JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Physics of the Stoics.

§ 42.

1. Empiricists in their logical teaching, the Stoics are realists in their views regarding physical nature; that is to say, they maintain that all real being is corporeal, that there is no incorporeal existence. In their physics they do no more than largely develop the doctrine of Heraclitus that Fire is the ultimate principle of all things, and the further doctrine of the perpetual flux of generation and decay.

2. For the four Aristotelian principles of things the Stoics substitute two -- to poioun and to paschon, the active principle and the passive, Matter and Force. In order that a thing may come to exist, there must be a Matter, hulê, out of which the thing is formed, and a Force, which communicates to it the form it receives. Matter is, in itself, without motion and without form, but capable of receiving any motion and any form. Force, on the other hand, is the active, moving, formative principle. It is inseparably united with Matter.

3. On these notions are constructed the theological and cosmological systems of the Stoics. To explain the origin of the world, two principles, they think, must be assumed -- Matter, out of which the world is formed, and a formative principle. The latter is God. These two principles, God and Matter, must not, however, be regarded as substantially different from one another. God, being the active force, is substantially one with the passive principle -- Matter. The relation of God to the world is the relation of soul to body. The world is the body of God. This pantheistical view, which unites God and the world in one being, is resolutely maintained by the Stoics.

4. But, we may ask, what is the nature of this God, who is the active formative force of the universe? To this question the Stoics reply: --

(a) God, as the Efficient Cause in the Universe, must be conceived as of the nature of Fire or AEther, who under the form of heat pervades the universe, and thereby gives it actual existence (to pur technikon, the creative or forming fire). For experience shows us that being and life in nature are dependent upon internal vital heat. Under this aspect, God appears as universal energy in nature (phusis), pervading, animating, and vivifying the world; hence we sometimes find that the Stoics use interchangeably the notions "Nature" and "God."

(b) God, as the formative principle of the world, is to be regarded as an universal cosmical Reason, which forms the universe, and establishes it in order, in obedience to the inherent law of His being, which obliges Him to act according to plan and purpose. That the divine nature must be regarded as a Living Reason, is evident from the facts:

(1) That beauty, order, and purpose, prevail throughout the universe, and these suppose a reasoning cause;

(2) That certain parts of the universe of things are possessed of consciousness, an impossibility, if the universe, as a whole, were not conscious; for the whole, as such, mast always be more perfect than any of its parts.

(c) The divine nature is, therefore, to be conceived as a rational, artistically working Fire, which is at once the Soul and the Reason of the universe. As Universal Reason, God contains within Himself, in the rational state, the germs of the objects which constitute the world (logos spermatikos, "seminal reason"; these germs receive actuality, and become manifest in the individual objects of the real world by the action of God as tlie Soul of the Universe.

5. After this statement of general principles, the Stoics further distinguish two aspects of the divine nature. The Divine Fire manifests itself, on the one hand, as vital heat; as such it is wholly sunk in material nature; in another of its manifestations it is, to a certain extent, liberated and independent. This nobler portion of the Divine Being is the pure luminous AEther, the proper region of which is the higher parts of the universe. This luminous aether is, therefore, the êgemonikon meros, or governing part of the Godhead, the Zeus of mythology, the proper principle of universal Reason, the highest wisdom, and the supreme law of all things.

6. Having thus explained the nature of God -- the creative and formative principle in the universe -- the Stoics next describe the process by which the universe was formed. The Divine Primal Fire was first condensed into Air and Water; the Water in part turned into Earth, in part remained Water, and in part was rarefied into Air, which again returned to the state of Fire. The two more condensed elements, Earth and Water, are chiefly passive, the two more rarefied, Air and Fire, are chiefly active. This theory, like that of Heraclitus, involves the universe in a cycle of perpetual changes. By continual condensation, the elements are ever coming forth from the Primal Fire, and by continual rarefactions they are returning to it again. The denser elements give rise to individual objects, in which the logoi spermatikoi attain actual existence.

7. From the principles here laid down are readily deduced the attributes which the Stoics assigned to the world. Considered as forming one being:

(a) The visible, or, as we may say, corporeal world, is indeed the body of God; but the world, taken in its entirety, is God himself. In essential intrinsic nature, it is nothing more than the Being of God, evolving itself into a visible world.

(b) The world being, in a certain sense, God rendered concrete, is furthermore the best and most excellent world conceivable. All the predicates which express the highest perfection, may therefore be attributed to it. It is rational, wise, provident, and the fulness of beauty. How could rational beings form part of it, if it were not rational itself?

