Tag Archives: Physics

Stoic Serenity 4.4.2: Discontented with Life?

I realize that some readers might think it futile to learn about Stoic physics. After all, over two thousand years later, don’t we know better? Isn’t it clear that the ancient Stoics were wrong? Why should we bother learning about obsolete theories? But I want to point out that this section of our studies isn’t intended to persuade us that the ancient Stoics were correct. This is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to pantheism, or to any sort of a belief in God. Rather, we must address the topic of Stoic physics because learning about the views of the ancient Stoics helps us to more fully understand the “workings” of Stoicism.

In today’s post, we’ll cover:

  • Where does my own mind fit into the big picture of things?
  • Why is the Universe giving me ______ to deal with?
  • How should I regard my own fate?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?

Fragments of God

Live with the gods. A person who lives with the gods constantly shows that he is satisfied with his fate. He is obedient to the guardian-spirit, the portion of our own being, that God grants each of us to serve as our guide. This guardian-spirit is the mind and reason of each one of us.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.27)

Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.4.1: “Live According to Universal Nature”

Now that we’ve covered what it means to live according to human nature, and we accept what is inherently good, we now have a basic understanding of how we should live our daily lives, that is, what it means to “live according to human nature“:

“live according to human nature“: we should pursue the “preferred” indifferents with Virtue

And now that we’ve spent some time learning about the Stoic ideas on God and matter, cause and fate, we’re going to investigate what is entailed in the concept of “living according to universal nature.”

The Nature of the Universe

Constantly think of the Universe as a single living being, comprised of a single substance and a single soul; and how all things issue into the single perception of this being, and how it accomplishes all things through a single impulse; and how all things work together to cause all that comes to be, and how intricate and densely woven is the fabric formed by their interweaving.

(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.40)

Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.3: Cause and Fate

For the Stoics, “God,” “Zeus,” “Nature,” and “Fate” were all one and the same. They strongly believed that everything that happened was a result of fate, and that everything that happens in life happens for the best (because God is in everything and is a rational being). Remember in the last lesson, where we learned that the Stoics believed there is only cause and matter in the Universe? “Cause” was determine to be “God” (think of the artist in the example of the statue). Well, because the Stoics believed God, Zeus, Nature, and Fate to all be the same thing, they considered “Fate” to be “cause.” Consider this excerpt from Alexander of Aphrodisias, an ancient philosopher who actually disagreed with the Stoic claims. Although here he is merely describing them:


Every single thing that happens in the Universe is caused by something before it. Nothing can come up “out of the blue.” It is always linked to a previous event, whether or not we know what or where that previous event took place.

[The Stoics] say that this world is a unity which includes all existing things in itself and is governed by a living, rational, intelligent nature. This government, which consists of existing things in the world, is an everlasting one that proceeds in a linked and ordered sequence. The things that happen first are causes for those that happen after them. In this way, they are all bound together with each other. Everything that happens in the world is followed unconditionally by something else, and thus the first event becomes attached to the second event as “cause.” Events that follow a cause cannot be detached from the cause; it is as if they are bound together. Every event has its consequent event, which by necessity it is linked to as the cause. Nothing in the world exists or comes to be without a cause, because nothing in the world is detached and separated from all the things that preceded it. For the cosmos would be torn apart and divided, and would no longer remain a unity forever, governed by a single ordering and economy, if a causeless motion were introduced. But a causeless motion could never be introduced because all existing things and events have antecedent causes, upon which they follow of necessity […] The very Fate, the Nature, and the Reason, in accordance with which the whole is governed—this they say is God, and it is in all things that exist and come to pass. Thus, it makes use of the proper nature of all the things that exist for the economy of the whole.

(Alexander of Aphrodisias, On Fate 191.30-192.28)

Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.2: God in Nature

If you are persisting in your efforts to understand, even as you are writing me, then you are doing an excellent thing for yourself. You must persist with effort, however. It is foolish to pray for this when you can acquire it from yourself. There’s no need to lift our hands toward the sky, or to beg the temple priest to let us approach the idol’s ear. As if doing these things will make our prayers more likely to be heard! God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a divine spirit lives within us. It marks our good and bad deeds; it is our guardian. This spirit treats us in the same manner that we treat it. Indeed, no person can be good without the help of God. Can anyone rise above Fortune unless God helps him to rise? It is God who gives noble and honorable advice. In each good person

5827299179_1785a8e014_o          “a god dwells, but what kind of god, we do not know.”

