Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/971

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947
STOICS
lies in the knowledge of nature and is obtained by the exercise of Reason. The most elementary part of nature is pure ether, which is possessed of divine reason. This Reason even non-rational man unconsciously manifests in his mechanical or instinctive actions which tend to the preservation of himself. The truly wise man will therefore live as much as possible in conformity with nature, (i.e. nature uncorrupted by the errors of society), and, though as an individual and part of the whole not master of his fate, will yet have self-control even in the midst of misfortune and pain. All evil passion is due to erroneous judgment and morbid conditions of mind which may be divided into chronic ailments (νοσήματα) and infirmities (ἀρρωστήματα), i.e. into permanent or temporary disorders. In contrast to the Cyrenaics and the Epicureans, the Stoics denied that pleasure is actually or ought to be the object of human activity. The non-rational man aims at self-preservation, and the wise man will imitate him deliberately, and when he fails he will suffer with equanimity. To him the so-called “goods” (e.g. health, wealth, &c.) are “indifferent” (ἀδιάφορα); since he must live, he will exercise his reasoning faculty upon them, and will regard some as “preferred” (προηγμένα) and others as to be “rejected” (ἀποπροηγμένα), but he will not regard either class as possessed of an intrinsic value. The end of action is, therefore, a harmonious consistent life “according to nature” and (cf. Heraclitus) an ordered unity of action. Virtue is its own good; the highest exercise of reason is its own perfection. It follows (1) that pleasure, being quite outside the pale is not the object but merely an ἐπιγέννημα (accompaniment) of virtuous action, and (2) that there is, within the circle of virtue, no degree. An action is simply virtuous or not; it cannot be more or less virtuous. The result of this theory of ethics is of great value as emphasizing the importance of a systematic view of conduct, but it fails to resolve satisfactorily the great Socratic paradox that evil is the result of ignorance. For even though they attempt to substantiate the idea of responsibility by maintaining that ignorance is voluntary, they cannot find any answer to the question whether some men may not be without the capacity to choose learning (but see Ethics: History, § Stoics).

In their view of man's social relations the Stoics are greatly in advance of preceding schools. We saw that virtue is a law which governs the universe:Cosmopolitanism. that which Reason and God ordain must be accepted as binding upon the particle of reason which is in each one of us. Human law comes into existence when men recognize this obligation; justice is therefore natural and not something merely conventional. The opposite tendencies, to allow to the individual responsibility and freedom, and to demand of him obedience to law, are both features of the system; but in virtue even of the freedom which belongs to him rational, he must recognize the society of rational beings of which he is a member, and subordinate his own ends to the ends and needs of this society. Those who own one law are citizens of one state, the city of Zeus, in which men and gods have their dwelling. In that city all is ordained by reason working intelligently, and the members exist for the sake of one another; there is an intimate connexion (συμπάθεια) between them which makes all the wise and virtuous friends, even if personally unknown, and leads them to contribute to one another's good. Their intercourse should find expression in justice, in friendship, in family and political life. But practically the Stoic philosopher always had some good excuse for withdrawing from the narrow political life of the city in which he found himself. The circumstances of the time, such as the decay of Greek city-life, the foundation of large territorial states under absolute Greek rulers which followed upon Alexander's conquests, and afterwards the rise of the world-empire of Rome, aided to develop the leading idea of Zeno's Republic. There he had anticipated a state without family life, without law courts or coins, without schools or temples, in which all differences of nationality would be merged in the common brotherhood of man. This cosmopolitan citizenship remained all through a distinctive Stoic dogma; when first announced it must have had a powerful influence upon the minds of men, diverting them from the distractions of almost parochial politics to a boundless vista. There was, then, no longer any difference between Greek and barbarian, between male and female, bond and free. All are members of one body as partaking in reason, all are equally men. Not that this led to any movement for the abolition of slavery. For the Stoics attached but slight importance to external circumstances, since only the wise man is really free, and all the unwise are slaves. Yet, while they accepted slavery as a permanent institution, philosophers as wide apart as Chrysippus and Seneca sought to mitigate its evils in practice, and urged upon masters humanity in the treatment of their slaves.

The religious problem had peculiar interest for the school which discerned God everywhere as the ruler and upholder, and at the same time the law,Religion. of the world that He had evolved from Himself. The physical groundwork lends a religious sanction to all moral duties, and Cleanthes's noble hymn is evidence how far a system of natural religion could go in providing satisfaction for the cravings of the religious temper:—

“Most glorious of immortals, O Zeus of many names, almighty and everlasting, sovereign of nature, directing all in accordance with law, thee it is fitting that all mortals should address. . . . Thee all this universe, as it rolls circling round the earth, obeys wheresoever thou dost guide, and gladly owns thy sway. Such a minister thou holdest in thy invincible hands—the two-edged, fiery, everliving thunderbolt, under whose stroke all nature shudders. No work upon earth is wrought apart from thee, lord, nor through the divine ethereal sphere, nor upon the sea; save only whatsoever deeds wicked men do in their own foolishness. Nay, thou knowest how to make even the rough smooth, and to bring order out of disorder; and things not friendly are friendly in thy sight. For so hast thou fitted all things together, the good with the evil, that there might be one eternal law over all. . . . Deliver men from fell ignorance. Banish it, father, from their soul, and grant them to obtain wisdom, whereon relying thou rulest all things with justice.”

To the orthodox theology of Greece and Rome the system stood in a twofold relation, as criticism and rationalism. That the popular religion contained gross errors hardly needed to be pointed out. The forms of worship were known to be trivial or mischievous, the myths unworthy or immoral. But Zeno declared images, shrines, temples, sacrifices, prayers and worship to be of no avail. A really acceptable prayer, he taught, can only have reference to a virtuous and devout mind: God is best worshipped in the shrine of the heart by the desire to know and obey Him. At the same time the Stoics felt at liberty to defend and uphold the truth in polytheism. Not only is the primitive substance God, the one supreme being, but divinity must be ascribed to His manifestations—to the heavenly bodies, which are conceived, like Plato's created gods, as the highest of rational beings, to the forces of nature, even to deified men; and thus the world was peopled with divine agencies. Moreover, the myths were rationalized and allegorized, which was not in either case an original procedure. The search for a deeper hidden meaning beside the literal one had been begun by Democritus, Empedocles, the Sophists, and the Cynics. It remained for Zeno to carry this to a much greater extent and to seek out or invent “natural principles” (λόγοι φυσικοί and moral ideas in all the legends and in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod. In this sense he was the pattern if not the “father” of all such as allegorize and reconcile. Etymology was pressed into the service, and the wildest conjectures as to the meaning of names did duty as a basis for mythological explanations. The two favourite Stoic heroes were Hercules and Ulysses, and nearly every scene in their adventures was made to disclose some moral significance. Lastly, the practice of divinationDivination. and the consultation of oracles afforded a means of communication between God and man—a concession to popular beliefs which may be explained when we reflect that to the faithful divination was something as essential as confession and spiritual direction to a devout Catholic now, or the study and interpretation of Scripture texts to a Protestant. Chrysippus did his best to reconcile the superstition with his own rational doctrine of strict causation. Omens and portents, he explained, are the natural symptoms of certain occurrences. There must be countless indications of the course of Providence, for the most part unobserved, the meaning of only a few having become known to men. His opponents argued, “if all events are foreordained, divination is superfluous”; he replied that both divination and our behaviour under the warnings which