Neo-Platonism: A modern
term used for a school of philosophy starting in the 3rd century AD with the
work of Plotinus (204-270 AD) and ending with the closing of the Platonic
Academy by Justinian I in 529 AD. Plotinus wouldn't have considered himself
different from Platonism but simply as one expanding on the doctrines of Plato
although he created an almost completely new philosophy. Plotinus described
reality as hierarchically ordered with at its base an indescribable One (The
One) from which emanates the Divine Mind which contained all the forms of
intelligence, with this intelligence being a reflection of the perfection
of the One. Emanating from the Divine Mind are the World-Soul (Cosmos) and
the individual Soul (human consciousness). The soul linked the intellectual
and material world. It is the contact of the lower part of the Soul with this
material world in the form of the material body (the embodied soul) that causes
it to be temporarily corrupted, and forgetting the fact that it is part of
the Divine Mind. The higher part of ones Soul would remain unaffected and
in contact with the Divine Mind. Plotinus believed that peoples goal was to
have their soul return to The One, offering people a form of salvation like
Christianity did. The process of returning could be done by the rejection
of material things and three distinct steps:
- the cultivation of Virtue, which reminds the soul of the divine Beauty
- the practice of Dialectic, which reminds the soul of where it came from and the true nature of its existence
- finally Contemplation, which is the proper act and mode of existence of the soul as part of the Divine Mind
And then through mystic union the Soul would be reabsorbed in the One itself from which it had emanated. The absence or lack of desire to pursue this life towards the One was the cause of sin, which was held to be a negative quality (not participating in the perfection of the One). Later Neoplatonic philosophers like Iamblichus (250-330 AD)expanded this idea by adding intermediate gods and beings as emanations between the One and humanity thus incorporating the old gods.
For this article I mainly used the texts from these websites:
Plotinus describes his philosophy in his book "Enneads" which can be found online here.
Stoicism: A lot has been written about stoicism so I will try to give a summary based on what I found but if you're interested a lot more info can be found in the links below this article. This school of philosophy was started by Zeno of Citium in Athens in about 300 BC. The term "Stoicism" derives from the Greek word "stoa," which is a roofed colonnade or porch. Under one of these porches Zeno taught his followers, thus they came to be called "philosophers of the porch" or Stoics. According to Stoicism the cosmos originates with God who's original nature consists of Logos (absolute Reason) and fire, from this fire he created first air then water and then earth, the four elements from which all matter is made. The cosmos now consists of two principles one passive (matter) and one active (God). The active principle (God) extends through all matter providing it with motion, form, and structure thus creating all things (more active means more divine, the more passive means more material) and thus God not only creates all things but is all things. Both the active (God) and the passive (matter) are bodily or corporeal principles (they occupy space, there are no incorporeal things). The divine fire was also breathed into the first man giving him a soul (animating us and endowing us with reason and intelligence) the soul thereafter passed from parent to child and since it is part of the divine fire the human soul is a rational soul. Since all things are God and come from God the Stoics taught that eventually the whole cosmos would return to God in a huge cosmic conflagration. Then God would once again start up the whole process creating a new world but by the laws of necessity this new world would be identical to the first world. Making this a cyclical process that would be eternally repeated nothing new would ever happen history would always be the same down to the most minute detail. The Stoics firmly believed that this was a rationally organized system in accordance with the will of God (Reason). Since there is no room for change in this process this tells us that everything that happens to us is down to fate and providence. And thus nothing that happens to man can be considered evil otherwise God would be the author of evil which the Stoics ofcourse are not willing to admit.
Stoic ethics are an outflow of this view of
the world, since the human soul is part of the divine fire which endowed us
with reason it follows that our soul is a rational soul and that the essential
nature of humans is reason. Thus the ethical goal would be to live according
to reason. The Stoics asserted that virtue is good, vice is evil, and that
all else is absolutely indifferent. Virtue, then, would be to live according
to reason. People should be virtuous, not for the sake of pleasure, but for
the sake of duty. The ideal is to align one's expectations with nature, wanting
nothing beyond what is natural and accepting whatever happens as natural (being
part of the great divine plan). To be natural is to be rational, to be rational
is to be virtuous and to be virtuous is to be happy. The avoidance of what
people normally call "evils," such as poverty or illness, are actually
irrelevant in making a person happy. Happiness originates in virtue, not in
externals, which are outside of the control of the individual. Thus a person
must rid himself of the illusion of the dependence upon externals (for example
money or status) for happiness; in fact, if money or status was necessary,
then God, being good, would have provided these things for all human beings.
If we recognize virtue as our sole good and scorn worldly advantages as completely
indifferent to our well-being, we cannot help but be happy.
The Stoics differentiate four passions and affections that interfere with the goal of remaining independent and unaffected by externals, all of which results from not conforming one's will with the divine. These are pleasure, sorrow, desire and fear. In each case, these passions have for their objects external objects to which a Stoic, being a rational person, should be indifferent. Desiring a bigger house is a passion as the bigger house is not necessary for you to be happy. Distress and pleasure pertain to present objects, fear and appetite to future objects. Because it makes no sense to limit or restrain the passions, the Stoics believe that the passions must be stopped before they begin to contaminate reason. "In the first place," says Seneca, "it is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them, and to deny them admittance, then, after they have been admitted, to control them; for when they have established themselves in possession, they are stronger than their ruler and do not permit themselves to be restrained or reduced" (Anger 1.7.2-3). The wise man, knowing how dangerous the passions are, makes every possible attempt to destroy them from their incipience: this is Stoic apatheia, the state of freedom that the sage experiences by eliminating the passions from his soul and being moved by reason alone.
A distinctive feature of Stoicism is its cosmopolitanism. All people are manifestations of God and should, according to the Stoics, live in brotherly love and readily help one another. They held that external differences such as rank and wealth are of no importance in social relationships.
To finish off some quotes from a book on Stoic ethics Called Discourses by Epictetus (55 - 135 AD) a Stoic teacher.
Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions--in short, whatever is our doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our doing...So remember, if you think that things naturally enslaved are free or that things not your own are your own, you will be thwarted, miserable, and upset, and will blame both the gods and men.
What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things. For example, death is nothing dreadful but instead the judgment about death is that it is dreadful, that is what is dreadful.
To avoid unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment, we, therefore, need to do two things: control those things that are within our power (namely our beliefs, judgments, desires , and attitudes) and be indifferent or apathetic to those things which are not in our power (namely, things external to us).
Toward those unfortunate things that are not within our power which we
cannot avoid (for example, death and the actions and opinions of others) the
proper attitude is one of apathy. Distress is the result of our attitudes
towards things, not the things themselves.
For this article I mainly used the texts from these websites:
The book by Epictetus, Discourses can be found online here.