Stoicism emerged in the early third century; with it came a fairly new way of looking at life and God.  The Stoics believed most emotions arise from false judgments, and that a man that achieves intellectual and moral perfection, or a sage, will not endure such feelings.  Stoicism as a system of philosophy has somewhat different views from others, especially concerning God and how to lead a good life. The Stoics maintain the idea that God does exist, and that he plays a vital role in life. God is the “arche” that most Greeks desired to define. The Stoics also believed that the good or happiest life is that which is in the most accordance with nature.

Unlike many philosophical explorations before the Stoics, except for Epicurus, the Stoics make God a material substance, rather than something above and beyond the natural world.  However, unlike Epicurus who believed God was too busy to get involved in worldly affairs, the Stoics believed that God is very eminent in the world. In fact, the Stoics believe God is one of the two “arche” of the world, or the first principle; that from which everything is made. Typically, ancient philosophers chose one arche from which they believed the material world was made out of. However, the Stoics believed that there were two “arches” and they were material, that which everything is made out of, and God, that which makes and designs everything.  The Stoics also believed in fate, in fact, God and fate were commonly interchangeable. God had his part if everything that happened on Earth, even the smallest details, and for anything to happen meant that God planned it that way. 

In a way, the Stoic ideal “good life” is that life which enables a person to develop an inner peace and lucid judgment. It is a common misconception to think that Stoics desired to completely abolish all emotions, as the word stoic today often refers to not showing emotion. This is not the case with ancient stoicism, however. Stoicism merely sought to be able to able to overcome emotion, and believed that by becoming morally and intellectually perfect (a sage, as the Stoics called them) they would be able to do so. 

The Stoics held that the good life lay in the state of the soul.  They desired to attain a soul of wisdom and self-control.  They strongly believed that a good life would be led by logic and reason, and that emotion was a hurdle to overcome in life. Stoics wished to be free from agony, which is why they believed in overcoming emotion. They believed that certain emotions, mainly passionate love, fear and envy, arose from false-judgments, which they drew from Epicurus. Thus, because the Stoics wished to have a clear judgment, wisdom, and self control, a life full of these emotions that arise from false-judgments would certainly lead to an unhappy life, and thus agitated soul.

The Stoics also derived believes from Plato. They accepted Plato’s four cardinal values as their own, namely wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. They also drew from Socrates in that they believed an unhappy life is a result of ignorance of reason and wisdom.  In many ways they mixed Plato’s and Socrates’ doctrines to fit their own agenda. Just as Plato and Socrates believed that an unhappy life was the result of unawareness of the Forms (or lower-case ‘forms’ in Socrates’ case) so did the Stoics. Somewhat off the path of these two philosophers, however, the Stoics put most of their faith in logical reasoning. They believed that in order to achieve the good life, clear judgment, and wisdom they so desired, they must examine their lives closely and find where they diverged from the path of reason.

The Stoics are often misunderstood if not examined closely, as most people think their main belief was to avoid emotion all together. However, what the Stoics truly strived for was a life of clear-judgment, logic, and wisdom.  They drew many of their ideals from prior schools of thought such as Epicurus, Plato, and Socrates, but made their own identity in the Hellenistic Period. 

1 comment
  1. stoicatheist said:

    Here’s my take on the Stocism/God issue:
    There are different schools of thought in how a Stoic deals with the totality of the universe–or what religion refers to as “God”. I subscribe to a Stoicism that equates the god of religion with the totality of the universe and does not posit a beginning or end thereof. Nor does it assert that the individual continues to exist beyond death. I go a step further to posit that, not only has this force, if you will, not had no role in the creation of the universe, but that it is merely scentient being’s only label or reasoning for phenomena that has occurred before it’s existence, during it’s existence and will continue to occur long after it ceases to exist.

    This force, ultimately has no regard or disregard for the affairs of humans or any life forms in particular. Quite simply, things come into existence and eventually they cease to exist. And perhaps that this extends to the universe itself.

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