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more on Stoic cosmology

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  • peter
    I didn t know this before but apparently the Book of Genesis contains two stories of the creation which have been combined by some editor(s). The same thing
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2007

      I didn’t know this before but apparently the Book of Genesis contains two stories of the creation which have been combined by some editor(s). The same thing occurs in the Babylonian creation story: portions of two clearly independent versions of the creation exist side by side. But, whereas in the Bible the two versions were combined to form a relatively harmonic whole, in the Babylonian literature the two versions continued to exist side by side. And in fact there is even a further variant to an important episode in the Babylonian creation story that has been discovered which points to a third version.


      Now, it is possible, in fact very likely, that this sort of thing also occurred in Stoicism. In relation to the Stoic physical doctrine there is a problematic between the two first principles, the active and the passive, respectively, order and chaos, a conception that is clearly metaphysically dualistic in nature, and the interpretations of subsequent authors that tell us the Stoic physical doctrine is monistic and that although both principles are incorporeal and imperishable Stoic physics is materialistic. (Although it is possible that the single ‘substance’ is ideal in nature: evenso that doesn’t solve the problem.) Scholars generally conclude this, they are obliged to, from the way the Stoic physics pans out. And yet there are doubts and inconsistencies and problems. Is this due to the Stoics or to the limited information we have on the Stoics. We don't after all, have the complete picture, just a glimpse of parts of it.


      There is also a problematic when it comes to the elements – where do they come from? They appear as a confusing juxtaposition alongside the principles. Who is their Father (source) and how was he able, being merely an active principle and incorporeal, to create corporeal things? For the elements have nothing in common with the two first principles. And those who say that material things can be moved only by other material things conveniently forget that the first principles are immaterial things. The question is often asked, ‘How can matter be moved by what is immaterial?’ Yet this apparently is what happened in 'the beginning' according to my reading of extant versions of Stoic physics.


      There is an obvious discrepancy and it is perhaps answerable by thinking of Stoic physical doctrine, i.e., cosmology, as a kind of joining of myths, or versions of myths, as an attempt to combine things derived eclectically (and Zeno alone was apparently something of an eclectic)  into a harmonious whole, but an attempt which, nevertheless, to my mind, (especially if recorded correctly by DL and others, which is highly doubtful) fails dismally.


      Furthermore, when it is said in DL, “They hold that there are two principles” etc., the “They” stands for some Stoic entity which includes Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Archedemus, and Posidonius – five very different people, and five very differently titled books: On Existence; On Atoms; Physics; On Elements; Physical Expositions. Did these men all hold to this exact same doctrine (because it is exact as recorded in DL) or have later editors interpreted several diverse opinions and summed them up in a single statement on the matter?


      I think this is what has occurred. We have a précis of a number Stoic opinions on the subject a mere editorial interpretation. And indeed DL reads very much like a collection of  annotations. The widely (I would have thought – especially of Posidonius and Zeno) differing opinions have been somehow combined and abbreviated to save space. DL is after all about the lives, anecdotes, amusing stories—(even though the philosophy of Stoicism is gone into in some detail)—of the philosophers. It would surely be daft to hold that this entity known as ‘the Stoics’ was a group somewhat resembling Dumas’, Three Musketeers, whose motto was ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. Was there a united front on the subject? It really is doubtful. It’s difficult enough to get agreement between two individuals let alone five (and maybe there were more that haven’t been mentioned.)



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