The Stoics

By the end of the third century AD the works of Plato and Aristotle had become to some degree classics, and the later philosophical schools lost ground. Among them, Stoicism continued to have an influence of some significance in the West through the work of Seneca and also through Cicero. Seneca's Epistulae Morales and his Moral Essays cover such subjects as philosophy and friendship, philosophy as the guide of life, the true joy which comes from philosophy, the seclusion in which the philosopher should seem to live, the pursuit of moderation, how it is unworthy of a philosopher to quibble, how the philosopher should live in such a way that others are drawn to philosophy too, the value of self-control, and the seeking of the true good by reason. Seneca gives practical advice on becoming a philosopher by patient study, not attempting too much at once. He writes on tranquility of mind, and on subjects which engaged Augustine too in his retirement at Cassiciacum after his baptism: the blessed life, providence, and the need to have leisure for reflection.

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES Stoicism, perhaps more fully than any other ancient philosophical tradition, set out in a practical way the manner in which one might make philosophy the guide of life and grow in virtue as a result. Stoic thinking here was of a piece with Stoic physics: every being is seen as directed by a primary impulse towards its own preservation. For man that end is attained by systematically living in harmony with the natural world, by the light of a reason which sees man as a rational part of a rational whole. To live in that way is man's supreme good. There was nothing substantially at variance here with a Christian view of man's place in a universe ordered by providence, although the Stoic vision could be seen to fall short of the Christian one.

The Stoic material on natural science, especially Seneca's Naturales Quaestiones, furnished the West with its main source-material in this area until the arrival of Aristotle's libri naturales at the end of the twelfth century. (Though one should also include Pliny's Natural History here.)

A piece of Ps.-Seneca was also of some importance. The De Copia Verborum or Sententie, which is in fact the work of Publilius Syrus, circulated as a letter sent by Seneca to St Paul to improve his Latin, and was thus an established part of the Christian tradition and a ground for accepting Seneca, if not among Christian authors, at least as a warm sympathiser.

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