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The Modern Stocism Movement

Discuss philosophical questions regarding theism (and atheism), and discuss religion as it relates to philosophy. This includes any philosophical discussions that happen to be about god, gods, or a 'higher power' or the belief of them. This also generally includes philosophical topics about organized or ritualistic mysticism or about organized, common or ritualistic beliefs in the existence of supernatural phenomenon.
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anonymous66
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The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by anonymous66 » August 17th, 2019, 8:21 pm

Has anyone else looked into the modern Stoicism movement? I was into it for a while. I read pretty much all of the ancient Stoic texts, did some of the Modern Stoicism "courses" online and I even attended Stoicon in 2016- but I've moved on to other things (mainly because I don't like the ancient Stoic views on the emotions). I also posted on the Modern Stoicism Facebook page. (In addition to the Modern Stoicism group- there is another group calling themselves Traditional Stoicism- the two groups interact with each other- I also posted on the Traditional Stoicism Facebook page.)

I’m obviously okay with people who are atheists and also like Stoicism. But what I experienced in my involvement with the group were participants and leaders in the modern Stoicism movement who claim that the ancient Stoics did not believe in the divine and/or who attempt to downplay just how important belief in the divine was to the ancient Stoics.

What do you make of this attempt to rewrite history? Is it harmful? Or could it be seen as merely an attempt to help people (by getting them interested in Stoicism) who happen to be more comfortable with a worldview that doesn’t include deities?

MAYA EL
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Re: The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by MAYA EL » August 19th, 2019, 5:26 am

People will use whatever tools are available at the time that aid in the agenda of there heart and Stoicism is no exception to this.
History is simply His-story and because of that I try to create my own path in life and at the most just glean from things like Stoicism but never submit minutely to something that I didn't make let alone even know the person that made it.
Now I'm not accusing you of anything by any means I'm just bringing it to your awareness.

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chewybrian
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Re: The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by chewybrian » August 19th, 2019, 9:33 am

In The Enchiridion, for example, there is only the most token mention of Gods, piety and divination. Only 3 chapters of 53 make any noteworthy reference to these things. They amount to advising that we accept fate rather than fight it, and don't look for guidance from the Gods in matters where our reason will suffice. That's about it. The rest of the text is about molding our perceptions, opinions and habits, using logic to live the good life, and seeking virtue for its own reward, rather than any idea that we could gain rewards in the afterlife or avoid damnation through worship. You could easily substitute "fate" for "Gods", and in most cases the text would make just as much sense if not more. In fact, fate already is featured much more prominently than God.

The stoics could not have made a finding of no God or even doubted God and continued their work, as they would have faced exile or execution, and nobody would have dared to accept their teachings in that case for fear of suffering the same fate. They simply were not allowed to not believe. In that context, what you see in the text can be taken as consistent with their doubting or not believing, yet holding back from explicitly saying so. You can say from the text that they went as as far as they were able to tell people to think for themselves. And, they had texts for the public, texts for advancing stoics, and texts withheld from all but the inner circle, which may have had a different take on the issue. Maybe @LuckyR can weigh in, as he made me aware of this.

I consider myself agnostic, and I take stoicism rather seriously, and don't feel that my lack of belief is inconsistent with the philosophy. It's entirely possible that if Epictetus or Seneca or Zeno could weigh in today, when they could speak freely, they might be OK with agnostics or atheists joining up, and might even be counted among them.

Below are the only references I see in the Enchiridion to religion, and I think they are consistent with what I said above. Recall that there are 50 other chapters which focus on virtue, perceptions, duties, logic and emotions. It's 10 to 1 or more logic and psychology over religion.
31. Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them, as existing "I and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them as neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things not in our own control, and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in our own control to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors. For every animal is naturally formed to fly and abhor things that appear hurtful, and the causes of them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and the causes of them. It is impractical, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should be happy about the person who, he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to be happy about the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by a son, when he does not impart to him the things which he takes to be good; and the supposing empire to be a good made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies. On this account the husbandman, the sailor, the merchant, on this account those who lose wives and children, revile the gods. For where interest is, there too is piety placed. So that, whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought, is, by the very same means, careful of piety likewise. But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.

