ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

72. The Eclecticism of the Stoics. Seneca. -- From the first century B.C. Stoicism gave a ready welcome to foreign doctrines. Its preoccupations were confined more and more within the domain of ethics; but new theories, better suited to the real needs of life, took the place of the harsh and hollow doctrines of Zeno's earlier disciples, These tendencies, which had already appeared with PANAETIUS OF RHODES, the founder of Roman stoicism (about 185-111), and his disciple POSIDONIUs, became more marked in the theories of SENECA, of EPICTETUS, and of MARCUS AURELIUS, the recognized representatives of stoicism under the Roman Empire.

SENECA was born in the first years of the Christian era and was put to death in the year 65, by order of Nero whose counsellor he had long been. He does not think much of the Logic of the Stoics; and if he does not oppose the fundamental theses of their Physics, he prefers, at least, to confine his attention to the application of those principles to Ethics. Thus, while subscribing to their materialistic pantheism, he insists nevertheless on the providence of God (62, 4) and on the future life of the soul. Studying the nature of man, he dwells with pleasure now on the materiality and divinity of the soul -- the emanation of the divine pneuma, -- and again on the opposition between the moral and the physical side of man's nature. In the end, it is anthropological dualism that wins the adherence of the Roman moralist: he sees in man a compound of two heterogeneous elements, soul and body, whose struggle is incessant and implacable. Seneca's psychology is. a mixture of Stoicism and Platonism; and his doubts on the inner nature and destiny of the soul give his teachings a tinge of scepticism.

His Ethics bear the stamp of a most rigorous puritanism. But he was too well aware of human imperfection not to accommodate the impracticable precepts of the earlier Stoicism to the needs of his time. Thus, while he boasts of the autarchy of the wise man, he yet allows him the enjoyment of external goods (64, n.), and this in deference to those lower inclinations whose tyrannical sway is an index of the merely natural man. Seneca also glories in the cosmopolitanism of human sentiments; he extols the love of neighbour; and he speaks in moving language of the miseries of life and the necessity of an hereafter.

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