“Zeno of Citium says the principle of the universe is god and matter, god being the active and matter what is acted upon.” – Achilles Tatius, Introduction to Aratus (?)1

In our pursuit of the various concepts of ultimate reality developed by the ancient Greeks we come now to the Stoics. Building on the thoughts of Heraclitus, the Atomists, and the Cynics, Zeno of Citium (336-265 B.C.E.) founded one of the most eminent philosophies in human history through his lectures on the Painted Porch (Stoa Poikile) in Athens. Stoicism evolved as a philosophy over the subsequent 400 years and thus variations in its understanding of ultimate reality appeared over that time. Throughout, the Stoics were typically more concerned about ethics than metaphysics, but a few fundamental principles underpin their teachings on the latter.


The Stoics, opposing the Skeptics, first and foremost believe there is knowable truth. When admittedly fickle sense perception is combined with disciplined logic, one comes to a ‘graspable presentation’ or basic grasp (katalepsis) of truth which is in turn verbalized as a lekton (plural= lekta). The resulting reasoned dialectic is one component of the tripartite logos; (1) nature (physics), (2) character (ethics), and (3) rational discourse (logic). So by way of analogy, some Stocis compare logic to a wall, physics to a tree, and ethics to the the fruit in the garden of Stoic thought.2


The Stoics are for the most part materialists believing in the four elements (air, water, earth, and fire) and rejecting immortality, though a partial immortality is adopted later under the influence of Platonism. Four kinds of corporeal entities are identified: void, place, time, and lekta or ‘things said.’ Corporeal things exist while incorporeal things ‘subsist.’

The cosmos is one and finite, but active, while the surrounding void is unlimited. The cosmos is fundamentally indivisible (according to Posidonius) and seen by Stoicism as ultimately perfect. They deny the possibility of a better world; imperfection in details is essential to perfection of the whole. That is to say that the cosmos is also good, even the ultimate good. However there is an indefinite cycling (periodos or magnus annus) of the cosmos beginning with the logos and ending in conflagration.3

(continued next post)


1Inwood, Brad and Gerson, L.P. Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1988. ISBN 0-87220-041-8, page 123. The question mark reflects some question of the origin of this work.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 8, page 20.

3Immortality is limited to the end of a cycle in late Stoicism, hence “partial.”

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