A great Stoic writer, a disciple of Panaetius and a friend of Tubero Posidonius                            About 128-44

Born at Apameia in Syria

Became a citizen of Rhodes

  Represented the Rhodians at Rome              86

  Cicero studied under him at Rhodes            78

  Came to Rome again at an advanced age         51

Cicero’s philosophical works                 54-44

These are a main authority for our knowledge of the Stoics.


Philo of Alexandria came on an embassy to Rome  39

The works of Philo are saturated with Stoic ideas and he displays an exact acquaintance with their terminology


  Exiled to Corsica                             41

  Recalled from exile                           49

  Forced by Nero to commit suicide              65

His Moral Epistles and philosophical works generally are written from the Stoic standpoint though somewhat affected by Eclecticism

Plutarch                                  Flor. 80

The Philosophical works of Plutarch which have most bearing upon the Stoics are—

De Alexandri Magni fortuna aut virtute,

De Virtute Morali,

De Placitis Philosophorum,

De Stoicorum Repugnantiis,

Stoicos absurdiora poetis dicere,

De Communibus Notitiis.

Epictetus                                 Flor. 90

A freedman of Epaphroditus,

Disciple of C Musonius Rufus,

Lived and taught at Rome until A. D. 90 when the philosophers were expelled by Domitian. Then retired to Nicopolis in Epirus, where he spent the rest of his life.

Epictetus wrote nothing himself, but his Dissertations, as preserved by Arrian, from which the Encheiridion is excerpted, contain the most pleasing presentation that we have of the moral philosophy of the Stoics.

C Musonius Rufus

  Banished to Gyaros ...                        65

  Returned to Rome ...                          68

Tried to intervene between the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian ...              69

Procured the condemnation of Publius Celer

   (Tac H iv 10, Juv Sat iii 116) ...           --

Q Junius Rusticus ...                      Cos 162

Teacher of M Aurelius who learnt from him to appreciate Epictetus

M Aurelius Antoninus Emperor ...           161-180

Wrote the book commonly called his “Meditations” under the title of “to himself”

He may be considered the last of the Stoics


Three later authorities for the Stoic teaching are—

  Diogenes Laertius ...                        200?

  Sextus Empiricus ...                         225?

  Stobaeus ...                                 500?


Modern works—

Von Arnim’s edition of the “Fragmenta Stoicorum Veterum” Pearson’s “Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes” Pitt Press Remains of C Musonius Rufus in the Teubner series Zeller’s “Stoics and Epicureans.”

Sir Alexander Grant, “Ethics of Aristotle” Essay VI on the Ancient Stoics Lightfoot on the Philippians, Dissertation II, “St. Paul and Seneca.”


This is taken from A Guide to Stoicism.





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