BMCR 1997.11.20

1997.11.20, Stoic Studies

A. A. Long, Stoic studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xvi, 309 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780521482639 $59.95.

Long has selected twelve of his articles previously published in journals and conference proceedings between 1971 and 1993 for this volume. Brief postscripts have been added to chapters 1, 6, and 7 because their topics “have been the subject of much discussion during the intervening years” (xi). The breadth of scope, holistic approach, interpretive creativity, careful scholarship, and sensitive understanding of Long’s work on Stoicism is well displayed in this volume. Moreover, the presence of Epictetus on both the first and last page of the book is telling and pleasing. Telling, because Long devotes extended discussions to Epictetus in Chapters 4, 7, 8, and 12. Pleasing, because Epictetus’ importance in the history of the Stoa has been too often unfairly downplayed by many scholars. The attention Epictetus deservedly receives from Long, therefore, is salutary. Long has tried to create a reasonably coherent volume by grouping the selected chapters around “three themes: the Stoics’ appropriation and interpretation of their intellectual tradition (chapters 1-4), their ethics (chapter 5-9), and their psychology (chapters 10-12)” (xii).

Chapter 1, “Socrates in Hellenistic philosophy” ( Classical Quarterly 38 [1988]), discusses the ways the Hellenistic philosophers saw themselves as the heirs or critics of Socrates, as well as the doctrines and characteristics of Socrates that were incorporated into, or removed from their philosophical paradigms. Long makes a cogent case for the Stoics’ Socratic orientation in his analysis of Euthydemus 278e-281e, and in the process offers convincing corrections of Vlastos which are, if anything, too deferential. In his postscript to this chapter Long stands by his article “Aristotle’s legacy to Stoic ethics” ( Bulletin of the University of London Institute of Classical Studies 15 [1968]) where he argued that the Stoics reflected seriously on Aristotle’s ethics. He writes: “Then as now I took Socrates to be their dominant inspiration, but I still think (in spite of Sandbach 1985) that the hypothesis of some Aristotelian influence on Zeno and his followers is probably correct” (34). It would seem appropriate, then, to have included “Aristotle’s legacy” with these first four chapters, since it is also relevant to several of the later chapters.

In chapter 2, “Heraclitus and Stoicism” ( Philosophia 5/6 [1975/6]), Long argues for “a serious historical link between Heraclitus and the Stoics” (37). Long’s examination of Cleanthes’Hymn to Zeus leads him to judge that Cleanthes had a much deeper understanding of Heraclitus than we find in Plato, Aristotle, or Theophrastus (46).

Chapter 3, “Stoic readings of Homer” ( Homer’s Ancient Readers, edd. Lamberton and Keaney [Princeton University Press, 1992]), is one of the freshest and most interesting of the collection. Long attributes to modern scholars the theory that Stoic philosophers, beginning with Zeno, interpreted Homer as a crypto-Stoic allegorist. He then introduces the following distinction: “A text will be allegorical in a strong sense if its author composes with the intention of being interpreted allegorically. A text will be allegorical in a weak sense if, irrespective of what its author intended, it invites interpretation in ways that go beyond its surface or so-called literal meaning” (60). Long proceeds to argue that the Stoics in fact took Homer to be neither a strong nor a weak allegorist. First, Long presents sensible reasons for rejecting the idea that the Heraclitus who authored Homeric problems: Homer’s allegories concerning the gods was an official Stoic. Second, he rejects the polemical evidence of the Epicurean in Cicero’s De natura deorum i. 41 in favor of the Stoic Balbus’ statements in ii. 63-72. Third, he uses Cornutus’Compendium of the tradition of Greek theology to show that “For Cornutus neither Homer nor Hesiod is a crypto-Stoic. Both are transmitters of myths” (73). Long’s alternative theory is that the Stoics to a great extent recognized that myth is the ancient sages’ mode of interpreting the world. He concludes that the Stoics “did not make the mistake of supposing that a myth’s meaning is identical either to its function in a larger story (the personification of concepts) or to a secret message inscribed by the storyteller” (83). Nuanced discussions of strong and weak allegory, metonymy, and euhemerism make this a fascinating chapter.

