Stoic Minimalism is not Enough

Why Physics and Logic are Crucial to Ethics

Massimo Pigliucci
Nov 14, 2019 · 10 min read
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Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism

Will I not walk in the footsteps of my predecessors? I will indeed use the ancient road — but if I find another route that is more direct and has fewer ups and downs, I will stake out that one. Those who advanced these doctrines before us are not our masters but our guides. (Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, XXXIII.11)

(i) Why we still need physics and logic

They compare philosophy to an animal, likening logic to the bones and sinews, ethics to the fleshier parts, and physics to the soul. Or again, they liken it to an egg: the outer parts are logic, the next parts are ethics, and the inmost parts are physics; or to a fertile field, of which logic is the surrounding fence, ethics the fruit, and physics the land or the trees. Or to a city that is well fortified and governed according to reason. No part is separate from another, as some of the Stoics say; instead, the parts are blended together. And they used to teach them in combination. (Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, VII.40)

When one of his audience said, ‘Convince me that logic is useful,’ he said, Would you have me demonstrate it? ‘Yes.’ Well, then, must I not use a demonstrative argument? And, when the other agreed, he said, How then shall you know if I impose upon you? And when the man had no answer, he said, You see how you yourself admit that logic is necessary, if without it you are not even able to learn this much — whether it is necessary or not. (Epictetus, Discourses II, 25)

If I admire the interpretation [of a philosophical treatise], I have turned into a literary critic instead of a philosopher, the only difference being that, instead of Homer, I’m interpreting Chrysippus. (Enchiridion 49)

Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations V.13)

(ii) Why Stoic ethics is not self-contained and cannot be derived from first principles

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Massimo Pigliucci

Written by

Ethics, general philosophy, and philosophy of science. Complete index, by subject, at https://massimopigliucci.com/essays/

Stoicism — Philosophy as a Way of Life

Articles about Stoic Philosophy for modern living

Massimo Pigliucci

Written by

Ethics, general philosophy, and philosophy of science. Complete index, by subject, at https://massimopigliucci.com/essays/

Stoicism — Philosophy as a Way of Life

Articles about Stoic Philosophy for modern living

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