Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.10.13 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.10.13

Troels Engberg-Pedersen (ed.), From Stoicism to Platonism: The Development of Philosophy, 100 BCE-100 CE.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2017.  Pp. x, 399.  ISBN 9781107166196.  $120.00.  

Reviewed by J.J. Mulhern, University of Pennsylvania (

[The Table of contents is listed below.]

The present volume explores the hypothesis that dogmatic Platonism developed into a system mainly in response to and at the expense of Stoicism during the study period. The chapter authors consider eclecticism and the suggested replacements, such as harmonization, appropriation, and transition, as frameworks for understanding this development.

Troels Engberg-Pedersen offers a brief survey of eclecticism from Potamo to the present (3-6) and suggests that philosophers of one school in the period studied might consider to what extent concepts and doctrines from other schools might be “intelligently fitted” into their own work—cases of both eirenic appropriation and polemical or subordinating appropriation (9-10). He distinguishes two themes in the hypothesis—development from Stoicism to Platonism and asymmetry in their relations. A.G. Long takes as his subject “the responses to Plato and Chrysippus in Posidonius’ writings on the subject of passions” (29). He argues that the theory of affective movements (pre-passion movements) was an innovation which helped Posidonius to explain why passions abated over time, why human beings are responsible for passions, and why counter-volitional physical responses occur (38-9). He concludes that Posidonius sought “an alternative point of reference . . . when Chrysippus had nothing to offer” although “Chrysippus’ treatise was the primary text for Posidonius” and that “Plato’s importance . . . was narrowly localized” although “when he was allowed to speak he was not opposed or subordinated” (46). Malcolm Schofield, relying on Cicero’s letters and philosophica, finds that, although “engagement with Plato was for Cicero much more important than what he got from Stoicism,” Cicero sees “a fundamental harmony in the views of those he takes to be philosophers worth listening to” (65).

George Boys-Stones expresses caution about describing the period in a transitional or ‘from-to’ framework on the grounds that ‘transitional’ “does not, and cannot, function as a neutral description” (69). For Boys-Stones, in the period at issue, “philosophical interactions continue to be determined by the (top-level) identity of the schools involved,” and the eventual dominance of the Platonists “comes down to the success of their position on transcendent causes” (79). Myrto Hatzimichali argues from the evidence on her subject—Arius Didymus—that “Didymus’ doxography was linked with the ongoing process of transforming the often elusive Platonic texts . . . into a concise body of doctrine for teaching and dissemination purposes” (89-90). Rather than polemics, the author concludes, “what Didymus and his fellow doxographers and related sources seem to have picked up most successfully is both the Platonists’ and the Stoics’ use of ideas originating in other schools in order to develop and process their own doctrines” (99).

Christopher Gill addresses oikeiōsis in the accounts of Cicero, De Finibus 3 and 5, in Antiochus of Ascalon, and in Arius Didymus. Gill inclines toward a Stoic origin for the theory of oikeiōsis (109-12) and its adoption by Antiochus. For Gill, “it makes sense to interpret Arius’ account as modelled on that of Antiochus” (116). He concludes: “On the topic of oikeiōsis, as on some others, Stoicism has emerged as the ‘pace-setter’, more precisely, the source of the key formulation of the theory, which set the terms of subsequent debate” (117). Mauro Bonazzi, beginning from the understanding that “Plato’s philosophy as it is exposed in the dialogues is anything but clear,” argues that Platonism in the study period results not only from the interpretation of the dialogues but also from “confrontation with the other schools” (120) on the problems that the Stoics regarded as important, especially the foundation of knowledge, for which the Stoics looked to ennoiai or conceptions (122). Bonazzi notes that, while the Platonists appropriated ennoiai as the foundation of knowledge, they attempted to replace the Stoics’ perceptual account of ennoiai with one based on Ideas (128). Bonazzi rejects eclecticism as a characterization of this period, “if eclecticism is regarded as the passive adoption of terms and doctrines that neglects the question of the compatibility of those terms and doctrines” (141).

