1. Origin and Propagation
2. Metaphysics and Religion
3. Sensationalist Epistemology
4. Ethical Teaching
5. Relation to Christianity
1. Origin and Propagation:
The name was derived from the Stoa Poikile, the painted porch at Athens, where the founders of the school first lectured. This school of Greek philosophy was founded at Athens circa 294 BC by Zeno (circa 336-264 BC), a native of Citium, a Greek colony in Cyprus. But the Semitic race predominated in Cyprus, and it has been conjectured that Zeno was of Semitic rather than Hellenic origin. His Greek critics taunted him with being a Phoenician. It has therefore been suggested that the distinctive moral tone of the system was Semitic and not Hellenic. Further color is given to this view by the fact that Zeno's immediate successors at the head of the school also hailed from Asia Minor, Cleanthes (331-232 BC) being a native of Assos, and Chrysippus (280-206 BC) of Soli in Cilicia. Several other adherents of the system hailed from Asia Minor, and it flourished in several Asiatic cities, such as Tarsus and Sidon. In the 2nd century BC the doctrine was brought to Rome by Panaetius of Rhodes (circa 189-109 BC), and in the course of the two succeeding centuries it spread widely among the upper classes of Roman society. It reckoned among its adherents a Scipio and a Cato, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, as well as the freedman Epictetus. The most adequate account of the teaching of the Greek Stoics has been preserved in the writings of Cicero, who, however, was a sympathetic critic, rather than an adherent of the school. The system acquired its most lasting influence by its adoption as the formative factor in the jurisprudence of imperial Rome, and Roman law in its turn contributed to the formation of Christian doctrine and ethics.
2. Metaphysics and Religion:
The main principles of Stoicism were promulgated by Zeno and Cleanthes, and Chrysippus formulated them into a systematic doctrine which became a standard of orthodoxy for the school, and which permitted but little freedom of speculation for its subsequent teachers. Whatever may have been the Semitic affinities of mind of Zeno and his followers, they derived the formal principles of their system from Greek antecedents. The ethical precept, "Follow Nature," they learnt from the Socratic school of Antisthenes, the Cynics. But they followed the earlier philosopher Heraclitus in defining the law of Nature as reason (logos), which was at once the principle of intelligence in man, and the divine reason immanent in the world. This doctrine they again combined with the prevalent Greek hylozoism, and therefore their metaphysics inclined to be a materialistic pantheism. On the one side, Nature is the organization of material atoms by the operation of its own uniform and necessary laws. On the other side, it is a living, rational being, subduing all its parts to work out a rational purpose inherent in the whole. As such it may be called Providence or God.
While the Stoics rejected the forms and rites of popular religion, they defended belief in God and inculcated piety and reverence toward Him. Their pantheism provided a basis for Greek polytheism also alongside of their monism, for where all the world is God, each part of it is divine, and may be worshipped. Another consequence of their pantheism was their attitude to evil, which they held to be only apparently or relatively evil, but really good in the harmony of the whole. Therefore they bore evil with courage and cheerfulness, because they believed that "all things worked together for good" absolutely.
3. Sensationalist Epistemology:
The materialistic trend of their metaphysics also comes out in their epistemology, which was sensationalist. The human mind at its birth was a tabula rasa. Its first ideas were derived from sensations, the impressions made by the external world upon the soul, which they also conceived as a material body, though made of finer atoms than the external body. Out of these sense-impressions the mind built up its intuitions or preconceptions, and its notions, which constituted its store of ideas. It is not clear how far they attributed originative power to the mind as contributing some factor to the organization of knowledge, which was not derived from experience. The Stoic system is never consistently materialistic, nor consistently idealistic. Most of its terms are used in a dual sense, material and spiritual.
4. Ethical Teaching:
But its ethical teaching shows that the main trend of the system was spiritualistic. For its crown and climax was the ethics. The Stoics did not pursue knowledge for its own sake. They speculated about ultimate problems only for the practical purpose of discovering a rule of life and conduct. And in their ethics, the great commandment, "Follow Nature," is interpreted in a distinctly idealistic sense. It means, "Follow reason," as reason inheres both in man and in the universe as a whole. It is submission to Providence or the rational order of the universe, and the fulfillment of man's own rational nature. The life according to Nature is man's supreme good. How actual Nature could be the ideal good that man ought to seek, or how man was free to pursue an ideal, while he was bound in a system of necessity, were fundamental paradoxes of the system which the Stoics never solved. They summed up their moral teaching in the ideal of the sage or the wise man. His chief characteristic is ataraxy, a calm passionless mastery of all emotions, and independence of all circumstances. He therefore lives a consistent, harmonious life, in conformity with the perfect order of the universe. He discovers this order by knowledge or wisdom. But the Stoics also defined this ideal as a system of particular duties, such as purity in one's self, love toward all men, and reverence toward God. In Stoic ethics, Greek philosophy reached the climax of its moral teaching. Nowhere else outside Christianity do we find so exalted a rule of conduct for the individual, so humane, hopeful and comprehensive an deal for society.
5. Relation to Christianity:
When "certain .... of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered" Paul at Athens, and when, after the apostle had spoken on Mars' Hill, "some mocked; but others said, We will hear thee concerning this yet again" (Ac 17:18,32), it is no improbable inference that the Epicureans mocked, while the Stoics desired to hear more. For they would find much in the apostle's teaching that harmonized with their own views. Paul's quotation from the classics in his Athenian speech was from the Stoic poet, Aratus of Soli in Cilicia: "For we are also his offspring." His doctrine of creation, of divine immanence, of the spirituality and fatherhood of God, would be familiar and acceptable to them. His preaching of Christ would not have been unwelcome to them, who were seeking for the ideal wise man. Paul's moral teaching as it appears in his Epistles reveals some resemblance to Stoic ethics. it is possible that Paul had learnt much from the Stoic school at Tarsus. It is certain that subsequent Christian thought owed much to Stoicism. Its doctrine of the immanent Logos was combined with Philo's conception of the transcendent Logos, to form the Logos doctrine through which the Greek Fathers construed the person of Christ. And Stoic ethics was taken over almost bodily by the Christian church.
The chief extant sources are the writings of Cicero, De Finibus, De Natura Deorum, etc.; Seneca, Plutarch, M. Antoninus Aurelius, Epictetus, Diogenes Laertius, Sextus Empiricus and Stobaeus. Modern works: H. von Arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta; Zeller, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics; R. D. Hicks, Stoic and Epicurean; W. L. Davidson, The Stoic Creed; E. V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism, which contains a full bibliography and deals with the relation of Stoicism to Christianity; on the latter point see also Lightfoot, Philippians, ExcursusII , "St. Paul and Seneca"; histories of philosophy by Rogers, Windelband, Ueberweg, and E. Caird.