Belief in the afterlife usually means that death is not the final destination in our lives.
According to Christian faith, our souls are personal, and they are preserved after death. For stoics, souls don’t retain their “personal” nature after death.
Stoic views on afterlife and immortality differ from one thinker to another. This is because the stoic school lasted from around 300 BC until the 400 AD. Shortly after, Christianity became the state religion.
Cosmology and The Afterlife
We can’t talk about the after life in stoic terms if we don’t understand cosmology. Stoic cosmology is complex, but it becomes simpler when we break it down.
Below are the main components of stoic cosmology:
Stoics were materialists, which meant that the whole universe is material. And this includes the soul as well as God. God is not above nature. God is the universal law, the active force which causes matter to move.
This is also true for souls. Since they’re also made of matter which means that they’re not eternal. Simply put, just how God can be viewed as the principle that governs nature’s movements. Naturally, the soul then becomes the force that moves the body, which means that personality is secondary to it.
In addition to this, stoics believed in the “Cosmic Fire” which is the principle of death and rebirth. Once the body is dead, the soul will return to the center to be consumed by it. After a period of time, destroyed material will be re-forged, but the soul will have no memories of its previous life.
“They allow the soul to exist a great while, but are against its eternity…” – Cicero
Personal immortality is not possible in a stoic system. Every soul is returned to the Primordial Cosmic Fire, at the right time.
This explains why Stoics believed that we live only once, and why they made it clear that we should cherish every breathing moment.
Focus On The Now
As time progressed, the late stoic thinkers of the Roman period did not preoccupy themselves with questions about the universe and the nature of the soul. Their interests lay in practical philosophy.
Accordingly, if we follow their teachings we notice their positive evaluation of life, and their neutrality and awareness towards death.
Below are some quotes from the late philosophers”
- “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
- “It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius
- “Loss is nothing else, but change, and change is nature’s delight” – Marcus Aurelius
- “Begin at once to live, and count each day as a separate life.” – Seneca
Life is highly valued in stoic philosophy, and so is happiness. The Afterlife is neutral, therefore we should rather focus ourselves on the present. Because before you know it, swiftly death will come knocking on our door.
This approach is pragmatically positive, since it doesn’t include scary or mad gods. Nor does it include places like heaven and hell.
Therefore nature is simply neutral, at best indifferent. When you leave here, you’ll go towards the world fire or nature’s recycling facility.
The world fire is one of the most criticized places by Christian philosopher St. Augustine, because he believed in the difference between earthly-happiness and divine-happiness.
For the Stoic heroes though, giving too much importance to the future, meant losing control of the only thing they had.