Gretchen Reydams-Schils begins from the homoiōsis theōi digression in the Theaetetus and goes on to its treatment in the Anonymous Commentary, where the Stoics are said to derive justice from oikeiōsis, Plato from homoiōsis (145). Alcinous, in her view, looks to homoiōsis with the immanent World Soul of the Timaeus rather than with its transcendent god, and thus “a Stoic influence makes itself most felt in enhancements of the relational and providential aspect of the divine” (154). She finds that, in Plutarch, “the divinity humans are supposed to imitate and follow is none other than the Demiurge from the Timaeus in his relational aspect,” for which Plutarch could find support “in Stoic adaptations of the Timaeus” (155), as in Musonius Rufus and Epictetus (156). Thus: “For Middle Platonist authors there was no direct line back to Plato and the views of the Old Academy,” and so, in interpreting a text, “they had to read it with all the layers of previous interpretation” (158). In his chapter on Philo, David T. Runia states that his aim is “to examine the philosophical method and arguments used by Philo in De Providentia I with a view to establishing the relationship of the Stoic, Platonic and biblical material in the treatise” and “the role that his [Philo’s] Jewish background might play in the choice and use of these arguments” (163). He concludes that while the Stoa “provides a terminology and an argumentative framework for the main arguments” and while “the main theological arguments derive from the Platonic tradition,” “it is Philo’s Judaism that subtextually drives the argument” (178). Carlos Lévy organizes his chapter, which begins with Cicero and ends with Philo, around what he calls descending and ascending axes—the one exemplified in the criticism of the Stoics in Cicero, De Finibus 4, the other reflecting the view that “Stoicism is less fundamentally false than it is incomplete” (183-4).” For Lévy, “the existence of these two axes is not a Ciceronian invention, but a result of the progressive disappearance of Academic scepticism and of the rise of a Platonic dogmatism that both preserved some aspects of the New Academy and developed a form of dogmatic and religious Platonism” (185). Lévy observes that Philo “does not simply reject Stoic concepts, but he absorbs them, keeping some of their aspects or structures for his own philosophical and theological purposes” (193).

Gregory E. Sterling argues that the Wisdom of Solomon shows the influence of Platonism in treating the immortality of the soul (201-4) and of Stoicism in its use of intensification and relaxation of the elements to explain miracles (206-7). Sterling prefers to describe this process as “dialectical appropriation” or “transformative appropriation” since it “subordinates the material [philosophy] that it appropriates, while it simultaneously transforms the material [Alexandrian Judaism] into which it is introduced” (213). A.A. Long, focusing on mind-body dualism in Seneca’s Letters and in Epictetus, evinces some concern about speaking of Platonism as a philosophical school, distinguishing five “different and only partly related senses” (of ‘school’) (214). Even where he sees Seneca alluding to “the most salient and characteristic Platonic doctrines,” he does not think that these passages “tell us about major shifts of Stoicism in the direction of Plato’s metaphysics” (217), since the dualistic language and thought that appear in Seneca “have become common property of Roman writers” (223). He asserts: “Seneca, then, if my approach to him is on the right lines, provides no strong grounds for thinking either that the Stoicism he knew and expounds has been strongly affected by newly emergent interests in Platonism or that its identity as a long-standing and distinct movement is under challenge from contemporary Platonists” (224). His examination of Epictetus yields a similar result.

Stanley Stowers, focusing on pneuma, stresses against Engberg-Pedersen that Paul of Tarsus was influenced by Platonists as well as by Stoics (231-3): Paul’s “ontological and cosmological inspirations might have come from those contemporaries in the first century who were seeking to discover the ancient teachings of Pythagoras, Plato, and even Moses, but mixed with a good deal of Stoicism. Of course, in this scenario, Paul went his own way by replacing the [Platonic] duality of the sensible and the noetic with a duality of lower changeable, mixed, and decaying elements versus the divine pneuma as pure, unchanging, and indestructible” (244). Paul “likely adopted teachings about Stoic pneuma and Platonic assimilation to God because he thought they were true and helpful explanations of what his project was about, how it worked” (252). Brad Inwood presents Musonius Rufus as neither “a key figure in the history of the Stoic school” (255) nor even “a proper Stoic” (257). Noting that “the strongest external evidence we have for his Stoic affiliation is in Tacitus’ claim (Histories 3.81.1) that he was studium philosophiae et placita Stoicorum aemulatus” and in the Suda (256), and drawing on the shorter fragments and testimonia along with the discourses, which are not distinctively Stoic, Inwood concludes that Musonius “was in fact a genuine pioneer, in his own way, for the role of philosophically educated public intellectual” (275). Harold W. Attridge argues for “the appropriation of philosophical categories as tools for the presentation of religious claims” and for “the increasing importance of Platonic concepts” (277) in the Christian treatment of naming God. Tracing the discussion back through Philo to Plato’s Cratylus and its treatment of names, Attridge finds that the Fourth Gospel, drawing on Exodus 3, “identifies Jesus, or the Logos incarnate in him, with the name of God” (287). He concludes that “it is the Platonic framework, positing a sharp distinction between God and creation, that frames the problem of divine knowability and sets the stage for the distinctive Christian solution to that problem, that God has made his name, and therefore his essence, known in Jesus” (295).