Have you ever come across a forest of ancient trees, grown to unusual height, shutting out the view of the sky by a veil of intertwining branches? The loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the place, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade will prove to you that there must be a god. Or have you come across a cave, built by crumbling rocks, holding up a mountain? Such a place was not built by human hands, but it was hollowed out by natural causes. Such a manifestation of the existence of God would deeply move your soul to believe. We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we build altars where great streams burst from hidden sources; we adore hot springs as divine, and we consecrate certain pools because of their unusually dark waters or their immeasurable depth. If you see a person who is fearless and remains calm in the face of danger, who is untouched by desire, who is happy in adversity and peaceful during the storm, who looks down upon people from a higher plane and views the gods on a footing of equality, will you not succumb to a feeling of reverence for this person? Will you not say, “This quality is too great and too lofty to be considered as resembling the petty body in which it dwells. A divine power has descended upon this person.” When a soul rises above other souls, when it is under control, when it endures every experience as if it were a small ordeal, when it smiles at our fears and at our prayers, it must be stirred by a force from heaven. Something like this cannot exist unless it is the work of the divine. Therefore, an even greater part of it abides in the place from where it came down to earth. Just as the sun’s rays do indeed touch the earth but still abide at the source from which they are sent, so does the great and hallowed soul cling to its origin, although it does indeed associate with us and has come down in order that we might have a better knowledge of divinity. For that great and hallowed soul depends on its source. It keeps its gaze on the source, and it is there that it strives to go. It concerns itself with our doings only as being superior to ourselves.

(Seneca, Letters from a Stoic Letter 41 “On the God Within Us” [first half])

Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.1: Universal Nature, God, & Fate

In the previous chapter, we discussed the Greek term phusis meaning “physical” or “nature.” We mentioned how the Stoic motto: “Live according to Nature” encompasses two meanings:

  • Live according to human nature.
  • Live according to the nature of the Universe.

We spent some time in the last chapter talking about human nature, how it relates to the (“preferred”) indifferents, and what the concept of “the Simple Life” has to do with all of it. Author Keith Seddon of Stoic Serenity says that simply put, to “live according to human nature” means to “live a life in which you pursue the preferred indifferents by undertaking your actions rationally and virtuously.”

In this new chapter, we will take a look at the Stoic motto in terms of living according to the nature of the Universe. Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 3.3.2: Human Nature

Yesterday we read this:

All things in nature flourish after their own fashion. Different things need different circumstances and conditions in order to flourish. The specific ways in which something grows and behaves constitute its “nature”. This being so, it is usually fairly easy to see whether anything is appropriate or inappropriate for something:

— It’s appropriate to put the cat out for the night, but inappropriate to put the baby out for the night.
— The substances we use to “feed” plants are not appropriate for feeding to animals or humans.
— Polar bears will not survive in the tropics, and elephants will manage poorly on mountain ledges.

Like everything else in the natural world, human beings have been constituted by universal nature to have their own specific and particular nature.61

(Seddon, Stoic Serenity p.58)

So when we’re talking about “human nature,” we’re essentially talking about the concept of something that “came about” as a result of the natural order of the Universe, which requires us to adhere to it in order to fully flourish.

Preferred Indifferents

Based on this, we’re beginning to see how some of the indifferents might be pretty useful to have. Virtue (self-restraint, justice, courage, wisdom) might be the only thing that’s intrinsically good, no matter the context. Yes, theoretically I can emerge from an apocalypse with all my Virtue still with me. But if we’re going to go about our daily lives, well, I’m not going to get very far if I don’t pursue food in order to live another day. So you can see that there is a connection between human nature and the preferred indifferentsRead more of this post

Stoic Serenity 3.3.1: The Stoic Motto

“Live according to Nature.”

“Live according to nature” does NOT mean we need to look like this guy. Don’t get confused. Just don’t.

In Seneca’s Letter 5, which we read the other day, the whole thing was a warning against putting on appearances, against simply switching from a slave of luxury to a slave of poverty, to not follow the Cynics by alienating others in society. Did you notice about halfway through the letter, Seneca just busts out, “You know our motto: “Live according to Nature.” If you are new to Stoicism, your response was probably something like, “Whaaattttt? What the heck does that even mean?

Stoicism often advises us to:

  • live in agreement with Nature
  • live in accordance with Nature
  • live in conformity with Nature

They all mean the exact same thing. But what exactly does the phrase mean?

Living simply, as Seneca advised in our previous lesson, is an important part of living naturally, but it does not mean that we have to dress and act like this guy on the right. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: