Stoicism

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Rufus, Aug 24, 2011.

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  1. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Can anybody inform me on Stoicism? What within it is right within the Christian worldview? What is wrong? Why is it wrong? etc.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    The Wiki article on it is pretty straight forward and even has a section in regards to Christianity. There are some right ideas within the school [edit:] but most ideas are wrong (as others have shown after me).
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2011
  3. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    I dabbled a little bit into the Wiki article, and read the entire Christianity part. I can see how being happy through all situations is a good thing, but that can't always apply because there should be things we are to be sad and distraught about.
     
  4. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    :scratch:
     
  5. Reformed Thomist

    Reformed Thomist Puritan Board Sophomore

    I thought that was funny. But then, I'm a wiseass too.

    Anyway, many great Christians in history have found a lot of value in the writings of Stoics like Seneca the Younger (though Seneca's philosophy was actually fairly eclectic). The value, for us, IMO, largely has to do with the Stoic emphasis on Providence, and how this reality informs how we ought to react/behave when bad things happen. Rather than crumble emotionally when our cat dies or when we lose a limb, we should trust in Providence -- nothing happens by chance -- and the larger purpose behind these events. The study of philosophy (Stoicism) is highly therapeutic -- it leads to a tranquillity of the mind/soul in a stormy world. This is not to say that we mustn't mourn, or that we should be like 'robots', devoid of emotion. This is a caricature of Stoicism, say the Stoics. Of course the Stoic sage mourns when his child's life is snuffed out; but he mourns in a mature way (which can sometimes look 'robotic' or devoid of emotion, to those who mourn in childish ways). The idea is that the Stoic sage always maintains his bearings in tragedy, because he is intimately aware of the higher truth of purposeful Providence. This is the happy man, who is realizing his potential as a rational being.
     
  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    N.F. Tyler, I believe your construction of Stoicism is Christianized. To adduce providence without greater contextualization as that upon which Stoics rely is misleading. The Christian doctrine of providence is based on a personal God (the Blessed, Holy Undivided Trinity) as taught in Holy Writ. The Stoics' view is materialistic and impersonal.

    I do not deny that Stoics speak of providence, but they identify it entirely with "fate." To quote the Oxford Classical Dictionary: "Stoic physics gives an account of the world which is strongly materialist. It is also determinist; the world as a whole is made up of material objects and their interactions , which occur according to exceptionless laws, which are called fate." To be sure, as noted above, Stoics identify this "fate" with providence. But it is entirely impersonal. And any conception of God is material. This is all quite different than the Christian concept of providence. I am not suggesting that you would disagree with any of this. However, simply to say that Stoics believe in providence (with a capital P no less!) is potentially misleading.

    The early church fathers battled mightily against Stoicism, which, with Middle or neo-Platonism, was likely the most popular philosophy of the day. Justin Martyr (martyed, btw, under the great Stoic emperor, Marcus Aurelius) , Tertullian, and others stressed personal responsibility and freedom of the will to the extent that they did (and this is often missed), at least in part, because they were seeking to combat the notion of this all-pervasive, impersonal fate. This is helpful to keep in mind: these men were not merely proto-Pelagians, but rather were combatting this stultifying Stoicism that taught apatheia as the response to tragedy and suffering.

    This is all quite different than what we read about the Emotional Life of our Lord in Warfield, for example. Stoicism apes certain Christian virtues, as do most philosophies at some point, but falls woefully short of the rich, satisfying life (including our emotional life) that we are called to in Christ.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2011
  7. FCC

    FCC Puritan Board Freshman

    "Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart."


    "Be content with what you are, and wish not change; nor dread your last day, nor long for it."

    Marcus Aurelius

    Some short quotes by Aurelius, whose book, Meditations, would be a good read if you are looking for insight into stoicism. Read with discernment and compare the writings to Scripture! Only in the Word of God can we find truth.
     
  8. Reformed Thomist

    Reformed Thomist Puritan Board Sophomore

    Quite right. But this 'fate' language can also be misleading. Stoicism, generally speaking, did not reject freedom or free-will (and thus moral responsibility) per se, but that 'libertarian' freedom or free-will which is at odds with or denies the causally deterministic workings of Nature. The mainstream Stoic position was a kind of compatibilism.

    Cicero wholeheartedly rejected popular arguments against the Stoic position such as the so-called 'Lazy Argument': (in the formulation of Cicero, from his treatise On Fate) " 'If it is fated for you to recover from this illness whether you call the doctor or not, you will recover; similarly, if it is fated for you not to recover from this illness whether you call the doctor or not, you will not recover. And one of the two is fated; therefore, there is no point in calling the doctor'. It is right to call this kind of argument 'lazy' and 'slothful' because on the same reasoning all action will be abolished from life!" Cicero and most other Stoics were not holding to a fatalism which denies the role of (free-)willed human action in the the unfolding of providence. The 'Lazy Argument', and the Stoic response, is similar to the Arminian argument against Calvinist predestination -- that it breeds laziness, inaction; for whether we are going to heaven or not has already been determined before we were born, etc. -- and the Calvinist response to it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2011
  9. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    N.F. Tyler:

    I agree that Stoicism claims a kind of compatibilism and that the best exemplars of the philosophy emphasized moral responsilbility.