How the Stoics conceived of dialectic throughout their history and what value they attributed to it in relation to other ancient philosophers are questions addressed in chapter 4, “Dialectic and the Stoic sage” ( The Stoics, ed. Rist [University of California Press, 1978)]. Long argues that Chrysippus “agreed with Plato that dialectic is the science indispensable to all philosophical inquiry, and this is important. It gives to logic or dialectic, whatever this connotes in practice, an independent scientific or epistemological status that it did not possess for Aristotle” (92). The Stoics held that ‘only the wise man is a dialectician’ because, Long suggests, only the wise man has orthos logos, and hence an infallible disposition to reason correctly, systematic knowledge, and the ability to state all that is true. Moreover, as the science that handles language and logic, dialectic also concerns koinos logos—the community of reason uniting human beings and god—and so the wise man’s dialectical expertise includes proficiency in physics and ethics too.

The one jarring remark in chapter 4 is the admonition that “it is important to distinguish professional Stoic teachers, with different views, from eclectic practitioners of Stoicism such as Seneca and Musonius Rufus” (104). Our sources clearly indicate that Musonius was a teacher; his students included the philosophers Epictetus, Dio of Prusa, Euphrates of Tyre and his student Timocrates of Heracleia, Athenodotus, and Artemidorus, and also aristocratic Romans such as Rubellius Plautus, C. Minicius Fundanus, and possibly Barea Soranus and Annius Pollio. Why Long would describe Musonius as an ‘eclectic practitioner of Stoicism’ rather than a ‘professional Stoic teacher’ is mysterious. Overall, however, chapters 1-4 together offer an excellent exposition of key dimensions of the Stoics’ appropriation and interpretation of their intellectual tradition.

The second group of essays opens with chapter 5, “Arius Didymus and the exposition of Stoic ethics” ( On Stoic and Peripatetic Ethics: The Work of Arius Didymus, ed. Fortenbaugh [Transaction Books, 1983]). This chapter is slow and demanding reading. Long focuses on some of the idiosyncratic features of the Stoic material in the second book of Stobaeus’Anthology in order to highlight important differences between it and the parallel accounts in Cicero’s De finibus iii.16-76 and Diogenes Laertius vii.84-131. An intricate analysis yields the judgment that, despite its many inconcinnities, Arius’ exposition of Stoic ethics in Stobaeus exhibits a definite system of arrangement. What makes Arius’ method distinctive is (a) his opening division into goods, evils, and indifferents; (b) his lack of interest in hormê as a primary ethical concept; and (c) the amplitude, system, and exhaustive nature of his mapping of ethical concepts (122). An appendix displaying Long’s table of ethical theses in Stobaeus ii, pp. 57-85 accompanies this chapter.

Chapter 6, “The logical basis of Stoic ethics” ( Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71 [1970/71]), is a wonderfully lucid, almost breezy essay by comparison with the arduous puzzlework of chapter 5. Long begins by criticizing G. E. Moore for describing Stoic ethics as ‘metaphysical’ in so far as, according to Moore, they meant by ‘Nature’ “something supersensible which they inferred to exist, and which they held to be perfectly good” (135). Moore’s remarks are fundamentally wrong, Long explains, because the Stoics confined existence to bodies, meaning those things which have threefold extension and resistance, and the dispositions or properties of material objects, e.g. the good and virtue as dispositions of the matter which constitutes the mind. Thus, “[p]ropositions about Nature in Stoicism are often, perhaps always, to be construed as propositions about how things really are” (136).

Long’s criticisms of Moore’s interpretation are squarely on target, I think, but in leveling those criticisms Long overstates his case when he writes: “In fact, the Stoics had nothing to say about metaphysics as such. They sought to derive ethics from physics, the inquiry into the Nature of sensible objects” (136). Inquiry into the ‘nature’ (= reality) of things (objects) is, however, just what contemporary philosophers call ‘metaphysics’. 1 The corporealism that the Stoics espoused is, after all, a metaphysical position. So Long is right to fault Moore for attributing to Stoicism a belief in a supersensible reality, but what the Stoics called ‘physics’ is precisely what today is meant by ‘metaphysics’. 2

Nonetheless Long successfully establishes his main thesis that Stoic ethics is not based upon a series of vicious circles, as R. D. Hicks claimed in Stoic and Epicurean (London, 1910). Rather, the logical basis of Stoic ethics amounts to this. “Life according to reason is entailed by life according to Nature; but life according to Nature is not obligatory because it accords with reason. Nature stands to human beings as a moral law commanding us to live by rational principles, viz. those principles of thought and action which Nature, a perfect being, prescribes to itself and all other rational beings” (150). An appendix on D.L. vii.85-8 and a postscript emphasizing the importance of oikeiôsis and briefly discussing the work other scholars have done on that concept since 1971 follow this chapter.

