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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

Is the moral maxim of the Stoics


has become so intensely engrossed

in the subject, the objective world can only be regarded as a corporeal and material existence. The most immediate consequence of such a view is their pantheism. Aristotle before them had separated the Divine Being from the world, as the pure and eternal form from the eternal matter; but so far as this separation implied a distinction which was not simply logical, but actual and real, the Stoics would not admit it. It seemed to them impossible to dissever God from matter, and they therefore considered God and the world as power and its manifestation, and thus as one. Matter is the passive ground of things, the original substratum for the divine activity: God is the active and formative energy of matter dwelling within it, and essentially united to it: the world is the body of God, and God is the soul of the world. The Stoics, therefore, considered God and matter as one identical substance, which, on the side of its passive and changeable capacity they call matter, and on the side of its active and changeless energy, God. But since they, as already remarked, considered the world as ensouled by God in the light of a living and rational being, they were obliged to treat the conception of God not only in a physical but also in its ethical aspect. God is not only in the world as the ruling and living energy of this great [Greek: zoon] (animal), but he is also the universal reason which rules the whole world and penetrates all matter; he is the gracious Providence which cares for the
individual and the whole; he is wise, and is the ground of that natural law which commands the good and forbids the evil; he punishes and rewards; he possesses a perfect and blessed life. But accustomed to regard every thing spiritual only in a sensuous way, the Stoics were obliged to clothe this ideal conception of God in a material form, apprehending it as the vital warmth or an original fire, analogous to the view of the earlier natural philosophers, who held that the soul, and even reason itself, consisted in the vital warmth. The Stoics express this thought in different ways. At one time they call God the rational breath which passes through all nature; at another, the artistic fire which fashions or begets the universe; and still again the ether; which, however, they hardly distinguish from the artistic fire. From these varying views, we see that it did not belong to the Stoics to represent the conception of God in any determinate kind of existence. They availed themselves of these expressions only to indicate that God, as the universal animating energy in the world, could not be disconnected from a corporeal agency. This identification of God and the world, according to which the Stoics regarded the whole formation of the universe as but a period in the development of God, renders their remaining doctrine concerning the world very simple. Every thing in the world seemed to them to be permeated by the divine life, and was regarded as but the flowing out of this most perfect life through certain channels, until it returned in a necessary circle back again to itself. It is not necessary here to speak more closely of the physics of this school.

3. THE ETHICS.--The ethics of the Stoics is most closely connected with their physics. In the physics we saw the rational order of the universe as it existed through the divine thought. In the ethics, the highest law of human action, and thus the whole moral legality of life is dependent upon this rational order and conformity to law in universal nature, and the highest good or the highest end of our strivings is to shape our life according to this universal law, to live in conformity with the harmony of the world or with nature. "Follow nature," or "live in harmony with nature," is the moral maxim of the Stoics. More accurately: live in harmony with thy rational nature so far as this has not been distorted nor refined by art, but is held in its natural simplicity.


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