The Stoic School started with Zeno around 300 BC. Zeno’s lectures were composed of logic, cosmology and ethics. Logic is a philosophical science that explores the rules of thinking. Cosmology is the science of the universe, it aims to find out about what the universe is made of. And ethics is the philosophical science which helps us conduct our lives in the right moral order.
Logic: The art of thinking
When we talk about logic in Stoic terms, we must think about how one knows things in the first place. Stoics think that our soul (mind) is an empty table, and that our senses are the foundation of all our knowledge. But, one might ask, what is the truth then? to stoics truth is equivalent to unity.
The main principle of unity or truth is Mind (Logos). This mind is something that is common in all people. Stoics believed that the mind is formed when you’re 13 or 14 years old. So what can we say about the truth then? Well, the truth corresponds to how sensory data (from our senses) is interpreted by the mind.
Therefore, the place in which truth dwells is in our perception, which compels the soul (mind) to agree with the observed (sensory data). However, the problem arises when the mind (individual) denies agreeing with what is objectively true. This difficulty appears when we place sensory data as the most important for cognition. This is why cosmology was also important, because it looked beyond what we observe through sensory data.
Cosmology: The science of the universe
This brings us to the second key teaching: Cosmology. Cosmology is the knowledge of the Universe, it aims to find out about what the universe is made of. Stoics believed that the Universe consists of two main principles: the active principle and passive principle.
The Passive principle is matter and the active principle is God. Beauty and purpose in nature show us that there’s a creator (Stoics didn’t believe in God as a personality). A force that moves passive matter into shape and order. More importantly man holds the most perfect form in nature, because he possesses consciousness.
However, if one part of the Universe (man) has consciousness, then all the universe must possess it. This is because a part can’t be more perfect than the whole. And this is why God is seen as the consciousness of the Universe. God is the general entity that gives existence to all other entities.
Stoics thought of God as “Universal Fire” (because the force is moving and active), it is also the main source of all existence. Moreover, they speculated that the World Fire is responsible for the creation and destruction of the world. This means that God has the power to create and to destroy the world. Therefore it is imperative to understand that God is beyond the dichotomy of good and evil at this point.
Ethics: A moral way of being
The third and final teaching is ethical teaching. Ethics became the most emphasized part of Stoic philosophy. The ethical principle of Stoics can be summarized in one sentence: live in harmony with nature. The purpose of life consists of living in accordance to nature. And this is because life in accordance with nature is actually life in accordance with God, the active principle.
The ethical purpose of living is – in principle – consistent with the submission to the godly made universe. And reason becomes the most perfect part of the human soul, so living in harmony with nature, means listening to the highest part of the soul – which is Reason. To live in accordance with reason means to be aware of the destiny that stands above every individual.
It’s impossible to escape fate. As Seneca once said “Fate leads the one who wants, and the one who does not – pulls”. Therefore, the only pure good in life is virtue, and virtue is a state of inner balance, which is not there due to an external reason, rather for its own sake.
When a man is controlled by desire, he risks becoming hurt, disappointed and unsatisfied. This is especially true when his highest desire is not met. In order to counteract this, man must turn to his inner being. A wise man learns not to be dependent on desire, rather on his inner reason, this way he becomes the master of his own life.