Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Stoic Philosophy of the Greeks

Stoic philosophy, as introduced by Zeno in 300 B.C, was an important philosophical school through the time of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who died in 180 A.D. Quiet during the Middle Ages, it rose again as an intellectual force in the modern age. In spite its position as secular philosophy, Stoicism has a connection to Christian philosophy, particularly as it relates to the inner kinship man has with God and the inherent evil of mankind.

The name Stoic comes from the Greek “Stoa” which is a covered colonnade. Zeno and his friends would hold their meetings at the Stoa adjacent to the market in the center of Athens, and the name of the group became associated with it. Zeno, himself, was born in Citium, a large Hellenized city in Cyprus. Drawn to the teachings of Socrates, he traveled to Athens at age twenty two and began to study with the prominent Greek philosophers of the day. He came under the influence of the cynic Crates, Polemo head of Plato’s Academy, and Stilpo.

These men served as the wellspring for Zeno’s ethics.

The centerpiece of his ethics is moral advancement based on conformity with nature. That is health and wealth are not goods but instead natural objects of pursuit. We should seek to obtain them not because they make our lives better, but because they help us live in agreement with nature. This leads to rationality, happiness, and a good life. This Stoic belief system is eerily similar to the Christian “be sinless and be happy”, creating a link between harmony with nature and loving God.

In order to achieve harmony, man must exercise self-control by using reason to control the passions – treat good and bad as equal and react equally to both. Resist the passions because they pull the individual away from harmony.

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