Would Rejecting the Stoic Physics Make Stoicism 2.0 Or Would It Make Cynicism 1.0?

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While I am a fan of Stoic physics and I do agree with essentially all of it, I have to say that before Zeno of Citium developed the Stoic physics, Stoicism already existed mostly in the form of what we call Cynicism. And truly noble people were Cynics and were correct that virtue is the only good. The Cynics were correct that virtue is the only good not because of arguments but because they lived it. I also think people who are Stoic who admire the Cynics don’t seem to mind that the Cynics don’t have a physics.

Yes, it is true that Stoicism changed things by claiming that certain indifferents (externals called adiaphora) were preferred, such as health, wealth, reputation, and education over indifferents like sickness, poverty, ill repute, and ignorance. Stoicism added that these preferred indifferents were preferred because they naturally and frequently help with our ability to seek virtue or were useful for acting virtuously. For example, you can’t help out a friend if you’re too sick and poor and that’s why health and wealth are preferred. I’ve noticed no one spends significant time attacking Cynicism as a philosophy because of the lack of Cynic physics. No one ever does that because the Cynics were admirable for being virtuous in itself. We believe them by their examples and actions and not by their doctrine.

So why would it matter if Stoics didn’t have a physics if Stoics were also admirable and lived a virtuous and eudaimonic life? Why does it suddenly matter when it’s Stoicism but not Cynicism? I think it’s largely because it’s an unnecessary distraction based on the ancient Stoics claim that ethics and physics were all wrapped up and were inseparable. But I’ve never actually seen a convincing argument for why that is even true. Why would a universe that is not completely determined make the pursuit of eudaimonic virtue any less true? Not having a physics for the Cynics made no difference to their pursuit of virtue, right? I’m not sure why the Stoics claimed that the physics and ethics are inseparable but until someone actually presents an argument for why they are, it really doesn’t have any impact on one’s virtuous life. (I find it odd that people claim amor fati is impossible with todays science when Nietzsche literally made it up as a practical myth to follow and not a ontological truth)

I know in every single movement there’s always going to be the people who think the old stuff is true and newer stuff is artificial. So when Stoics see other Stoics trying to change the way Stoicism is by messing with the physics, tinkering a little bit with it, they’re going to feel like it’s destroying something important. Ironically though these same people admire the Cynics who totally avoided the physics and logic end of it and thought philosophy that was not lived was artificial. Why spend time talking about a conscious universe, when you could be living the noble life?

Let’s face it, virtue is the only good not because of what matter is doing or whether Plato’s universals exist or not. Virtue is the only good because Diogenes and Antisthenes and Socrates lived it and they were examples of how it was eudaimonic.

A painful contradiction one can find the Stoics making. On one hand the Stoic physics is integral to the ethics but on the other hand pre-Stoic philosophers like Socrates and Diogenes are claimed to be Sages. How is it that even possible given that they lacked the knowledge and wisdom to see how the Stoic physics were true? There is no evidence that Diogenes or Socrates ever talked about a pantheistic or a pandeistic God. It’s interesting that everyone misses this obvious contradiction. You can’t have a Sage that has certain knowledge of reality but then claim that Diogenes and Socrates were Sages when they didn’t have the same claim about reality that the Stoics claimed to have. Why is Epictetus looking up to Diogenes when Diogenes never demonstrated the sagacity to know that predicates were not universals (realism) but sets of particulars (nominalism)?

Anyway, I will reemphasize that I basically accept most of the tenets of Stoicism including the physics and logic. The Stoics are great when it comes to epistemology too. I’ve just noticed a big contradiction in people who love Cynicism but hate it when someone accidentally turns Stoicism into Cynicism by cutting out the physics. Yes Cynicism and Stoicism are different slightly in their ethics but cut off the physics and logic of the Stoics then you literally have Cynicism with preferred indifferents.

By Jess W

JW has a B.A. in Philosophy from Drury University. JW has practiced philosophy for years after graduating Drury U, though he hasn't pursued philosophy as a career of choice. JW eventually learned what Stoicism was really all about and decided to adopt virtually all of its precepts. It's served JW well and has helped him through his journey through a life of ups and downs.

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