In chapter 7, “Greek ethics after MacIntyre and the Stoic community of reason” ( Ancient Philosophy 3 [1983]), Long convincingly supports his thesis that in After Virtue (Indiana, 1981) Alasdair MacIntyre is wrong to regard Stoicism “as a different kind of moral system from ‘the Aristotelian tradition'” (157). Long explains that “[t]he Stoics agreed with Aristotle that human beings have a natural telos, that that telos is perfected activity as a rational being, that both of these are essentially constituted by a plurality of virtues, and that what the virtuous person will do requires an intelligent and appropriate assessment of the particular circumstances” (161-2). The Stoics were thus certainly within MacIntyre’s ‘Aristotelian tradition’, but their remarkable and original concept of oikeiôsis—the affective relationship by means of which human beings are, from birth, endeared to themselves and, upon the advent of rational maturity, endeared towards other human beings—allows them to develop the doctrine of a ‘community of reason’ among human beings and god. Thus the community of reason connects up with the Stoics’ natural theology. The Stoic idea that everything that happens is providentially determined by immanent cosmic reason (= Nature = god) was famously attacked by John Stuart Mill in one of his Three Essays on Religion. On Long’s persuasive diagnosis, Mill’s mistake was to take nature in Stoic ethics to refer univocally to an obviously unworkable external criterion of good, i.e. the providential course of all events, rather than to an internal criterion, i.e. the teleological principle of reason, which exists in human nature in order to structure human life optimally. Even so, Long soberly reminds us that Stoicism was not a secular humanism. But could Stoicism be secularized? In the following paragraph, Long eschews tackling this question outright, but he hints at an affirmative reply:

Is such whole-hearted piety so essential to Stoicism that their conception of human nature would lose all point without it? Must the community of reason be at work in the earthquake and the genocide if it is also the objective ground of human well-being? These indeed are mysteries which I prefer not to penetrate. The essence of Stoicism seems to be organising one’s internal resources—desires and feelings and judgements (cf. Epictetus iii.2.2)—into a harmonious structure of rational principles and motives to action. This is the practical achievement promised by accommodating oneself to the community of reason. To engage sympathetically with that notion, it is only necessary to suppose that we are biologically structured as human beings with an inbuilt telos; and that that telos is our self-fulfilment or eudaimonia as well-reasoning men and women, living amicably together and performing those roles and tasks that are ours. (176)

Long states that he is “not trying to outdo MacIntyre by offering neo-Stoicism as the philosophy for our time”, but he does assert that if a naturalistic ethical theory is defensible in principle, “it is hard to see how it could dispense with the kind of foundations the Stoics sought to provide” (177). Long explains his disagreement with Troels Engberg-Pedersen ( The Stoic Theory of Oikeiosis [Aarhus, 1990]) over the Stoic criterion of goodness being external or internal in this chapter’s postscript.

Remarks like these from the end of chapter 7 perhaps helped prompt Long to avow in his preface “I am not a Stoic, for more reasons than are stated or hinted at in this book” (xi). But this reviewer is left wishing that Long had chosen to disclose a few of those unstated reasons and hints, despite the fact that the restraint typical of his scholarly style prevented this.

Chapter 8, “Stoic eudaimonism” (Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 4 [University Press of America, 1989]), is a wonderful exposition in which Long addresses two objections to the Stoic theory of the summum bonum. According to the ‘impoverishment’ objection, by excluding richness of experience and fulfillment of reasonable expectations—commonly acknowledged features of happiness—from their conception of eudaimonia, the Stoics achieve invulnerability against misfortune at the cost of emotional impoverishment and indifference to ordinary human experience. According to the ‘disingenuousness’ objection the Stoics were guilty of either self-deception and incoherence, or pretence, because they made moral norms absolutely binding on a rational agent as expressions of a good which is strictly sui generis and has nothing to do with the agent’s happiness as it is ordinarily conceived. Jeremy Bentham and Gisela Striker are Long’s sources of the ‘impoverishment’ objection. M. Forschner is said to tend toward the ‘disingenuousness’ objection, but Long could again have added Striker, “Following nature: a study in Stoic ethics”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 9 (1991), p. 73: “… the Stoics …, I think, misdescribed happiness in order to make it depend upon nothing but ourselves.”