Jan Opsomer argues that Plutarch’s anti-Stoic polemics “occasionally point to a common ground beneath the skirmishes on the surface” (297). For Opsomer, in Stoic Self-Contradictions, “Plutarch’s attention is especially caught by Chrysippus’ attacks on Plato or on members of the Academy,” and “he pursues the double strategy of defending his own school by refuting the criticisms directed at it and by attacking the Stoics” on the basis of their inconsistencies (303). In the end, “In Plutarch’s view, the Stoics are not irredeemable. Redemption, however, basically requires conversion to Platonism” (320).

The final chapter, by Charles Brittain on Alexander of Aphrodisias, extends beyond the volume’s period by a century to trace the “transformative appropriations” of oikeiōsis by Peripatetics and “an instructive example of the maxim that appropriation leads to deformation [of one’s own position], or at least, in Alexander’s case, to an implicit challenge to his underlying model of desire and action” (322). Brittain finds that, in Alexander’s view, Stoics, Epicureans, and later Peripatetics construed the oikeion as object of desire differently. In trying to develop a position that draws on this discussion, Alexander must dispense with pleasure as the object of the first desire, which is his usual position; instead, he must look for something other than the pleasant, the fine, and the useful as an object of desire, which he finds in the Stoic kathēkon (344-5). Brittain concludes that Alexander’s “drive for an adequate but historicized interpretation of Aristotle ultimately leads him to a philosophical conclusion he is not quite in a position to accept” (345) and that “his case shows that it is hard to escape implicit constraints of a tradition, since his efforts to secure a Stoic-informed Aristotelian solution to the question of what is appropriate first seem to conflict with his basic theory of action” (347).

The authors of these chapters are engaged, from different points of view, in reconstructing a challenging period in the history of philosophy, in which Platonism developed into “a precise body of doctrine for teaching and dissemination,” as one of them puts it, in a way which cannot be explained from the contents of the dialogues alone. It should not be surprising that the chapters sometimes are controversial. The bibliography will help readers who wish to explore the controversy further.

Table of Contents

Contents. Pp v-vi
Contributors. Pp vii-viii
Acknowledgements. Pp ix-x
Chapter 1 - Introduction: A Historiographical Essay. Pp 1-26. By Troels Engberg-Pedersen
Chapter 2 - Plato, Chrysippus and Posidonius’ Theory of Affective Movements. Pp 27-46. By A. G. Long
Chapter 3 - Cicero’s Plato. Pp 47-66. By Malcolm Schofield
Chapter 4 - Are We Nearly There Yet? Eudorus on Aristotle’s Categories. Pp 67-79. By George Boys-Stones
Chapter 5 - Stoicism and Platonism in ‘Arius Didymus’. Pp 80-99. By Myrto Hatzimichali
Chapter 6 - Oikeiōsis in Stoicism, Antiochus and Arius Didymus. Pp 100-119. By Christopher Gill
Chapter 7 - The Platonist Appropriation of Stoic Epistemology. Pp 120-141. By Mauro Bonazzi
Chapter 8 - “Becoming like God” in Platonism and Stoicism. Pp 142-158. By Gretchen Reydams-Schils
Chapter 9 - From Stoicism to Platonism: The Difficult Case of Philo of Alexandria’s De Providentia I. Pp 159-178. By David T. Runia
Chapter 10 - From Cicero to Philo of Alexandria: Ascending and Descending Axes in the Interpretation of Platonism and Stoicism. Pp 179-197. By Carlos Lévy
Chapter 11 - The Love of Wisdom: Middle Platonism and Stoicism in the Wisdom of Solomon. Pp 198-213. By Gregory E. Sterling
Chapter 12 - Seneca and Epictetus on Body, Mind and Dualism. Pp 214-230. By A. A. Long
Chapter 13 - The Dilemma of Paul’s Physics: Features Stoic-Platonist or Platonist-Stoic?. Pp 231-253. By Stanley Stowers
Chapter 14 - The Legacy of Musonius Rufus. Pp 254-276. By Brad Inwood
Chapter 15 - Stoic and Platonic Reflections on Naming in Early Christian Circles: Or, What’s in a Name?. Pp 277-295. By Harold W. Attridge
Chapter 16 - Is Plutarch Really Hostile to the Stoics?. Pp 296-321. By Jan Opsomer
Chapter 17 - Peripatetic Appropriations of Oikeiōsis. Pp 322-347. By Charles Brittain
Bibliography. Pp 348-372
Index Locorum. Pp 373-391
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