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Doe Stoic ethics derive from physics?

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  • jan.garrett
    I had to read this several times before I began to understand it. Does Stoic ethics derive from its physics? I ve never seen anyone try to lay out Stoic
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 1, 2006
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      I had to read this several times before I began to understand it. Does Stoic ethics "derive" from its physics? I've never seen anyone try to lay out Stoic philosophy as a deductive system in which the ethical part was deduced from prior conclusions that had already been deduced in the physical part the way the later theorems of geometry are derived from the earlier theorems. (If Joe is using another sense of the term "derive," then perhaps he can explain how he understands it.)
       
      No doubt, the Stoics thought of their philosophy as a scientific *system* and that meant that the ethics had a tight fit with the physics--which included theology, by the way; these two parts of philosophy were supposed to be compatible and, together with each other and the logical part, to form a whole that was more than the sum of the parts. 
       
      I doubt very much that the ethics was a discovery that, say, emerged in Zeno's mind after the physics had all been laid out. The reason is that if we study what we know about Socrates from the early dialogues of Plato and the Socratic dialogues of Xenophon, and try to see the differences between these views and the views put into Socrates' mouth in the middle dialogues of Plato--views usually regarded as Platonic--we see that the outlines of Stoic ethics are already present, although not as sophisticated as they later became. The line of development may be something like: non-Platonic Socrates-->the Cynics-->Zeno the Stoic. Diogenes Laertius tells us that Zeno was a student of Krates the Cynic. Cynics--perhaps even more than the Stoics--emphasized philosophy as a way of life, or what some would call the ethical as distinct from the theoretical.
       
      As for Stoic physics, it is partly anticipated by Heraclitus and, in other aspects than the fluidity, the primacy of fire, and the unity of opposites, other less well-known Presocratics. (Curiously, however, a passage in one of Xenophon's dialogues attributes to Socrates the thought that the principle of intelligence in humans comes to them from the intelligence in the universe at large.) And still other sources (not Aristotle) are likely for certain features of Stoic logic, the third of the three sciences that made up the Stoic system.
       
      In other words, I suspect many of the elements of the Stoic system already existed piecemeal in the prior philosophical tradition but it took a very creative thinker to integrate them and make them fit together. Perhaps one of the reasons the ancients said that without Chrysippus (the third head of the Stoic school) there would have been no Stoa is that Zeno's version of the system, being an impressive first draft, one might say, was not as fully coherent as it might have been, that it was subject to challenges by Zeno's rivals (we know Zeno was challenged by his student Aristo, who refused to accept the distinction between preferred and rejected indifferents, but there were no doubt other challengers), and that Chrysippus helped defend the system by making a few modifications as well as arguing at length for the main conclusions, rendering it more sophisticated and unified.
       
      What the Stoics may have gotten from Aristotle's physics and metaphysics is the use of teleological thinking, i.e., looking at beings as having natures that are what they are only at the end of a process of development (if this development is not cut off). Thus an oak tree reveals its nature only when it flourishes when, as an adult tree, it produces acorns. Humans reveal their natures only when they perfect their rationality. This is not the only way in which one can look at nature. Neither the atomists in ancient times nor philosophers like Hobbes, Spinoza, and Hume in early modern times adopted the teleological perspective on nature.
       
      The teleological approach works nicely for the Stoics: they can say that, even though the divinity is distinct from humanity, their nature is, in a sense, one because what the gods always possess--right reason--humans possess when perfected.
       
      Now, the Stoics would surely have affirmed that it is right for human beings who can do it--because they have the opportunity-- to seek to understand the workings of nature. But I don't see any evidence for the view that they thought that humans had a moral or natural or human right to the sorts of schooling, books, or sessions with a philosophical mentor that would have improved people's chances to raise their capacity to understand nature into actual understanding. Such a right would have suggested that there ought to be certain quite sizable public--i.e., state-supported--institutions that were entirely missing in ancient times and which the ancient Stoics did not advocate.
       
