JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

The Stoics. Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus. General Remarks.


1. The School of the Stoics was founded by Zeno of Cittium (in Cyprus), a pupil of Crates the Cynic, of Stilpo the Megarian, and of the Academics Xenocrates and Polemon. He lived between B.C. 350 and B.C. 258. Zeno was the son of a merchant, and was himself, for a time, engaged in trade. It is said that he was compelled to take up his residence in Athens in consequence of a shipwreck. At Athens he attached himself successively to the philosophers named above. Shortly after the year B.C. 310, he founded his own school in the stoa poikilê -- a portico adorned with the paintings of Polygnotus, whence the title "Stoic," bestowed on his school. He is said to have taught for fifty-eight years. The Athenians held him in high esteem. His writings (on the State, on Life in accordance with Nature, &c.) have all been lost. His pupils were: Persaeus of Cittium, Aristo of Chios, Herillus of Carchedon (Carthage), and, most remarkable of all, Cleanthes.

2. Cleanthes of Assus, in Troas, the successor of Zeno in his teaching functions, was originally a pugilist, and during the period of his instruction by Zeno earned his livelihood by working during the night, carrying water and kneading dough. "It was only slowly and with difficulty that he mastered philosophical theories, but when he had once mastered them, he held them tenaciously, for which reason Zeno compared him to a hard slab, on which it is difficult to make an impression, but which preserves indelibly the lines traced on it." Cleanthes has left us a "Hymn to the Most High God." His other writings have perished. Sphaerus of Bosphorus, Boethus, and Chrysippus were his pupils.

3. Chrysippus of Soli or Tarsus, in Cilicia (B.C. 282-209), was the successor of Cleanthes in his school. By his thoroughly systematic development of the doctrines of Stoicism, he deserved to be reckoned the second founder of the Stoic school. He was a very prolific writer. He is said to have written 500 lines daily, and to have composed 750 books. These works contained many quotations from other writers, specially from the poets, and contained also many repetitions and corrections (Diog. Laert. VII. 180). The successors of Chrysippus were Zeno of Tarsus and Diogenes of Babylon -- the same who has been mentioned in connection with the embassy to Rome. After these the next head of the school was Antipater of Tarsus.

Thus much with reference to the "older" Stoics, who founded and developed the system of the school. The "later" Stoics we shall have occasion to notice further on. We shall occupy ourselves for the present with the doctrines of Stoicism.

4. The Stoics regarded philosophy as primarily a practical concern. Regarded in this light, it was for them a striving after virtue, after that which is alone worthy of our desires, and on which the whole happiness of man is based. In a secondary sense, it had a theoretical character. Considered from the theoretical point of view, they regarded it as right insight, depending on a knowledge of things divine and human. The theoretical aspect was, however, subordinate to the practical and found in the latter its end and purpose. For right insight must teach us that Virtue is the highest good, and must show us the way by which we can and must attain to Virtue.

5. These principles being premised, the Stoics divided philosophy into three parts: Logic, Physics, and Ethics. Theology is included in Physics. For this reason Physics would, of itself, take precedence of Ethics. As a matter of fact, however, it is subservient to the latter. The Logic of the Stoics is their theory of the logoi, i.e. of thoughts and language; and they therefore divide it into Dialectic and Rhetoric. Dialectic includes the Theory of Knowledge, Logic (in the Aristotelian sense), and Grammar. To Grammatical Science the Stoics rendered important services, but it would be beyond the scope of our present work to follow them into this field of study. We shall confine ourselves to an exposition, first, of their Logic and Theory of Knowledge; then, of their Physics; and lastly, of their Ethics.

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