The Impact of Stoicism
Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophies of its time in Greek philosophy, culture, and politics. It appealed to both the common man as well as the educated man, and successfully gained respect from surrounding nations. Its influence endures even today.
Greek Society, Politics, and Culture
Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophies of the Hellenistic age, continuing for centuries from the time of its founding by Zeno (c 336-264 BCE) to Epictetus (c 50-138 CE); in fact, the philosophy endures among some groups even today (Connolly). There are several important reasons why Stoicism was such a popular and influential philosophy for the Greek civilization.
One reason for the proliferation of the philosophy is that the Stoics gathered to teach, discuss, and debate their philosophy in a public place, the stoa poikilê, from which it gained its name. Although the philosophy appealed to educated individuals, its basic tenants were ones that also appealed to common people. Stoicism “addressed the questions that most people are concerned with in very direct and practical ways. It tells you how you should regard death, suffering, great wealth, poverty, power over others and slavery” (Baltzy). With proper discipline, a student of Stoicism could become a Sage, and therefore immune to misfortune and unhappiness. Wealthy, poor, educated, or uneducated, this discipline was acquirable by anyone committed enough to focusing on a life of virtue. It is easy to see that with such precepts and with its very public exposure why Stoicism became very popular with both the educated and the general citizenry.
In Athens, philosophers in general were held in very high regard. For example, upon the death of Zeno, Stoicism’s founder, a publicly funded statue and inscription were raised in his honor. That the public funded such a memorial shows not only the great respect for the man himself, but also a general acknowledgement of the value and influence of the Stoic philosophy to the Greek nation.
Politically, the influence and standing of the Stoics was high both in Greece and its surrounding nations. The primary and original school was located at the stoa poikilê in Athens, but eventually the Stoics gained dynastic associations with Macedonian, Spartan, and Alexandrian courts (Sedley 18). The importance of philosophers to Greece was great enough that in 155 BCE, the head of the Stoa, Diogenes, as well as the heads of the Academy (Skeptics) and the Peripatos were sent to Rome as ambassadors in an important political negotiation. The Romans crowding into the lectures were astounded and impressed by the speaking and logical skills of the Athenian philosophers. Although the Romans did not immediately adopt the Greeks’ idea of philosophical life, eventually they embraced it with great enthusiasm. Rome’s military tended to prefer Epicureanism, but Rome’s politicians and members of its Senate preferred to adopt at least the appearance of “the high moral tone of Stoicism according to which only virtue is a genuine good, while money, health and even life itself are simply preferred indifferent” (Baltzy).
Athens’ culture of encouraging education and various schools of philosophy, along with Stoicism’s public venue of teaching and discourse, all play a part in making the Stoic philosophy one that had great interest for all types of people in Greek society. Its influence on Western thinking continued through its popularity with Roman Emperors such as Marcus Aurelius. Though Stoicism’s influence waned at times, it is likely that some of the theories of natural law, such as those espoused by John Locke, were directly influenced by the philosophy. For the Greeks, the prime years of Stoicism’s influence must have been a wonderful period of intellectual stimulation, growth, and progress as they developed the philosophies that continue to influence thinking throughout the modern world today.
Baltzy, Dirk. Stoicism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2012). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/
Coffin, Judith G., Stacey, Robert C., Cole, Joshua & Symes Carol (2011). Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture (17th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.
Connolly, William R. (2007). Stoicism. The Ecole Initiative. Retrieved from http://ecole.evansville.edu/articles/stoicism.html
Garrett, Jan (2006). Classical Stoicism in a Nutshell. International Stoic Forum. Retrieved from http://www.wku.edu/~jan.garrett/stoa/stoinuts.htm
Grayling, A.C. (ed.). (2001). Philosophy 2: Further Through the Subject. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hornsby, Roy (n.d.). Stoics Added a Vital Ingredient to Our Understanding of Selfhood. Royby.com: Today’s Reality Tomorrow. Retrieved from http://royby.com/philosophy/pages/stoics.html
Sedley, David (2003). The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics. Brad Inwood, (Ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Osborne, Richard (1992). Philosophy For Beginners. New York, NY: Writers and Readers.