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Joe Wells
      Sent: Saturday, May 27, 2006 12:17 AM
      Subject: Re: [stoics] Classical Stoicism in a Nutshell



      Hello All,

      While the Stoic definition of freedom doesn't fit the
      definition Jan has provided for metaphysical it does
      fit that of physical.  This is because they derived
      their ethics from their Natural Philosophy.  The
      ethical view that what is virtue is that which is
      given by a Natural law requires two definitions.  One
      that of virtue and secondly that of Natural law.  In
      describing the law of nature the Stoics turned to the
      science of their day and derived it from that body of
      knowledge with several assumptions. Samuel Sambursky
      wrote a very interesting book on the subject. 

      Due to the fact that classical stoicism defined
      ethical issues by the reason that surronds us in a
      panpsychic universe labelled God I think that would
      qualify, perhaps not as meteaphysical freedom, but as
      a natural right.  That is for humans to come to
      understand this reason is a right given to humanity by
      nature itself.  This can be found in the
      arguementation put forward by the stoics concerning
      what it is natural for any animal to do.  It is
      natural for humans to attempt to understand the
      rational working of the kosmos.  Therefore a natural
      right is derived from a natural law. 

      This natural right was accesible to all people who
      were virtuous whether slave or free.  It will be found
      that all the words of Stoics that have come down to us
      are in agreement with the assertion of this most basic
      of rights;  to seek to understand what we percieve.

      While the Stoics are by no means the origin of this
      idea for the modern world, they did posses a concept
      by which natural right was derived from natural law.
      This is the only point Mitsis was making.

      Vale
      Joe
    • JWMeritt@AOL.COM
      jan.garrett jan.garrett@insightbb.com asked the subject question. Opinion: I doubt it in the extreme that Classical stoic philosophy corresponds to current
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 1, 2006
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        "jan.garrett" jan.garrett@... asked the subject question.

        Opinion: I doubt it in the extreme that Classical stoic philosophy corresponds to current physics because current physical understanding is very NOT the Aristotelian mechanicalistic physics predominant at the time. IF any such dependency is demonstrated then the current philosophy would be either irrelevant (if it is strictly classical and NOT correspond to the current physical undrstanding) OR would have changed significantly where the dependencies existed. And since the references are centuries old, I expect that there have been, at most, minor changes. You may, of course, correct my understanding of that. What changes have you noted between classical and current?

        Jim


        --

        James W. Meritt
        CISSP, CISA, NSA IAM, PMP
      • DT Strain
        I m not so sure that a lot of the differences in ancient physics and modern physics are important to many aspects of personal philosophies. Whether string
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 1, 2006
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          I'm not so sure that a lot of the differences in
          ancient physics and modern physics are important to
          many aspects of personal philosophies. Whether string
          theory is correct, or whether E-MC^2, it doesn't
          change a lot of basic facts of wisdom about the life
          of a human being.

          But certainly, it is important that we not hinge our
          philosophy specifically on faulty or outdated physics
          nontheless.


          --- JWMeritt@... wrote:

          > "jan.garrett" jan.garrett@... asked the
          > subject question.
          >
          > Opinion: I doubt it in the extreme that Classical
          > stoic philosophy corresponds to current physics
          > because current physical understanding is very NOT
          > the Aristotelian mechanicalistic physics predominant
          > at the time. IF any such dependency is demonstrated
          > then the current philosophy would be either
          > irrelevant (if it is strictly classical and NOT
          > correspond to the current physical undrstanding) OR
          > would have changed significantly where the
          > dependencies existed. And since the references are
          > centuries old, I expect that there have been, at
          > most, minor changes. You may, of course, correct my
          > understanding of that. What changes have you noted
          > between classical and current?
          >
          > Jim
          >
          >
          > --
          >
          > James W. Meritt
          > CISSP, CISA, NSA IAM, PMP
          >
          >


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