Long defends Stoicism from the ‘impoverishment’ objection as follows. Stoicism offers conditions for happiness that are optimal for people generally because believing yourself to be a fellow-citizen of Zeus invites you to structure the materials of your own existence to pattern his divinely organized cosmos, and thus to treat yourself as a vital contributor to all that is good in the world. Moreover, the Stoic wise man’s outlook is not one of ‘resignation’, but rather he derives joy, cheerfulness, and confidence from firm possession of all that is good, namely, his virtue, i.e. his disposition to reason well. The ‘disingenuousness’ objection is defeated, Long argues, because the Stoics maintain that since the outcomes of one’s endeavors have no bearing upon the goodness of the things according to human nature that reason compels one to seek to promote (one’s own health, family relationships, citizenship, etc.), thoroughly rational beings will be happy entirely in the proper exercise of their rational faculties. Long concludes that determinism, divine providence, the availability of happiness to every normal person, and the perfectibility of reason constitute a eudaimonist theory that is fully coherent and neither impoverished nor disingenuous.

A small complaint can be made about Long’s claim regarding the Kantian dualism according to which human nature consists of a physical aspect directed toward pleasure and a higher rational aspect directed toward morality. He writes: “The Stoics, if I am right, have no inkling of such dualism. In their theory, well-developed human nature is entirely unitary” (199). But consider Discourses i.3.3: ἐπειδὴ δύο ταῦτα ἐν τῃ, τὸ σῶμα μὲν κοινὸν πρὸς τὰ ζῷα, ὁ λόγος δὲ καὶ ἡ γνώμη κοινὸν πρὸς τοὺς θεούς, ἄλλοι μὲν ἐπὶ ταύτην ἀποκλίνουσιν τὴν συγγένειαν τὴν ἀτυχῆ καὶ νεκράν, ὀλίγοι δέ τινες ἐπὶ τὴν θείαν καὶ μακαρίαν. Epictetus makes no suggestion in this chapter or elsewhere that this inborn dualism dissolves or is transcended in adulthood; rather, the choice between cleaving to the flesh or cleaving to the divine logos persistently remains with us.

Chapter 9, “The harmonics of Stoic virtue” ( Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, suppl. vol. 1991), the last chapter on ethics, is delightfully imaginative. Long analyzes what the early Stoics meant by a harmonious life. He argues that they chose such nouns as homologia, akolouthia, and symphônia to describe the world’s systematic structure in which everything fits together according to a divine, rational plan because they “intended to link their philosophy to the art which comes first to mind as the repository of consonance and concordance—music” (203). To each of the cardinal virtues—prudence, moderation, courage, and justice—the Stoics specified ‘subordinate’ virtues: good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness, for instance, under prudence. From this Long conjectures that the Stoics’ expression ‘all the numbers of virtue’ “probably refers both to the four cardinal ones and their subordinates, comprising in sum an absolutely definite number” (217). This numeric relationship, Long surmises, the Stoics envisaged as modeling the four tetrachords and their constituent intervals. These are some of the persuasive reasons Long presents for thinking that music was the principal craft analogy the Stoics exploited in developing their account of virtue as the art of living harmoniously. In an appendix Long explains why he rejects Adolf Dyroff’s proposal that sculpture was the privileged craft analogy for understanding the Stoics’ reference to numbers.

The last three chapters on psychology hang together well. Chapter 10, “Soul and body in Stoicism” ( Phronesis 27 [1982]), aims to illuminate the soul/body relationship in Stoicism. Long makes the interesting observation that “[t]he Stoic soul is not fully analogous to the brain and the nervous system; but the relationship of the hêgemonikon to the other seven parts is obviously comparable, both spatially and functionally, to the brain and the nerves which unite it with all parts of the body” (242). He describes the ability of the highly rarefied, yet nonetheless corporeal, human soul to employ the incorporeal lekta—its linguistic consciousness, in short—as “something irreducibly mental about the human soul” (247) or a “kind of transcendence over the purely corporeal” (249). A related discussion of the doctrine of lekta occupies the last few pages of chapter 12.

The appendix to chapter 11, “Hierocles on