32. When you have recourse to divination, remember that you know not what the event will be, and you come to learn it of the diviner; but of what nature it is you know before you come, at least if you are a philosopher. For if it is among the things not in our own control, it can by no means be either good or evil. Don't, therefore, bring either desire or aversion with you to the diviner (else you will approach him trembling), but first acquire a distinct knowledge that every event is indifferent and nothing to you., of whatever sort it may be, for it will be in your power to make a right use of it, and this no one can hinder; then come with confidence to the gods, as your counselors, and afterwards, when any counsel is given you, remember what counselors you have assumed, and whose advice you will neglect if you disobey. Come to divination, as Socrates prescribed, in cases of which the whole consideration relates to the event, and in which no opportunities are afforded by reason, or any other art, to discover the thing proposed to be learned. When, therefore, it is our duty to share the danger of a friend or of our country, we ought not to consult the oracle whether we will share it with them or not. For, though the diviner should forewarn you that the victims are unfavorable, this means no more than that either death or mutilation or exile is portended. But we have reason within us, and it directs, even with these hazards, to the greater diviner, the Pythian god, who cast out of the temple the person who gave no assistance to his friend while another was murdering him.

52. Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:

"Conduct me, Jove, and you, 0 Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my station."
Cleanthes

"I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven."
Euripides, Frag. 965

And this third:

"0 Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot."
Plato's Crito and Apology
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

anonymous66
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Re: The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by anonymous66 » August 22nd, 2019, 9:17 am

@chewybrian It looks like you're saying something like, "there are a few places in the The Enchiridion where Epictetus seems to be suggesting that he believes in deities... but I think he was actually an atheist who was afraid to admit it."

On the the other hand, when I read the Stoics (including Epictetus) I see a well worked out cosmology that includes a belief in the divine (I understand their cosmology to include aspects of pantheism and panentheism).

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
In accord with this ontology, the Stoics, like the Epicureans, make God a corporeal entity, though not (as with the Epicureans) one made of everyday matter. But while the Epicureans think the gods are too busy being blessed and happy to be bothered with the governance of the universe (Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus 123–4), the Stoic God is immanent throughout the whole of creation and directs its development down to the smallest detail. The governing metaphor for Stoic cosmology is biological, in contrast to the fundamentally mechanical conception of the Epicureans. The entire cosmos is a living thing and God stands to the cosmos as an animal’s life force stands to the animal’s body, enlivening, moving and directing it by its presence throughout. The Stoics insistence that only bodies are capable of causing anything, however, guarantees that this cosmic life force must be conceived of as somehow corporeal.

More specifically, God is identical with one of the two ungenerated and indestructible first principles (archai) of the universe. One principle is matter which they regard as utterly unqualified and inert. It is that which is acted upon. God is identified with an eternal reason (logos, Diog. Laert. 44B ) or intelligent designing fire or a breath (pneuma) which structures matter in accordance with Its plan (Aetius, 46A). The designing fire is likened to sperm or seed which contains the first principles or directions of all the things which will subsequently develop (Aristocles in Eusebius, 46G). The biological conception of God as a kind of living heat or seed from which things grow seems to be fully intended. The further identification of God with pneuma or breath may have its origins in medical theories of the Hellenistic period. See Baltzly (2003). On the entire issue of God and its relation to the cosmos in Stoicism, see the essays in Salles (2009).

Again, I have no issues with people who reject the idea of God or gods and who also get a lot out of reading Stoics texts- and who enjoy reading them. I just don't see a compelling argument that would convince me that the Stoics were actually atheists.

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chewybrian
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Re: The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by chewybrian » August 23rd, 2019, 6:41 am

anonymous66 wrote:
August 22nd, 2019, 9:17 am
@chewybrian It looks like you're saying something like, "there are a few places in the The Enchiridion where Epictetus seems to be suggesting that he believes in deities... but I think he was actually an atheist who was afraid to admit it."
Not quite...I am only saying that it is plausible or possible that they had doubts or did not believe. Since impiety could be a capital offense, they could not say, so the door is open. But, the text is scarcely about religion, and that is consistent with them doubting or even not believing. They make a token nod to God, which was the least they could do. They say God is everything, and a bit of God is in all of us. God is fate, energy, or free will, if you like. There is little if any call to worship, or promise of rewards or punishment. The closest I see is Epictetus saying you should give sacrifices consistent with your local customs, but not beyond your means. Socrates also says the oracle sent him on his quest for the wiser man, but this feels like a device he used to get away with his antics. It all amounts to an admission that there is an uncaused cause, an unexplained reason for matter and energy to exist, which we will acknowledge and call God.