    However, from a philosophical viewpoint, I would regard that as nonsense. It's one thing to argue responsibility and compatibilism with a personal, sovereign God; it's another thing altogether to argue that in a system that is materialistic and in which fate is impersonal.

    Stoics may assert it, just as those who are scientistic may wish to argue against vicious determinism (though all who practice scientism cannot escape the charge of vicious determinism).

    I don't dispute that Stoics argued these things and in that respect could rather sound like Christians. As you well know, there is a whole school of thought that seeks to brand the Apostle Paul as a Stoic. But Paul's determinism is not at all the same as that of a Stoic.

    The Stoic's determinism is not, if I may be a bit jocular, that of Calvin but rather that of Hobbes. The reason that the Calvinist can defend himself against the Arminian has a different ontological ground, and epistemological reality, altogether than that of the Stoic. What I mean is that I acknowledge that the Stoic makes the claims that you cite, but such compatibilistic claims do not cohere with his system; they are not warranted within a worldview that is impersonal, materialistic, and empiricistic.

    I would ask our dear Cicero how, given the worldview of Stoicisim, he can justify what he is saying. I know how to justify it from a Christian viewpoint, and I know that Cicero knows what he is saying is true because he is made in the image of God who made the world as He did and that Cicero, along with all others, has the works of the law written on his heart. Cicero knows that it is absurd to be lazy in the fashion that he excoriates. But he knows that only because his creation in imago dei and the reasoning powers that God has given him permit him to make that conclusion. He knows it in spite of Stoicism, which can only point, consistent with itself, in a viciously deterministic direction. Because no Stoic wants to live with the consequences of that does not mean that he is warranted in simply announcing what he wishes were the case: we are responsible beings with free will (he is warranted in such if he has a world view to support it).

    Peace,
    Alan
     
  10. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree with this post. I'm no Stoic, but I still understood and appreciated a lot of the things Epictetus had to say, anyway. I'd echo FCC's comment about reading with discernment, etc., and recommend you read The Discourses, The Internet Classics Archive | The Discourses by Epictetus. I, for one, really enjoyed it.
     
  11. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    When I have the time I'd love to read the some Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus but is there any way in which I could compare it to scripture other than deeply looking through passages? Maybe a website like bible gateway or passages according to use of a word. I do see the problems of materialism and the possibility of emotionalism in it, and all together it does have non-Christian origins, but that doesn't make everything within it un-Christian.

    Does anybody else recommend it? Does anybody not recommend it?
     
  12. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    I still don't understand. :candle:
     
  13. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    I haven't read too deeply in stoicism but I would think 'Christian' elements are probably easier to strain off the surface, than to very deeply reconcile. As C. S. Lewis says of Cicero's 'Somnium Scipionis': 'Superficially it seems to need only a few touches to bring it into line with Christianity; fundamentally it presupposes a wholly Pagan ethics and metaphysics.'
     
  14. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Your messing with my grammar aren't you? Because I said if anybody here could and you said "Yes." because there are people on the Puritanboard that could.
     
  15. Sviata Nich

    Sviata Nich Puritan Board Freshman

    :popcorn:
     
  16. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    :doh:I give up.

    I did read an article on the Neostoicism that arose during the 1600s, John Calvin actually mentioned Neostoics somewhere in the Institutes however that was before the known Neostoic movement began, so it is uncertain whom Calvin was talking about. According to the article on of the problems people attempting to reconcile much of old Stoicism and Christianity was that God in Stoicism is subject to fate.
     
  17. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    :ditto:

    I have a hard time following whatever in he says in general myself, so you're not alone.
     
  18. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Joshua has employed a common joke. It is part of the talk of the rabble that is to be despised by those who are allowed to enter heaven.
     
  19. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Haha :D, at first I thought he was using some Stoic philosophical move on me but I didn't see how it matched up. Maybe he should have been an English teacher, correcting kids grammar, instead of ours :p.
     
  20. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    We can all come up with witty responses but I don't know how helpful they are for discussions. Sure, sometimes a joke here and there is fine but when an excessive amount of the posts a person makes are just witty stuff I don't understand it anymore.
     
  21. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I'm not so sure that we can.
     
  22. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    Ah...maybe you're right.
     
  23. Claudiu

    Claudiu Puritan Board Junior

    Ok...now that is funny.
     
  24. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Graduate

    I have been reading In the Shadow of Death by Abraham Kuyper, and he has a lot to say on the subject. First, as Christians, we are to recognize that we live in a sinful world. Illness, injury and death were not a normal part of creation. Rather than soldiering on, the Christian should view with horror the result of sin. (Not like Job's friends trying to equate certain sins with certain ailments but in recognizing that our world is horribly distorted.)

    As Christians, we are to give thanks in all things. But that does not mean setting our faces in an emotionless mien. We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. And this is very real grief and very real gladness. We can show a quiet confidence in God's sovereignty, yet grapple with the difficulties before us, pleading for God's comfort and resolution of difficulties, yet recognizing that God takes these difficulties to sanctify us. We know that God will somehow be glorified and that we will be healed or made whole even if we have to wait for our resurrection. This is a hope that the world does not know and cannot understand. To stoically endure is to live a life antithetical to the teachings of scripture.

