‘A Guide To Stoicism’ By St George William Stock

A surprisingly amusing primer on the Stoics by a man about whom little appears to be known (check out this page about trying to learn about him).

It is not in the least part amusing because Stock appears be slightly contemptuous of Stoicism. He speaks of it as a Tory might speak about the Labour platform. Which isn’t a bad metaphor because it is similar to his excellent metaphor on the schools of classical philosophy in the centuries after Plato. Classical philosophy generally accreted into four schools: the Peripatetics (after Aristotle); the Academicians or Skeptics (after Plato’s Academy, but not after Plato’s thought, generally); the Stoics; and the Epicureans. You had your Cyrenaics and your Pythagoreans, but that list of four is pretty good short hand, at least by the time of Cicero. Anyway, the point Stock makes is that adopting a philosophy was less like staking a philosophical position in a modern sense, than it was like becoming a political party activist. One rarely switches parties and one’s loyalty to a particular school of philosophy is expected to be surprisingly absolute (you can almost hear the tears falling when Cicero writes his son, who has not taken up his father’s Skepticism, but has chosen to study with the Peripatetics in Athens, and asks that he still think kindly on his old man’s philosophical convictions).

He also spends some time on Stoic logic. There’s not much there, in terms of primary sources, but in the ancient world, the Stoics were renowned logicians. Arguably that, and not the self-help koans that is all most people know today, was the claim to fame if we go back a couple of millennia.

When discussing their ‘Physic,’ he name drops Empedocles, which is only interesting to me because I just read Matthew Arnold’s long poem, Empedocles at Etna, about that Greek’s sad and somewhat embarrassing suicide in the volcano.

But again, he is pleasantly less interested in what today would be called a stoic attitude than in the actual positions of the school, which covered far more than a bit of imperturbability.