When I read the tone and content of their belief, I have to wonder what they would expect or impose on their flock in this regard if they were around today. I certainly don't feel pressure or guilt for calling myself a work in progress stoic, yet not knowing the real nature of God. I can just about go along with the 'belief' in your link. There is a force within us that goes beyond the laws of physics. We all carry a will which is greater than a chemical reaction or chain of events caused by prior causes. Reality is not adequately explained by an understanding which does not leave open the possibility of God. If I believe in my own free will, which I do, then I am almost up to the level of belief you have laid out, which I see in the original texts. If you said to Seneca that you did not know if God exists or what the nature of God might be, would he cast you out? Would you be considered a heretic? I think he might avoid the subject in public, but in private might also have doubts or a lack of full understanding.

If it helps, I agree with you that it is pure speculation to say they were atheists, but I think it is a bit more fair to say that they could have been agnostic, and that their stated beliefs are not far from agnosticism. They believe in fate or free will, but not really the traditional God of heaven and hell. I am pretty much in line with them, save the extra step of admitting that there might not be a God, which they were not able to do.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

anonymous66
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Re: The Modern Stocism Movement

Post by anonymous66 » August 23rd, 2019, 3:31 pm

chewybrian wrote:
August 23rd, 2019, 6:41 am
anonymous66 wrote:
August 22nd, 2019, 9:17 am
@chewybrian It looks like you're saying something like, "there are a few places in the The Enchiridion where Epictetus seems to be suggesting that he believes in deities... but I think he was actually an atheist who was afraid to admit it."
Not quite...I am only saying that it is plausible or possible that they had doubts or did not believe. Since impiety could be a capital offense, they could not say, so the door is open. But, the text is scarcely about religion, and that is consistent with them doubting or even not believing. They make a token nod to God, which was the least they could do. They say God is everything, and a bit of God is in all of us. God is fate, energy, or free will, if you like. There is little if any call to worship, or promise of rewards or punishment. The closest I see is Epictetus saying you should give sacrifices consistent with your local customs, but not beyond your means. Socrates also says the oracle sent him on his quest for the wiser man, but this feels like a device he used to get away with his antics. It all amounts to an admission that there is an uncaused cause, an unexplained reason for matter and energy to exist, which we will acknowledge and call God.

When I read the tone and content of their belief, I have to wonder what they would expect or impose on their flock in this regard if they were around today. I certainly don't feel pressure or guilt for calling myself a work in progress stoic, yet not knowing the real nature of God. I can just about go along with the 'belief' in your link. There is a force within us that goes beyond the laws of physics. We all carry a will which is greater than a chemical reaction or chain of events caused by prior causes. Reality is not adequately explained by an understanding which does not leave open the possibility of God. If I believe in my own free will, which I do, then I am almost up to the level of belief you have laid out, which I see in the original texts. If you said to Seneca that you did not know if God exists or what the nature of God might be, would he cast you out? Would you be considered a heretic? I think he might avoid the subject in public, but in private might also have doubts or a lack of full understanding.

If it helps, I agree with you that it is pure speculation to say they were atheists, but I think it is a bit more fair to say that they could have been agnostic, and that their stated beliefs are not far from agnosticism. They believe in fate or free will, but not really the traditional God of heaven and hell. I am pretty much in line with them, save the extra step of admitting that there might not be a God, which they were not able to do.
We obviously have a disagreement about how the ancient Stoics thought of the divine. I still see no reason not to take them at their word. By which I mean- when they talked about their cosmology and theology and God and the divine they were being forthright and honest.

I see little else to disagree with. I agree that the Stoics weren't the sort to impose their beliefs on others. As I understand it they were concerned with flourishing as humans. They believed that one day the universe would be destroyed and then recreated- and we would all live our lives over again and again and again(that doesn't sound all that appealing to me)- there was no concept of guilt or hell or punishment.

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