    I am losing my hearing. At times, I would love to take off this corrupted body and wait with Jesus for a glorified body. I recognize that as part of Adam's line, I am a sinner. I recognize that I've added a ton of my own sin to the mess. I mourn the result of the fall on my body. Rather than trying to "keep an even keel" I give thanks to my God that he sees me worth disciplining. I accept the sovereignty that he controls every decibel I'm losing. He could stop it, even restore full hearing (medically speaking, not likely). Yet I fully feel the loss and plead with God to intervene. My brothers and sisters in Christ bear this burden with me and try to give relief and encouragement. This is not a resignation to fate. The word "fortune" has been banished from my vocabulary. Though we would distort God's image even further if we were to totally fall apart as ones without faith, we none-the-less have very real feelings that should not somehow be contained.
     
  25. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Is it wrong for me than to embrace certain things as being Providential and strive to be happy through them? (I'm not talking really bad stuff) but for instance, it rains. And other times it's very hot. People often complain about these things but I see them as completly out of my control so I take the best that is in those and know theirs a purpose.
     
  26. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks Joshua. You gave me a great answer, they make up for all your witty grammar related jokes that I didn't get.
     
  27. FCC

    FCC Puritan Board Freshman

    I had a conversation with my barber today which may lend some help to this topic. As he was cutting my hair ( an aside here, never, Never, NEVER get your barber talking about a deeply personal matter WHILE he is cutting your hair!), we began talking about his teenage granddaughter. She had become extremely ill and after two visits to our local hospital she passed out at home and went into a coma. By the time they returned her to the hospital her temperature was 107 and rising. After being in the hospital for hours the doctor came out and told them that he had no idea what was wrong with her. The family immediately had her transported to West Virginia University for treatment. She is now recovering but has suffered unknown damage from the extremely high fever. I tell this story because as he was telling me he expressed some common Christian ideas. He said that he would have to trust in the Lord since the Lord knew what was best. I responded with a passage from Job, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Not a direct quote but close. The barber was near tears and thanked me for the verse and asked me to pray for his granddaughter.

    A stoic, if he were truly a stoic, should show no emotion while dealing with such a situation. A Christian can have the emotions that accompany such a distressing situation and also trust that God in His providence is working all things out for His glory and our eternal good! I think the stoics were right in some small areas but again we must always return to the Scriptures for a right understanding of the world and the events that occur to us and around us everyday.

    PS: I ended up with an extremely bad flat top that he tried to correct to no avail! I am now shorn short! Yet, I stoically manned up and excused his mistake!
     
  28. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Sean:

    And what makes your response to the rain, or whatever, as a Christian, and Joshua's beautiful words so very different from anything that the Stoics could ever imagine is that all that comes to pass comes from the hand of your gracious Father, who works all things for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Nothing impersonal or material but the most real thing in the universe, a personal God who before time and space decreed all that comes to pass, again, for His glory and your good. Loved eternally in the Beloved.

    There is a grand Trinitarian conspiracy--if you will--Ephesians 1:3-14: God the Father appoints our salvation, God the Son accomplishes it and God the Spirit applies it. All for our everlasting rest and His everlasting glory. And the wonder of it all is that which most makes for His glory most makes for our good. All is so ordered by one who loves us so much that He gives us His only begotten Son. Stoicism knows nothing of this.

    Stoicism's apatheia as one of its purported secrets to pain-free living is a sad echo of the saint resting in the beautiful providence of His Father (who truly knows best!), his Father who is great, good, and wise (I Tim. 1:17). Even in the most painful things (and we don't deny evil and we don't deny pain--about this Stoicism can't handle the truth), we confess, through tears and crying "how long?" that God does wisely and well. The Book of Job isn't Stoicism and Job would not have done better as a Stoic. Many apsects of Hinduism and especially Buddhism attempt to take similar approaches but are all bound to fail.

    Stoicism is one of man's ways of trying to handle this life in a fallen world without Christ. It's like a band-aid on a gaping wound. We are far worse off than Stoicism, Buddhism or any like approach can begin to deal with. We need a divine rescue mission not ways of figuring out how to cope by human wisdom. God offer us so much more than that in Christ and in His Word.

    These approaches deal with emotions by corraling them. Christianity deals with them by sanctifying them and developing them. Stoicism denies something essential to our humanity in order to deal with the pain. Christianity, in sanctifying us, does not need to make us less human to deal with the pain; sanctification makes us most truly human and brings us into the fullest flowering of our humanity, begun here and consummated hereafter.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
  29. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Professor Strange, I just wanted to say that I'm glad you are here on the PuritanBoard. It is a pleasure to see your posts, and I'm sure more than myself are profiting from them.
     
  30. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    You all are very kind. We have a Master who renders service both a light burden and a joy. And we have the best script in the world to work from in His Word. Nothing new here, as Hodge would gladly proclaim.

    Peace,
    Alan
     
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