(c) The world, as a whole, is God; its parts considered as forming subordinate wholes, in which the Divine Force manifests itself, must be regarded as subordinate gods. This is more especially true of the Stars and the Elements. By the aid of this principle the Stoics endeavour to explain the whole mythological system.

8. In its material aspect, i.e., viewed as it manifests itself to our experience, the world, according to the Stoics, is a well-ordered unity, limited in extent, and spherical in shape. Beyond the world there is only an endless vacuum. Time is the range of the world's motion; it is without limit in the past, and without limit in the future. Individual objects in the universe are all different from one another. No two leaves, no two living things, are perfectly alike.

9. Turning from the consideration of the constitution of the universe as a whole, and directing our attention to the course of its existence, i.e., to the succession in time of the events that are accomplished in the world, we meet with another notion, to which special prominence is given in the system of the Stoics -- the notion of Providence (pronoia.) Since God is the Reason of the universe, it follows that the whole series of events accomplished in the world is controlled and guided by the Divine Reason. Here we arrive at the notion of a Providence. This Reason acts according to plan and purpose, and guides all things with intelligence and wisdom.

10. Owing to their pantheistical conceptions, the Stoics could not admit a theory of Providence which would leave room for liberty, and for the occurrence of merely casual incidents in the world. Their notion of Providence led immediately to the notion of Destiny or Fate (heimarmenê.) They taught that all things happen from necessity, and this necessity, they explained, rests upon an inexorable Fate. God Himself is not free. He must act according to the necessities of His nature; the same necessity must control the course of events in the world, for the world is nothing more than the evolution of the Divine Nature. This necessity is called Fate. To the dominion of Fate all things are subject.

11. It is clear that the liberty of the human will could not be reconciled with these fatalistic notions. Hence we find that it was peremptorily denied by the older Stoics. Chrysippus, however, endeavoured to assert it in a modified form. He distinguished between a man's individual acts, and his general inner character, from which these individual acts proceed. The general inner character, according to which a man is obliged to act, is, in every case, determined by Fate, and to this extent is pre-determined, but in individual actions man determines himself, and in this sense acts with freedom.

12. Man must, therefore, be compared to a stone rolling down a mountain. The stone, once set in motion, rolls downwards of itself without a further impulse; so the human will, once determined by Fate, accomplishes the individual acts in which its general character manifests itself, without need of a further impulse from Fate. This is sufficient for freedom. If we fancy at times that we are acting with absolute freedom, i.e., without any pre-determination whatever, this is because, in certain cases, we are not conscious of the motives which influence our will.

13. The course of events in the world comes to an end when, after a certain period, the Godhead absorbs all things into itself. This is accomplished by a general conflagration, in which all things perish in fire. But after every such catastrophe a new world is again evolved, which in all its parts resembles the old -- the all-controlling Necessity not permitting a difference. These successive processes of the destruction and renewed creation of the world continue without end.

14. The human soul is a part of the Deity, an emanation from God, between whom and the soul there is mutual action and re-action. The soul, like God, is of the nature of fire; it is the warm breath within us; the heart is the centre from which its influence radiates. It is generated at the same time as the body. It consists of eight parts -- one principal part hêgemonikon meros, to which Reason belongs, located in the heart; five Senses; the Faculty of Speech; and the Reproductive Faculty. The last-named parts may be described, in contrast with the first or rational part, as the irrational parts of the soul. These extend like so many polyps from the central part, and ramify through their respective organs.

15. The soul is, of its nature, destructible; it can, however, survive the body. Whether the soul does actually outlive the body, is a point on which the Stoics are divided. Cleanthes asserted that all souls survive till the conflagration of the world; Chrysippus allowed this privilege ouly to the souls of the wise. Panaetius (Cic. Tusc. I. 32), appears to have denied all immortality to the soul. He would, however, seem to have been alone in this opinion. Those who held that all souls exist till the conflagration of the world, taught further that only the souls of the wise lived after this life in the condition of pure fire; the souls of fools, they held, retained a kind of body after death.

16. Man is the most perfect product of nature. He stands at the top of the scale of natural beings; the gods alone are above him. All things else exist for the gods and for man; man's destiny is to contemplate and admire the universe. The human race, in conjunction with the gods, forms a sort of divine polity, the fundamental law of which is that Natural Law which reveals itself on all sides in the world. This leads us to the Ethical System of the Stoics.

<< ======= >>