Friday, January 19, 2007

Stoic cosmogony

Yesterday, I pointed to obvious similarities between Hindu and Stoic cosmogies. They happen at the same time in two different parts of the world. Stoicism arose in the Hellenistic period. The beginnings of Stoicism lie with Zeno of Citium, who came to Athens from Cyprus. For many years a student of the Cynic philosophy Crates, Zeno eventually founded his own school in 300 B.C. Because he taught his students in a stoa or portico in Athens, Zeno's philosophy came to be known as Stoicism. Zeno was succeeded as head of the school by Cleanthes and Cleanthes by Chrysippus. According to Diogenes Laertius, these three early Stoics wrote many works, but nothing except fragments of these have survived. Diogenes's summary of Stoic philosophy in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers is the best source of information for early Stoicism. Some information about Stoic philosophy also derives from their critics, such as Plutarch or Sextus Empiricus. Cicero cites from Stoic sources in his On the Nature of the Gods. 1- God as Soul of the Cosmos: Now the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the cosmos together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. Nature is defined as a force moving of itself, producing and preserving in being its offspring in accordance with seminal reasons (spermatikoi logoi) within different periods, and effecting results homogenous with their sources (Lives 7;148-49). In this passage, Nature is defined as the force at work to hold the cosmos together and to bring things into existence. 2- God as Identical to the Cosmos: The Stoics conceive God as identical with the cosmos. The cosmos is defined as the totality of all entities, as if it were a single entity or subject that has predicates. This ultimately allows the Stoics to deify the cosmos. As the totality of all things, the cosmos is perfect since it lacks nothing. Zeno is said to have argued further that, since it is the greatest of all things, since it is inclusive of all things, the cosmos cannot be denied the greatest attribute, which is reason: There is nothing more excellent than the cosmos (Cicero, Nature, 2.8). God not only made all things but is or is in all things. Plants and bodies are "bound up and united with the whole." Since the human soul is really a portion of God as soul of the cosmos, it follows that whatever human beings know, God also knows. God does not simply oversee all things, but is said "to be present with all," and is thereby identified with the all. The sun that illuminates all things, except that part of the on which the shadow of the earth falls, is likewise a small part of God, so that one must conclude that God is even more illuminating. 3- For Stoicism, the state of being in conformity with nature is virtue (aretĂȘ); according to Chrysippus, virtue "is a harmonious disposition, choiceworthy for its own sake, and not from hope or fear or any external motive" (Lives, 7.89). To be virtuous is to be in harmony with oneself and the cosmos, which is the same thing; this goal is intrinsically valuable, and should be pursued for its own sake. Thus, for the Stoic, happiness is not the goal of the exercise of the human will, but it is, nonetheless, a by-product of living according to nature and being harmonious (Lives, 7.86, 88-89).