Stoicism and Spinoza

In the Ethics the modern philosopher Baruch Spinoza produces an indubitable foundation for his metaphysics in the style of Euclidean proofs.  One of the principal focuses of the Ethics is to show that God is Nature and Nature is God.  Deus, sive Natura: “That eternal and infinite being we call God, or Nature, acts from the same necessity from which he exists” (Ethics, Part IV, Preface). Like Descartes and Leibniz, Spinoza was a rationalist, which meant he believed that all knowledge could be deduced from clear and distinct a priori self-evident truths.

The ancient Stoics would agree with Spinoza that God is Nature and Nature is God.  The ancient Stoics used an a priori argument to prove the existence of God as a reasoning Universe.  The Founder of the Stoic School, Zeno of Citium used the ontological argument to prove the Universe was a reasoning being.  Zeno declared,

“That which exercises reason is more excellent than that which does not exercise reason; there is nothing more excellent than the universe, therefore the universe exercises reason” (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 8.; iii. 9).

Spinoza reasoned that everything is God because God is a substance with infinite mental and material attributes.  Everything, even humans, owes its existence to God because all mental and material attributes constitute God.  We are all tied together with the substance of Nature/God itself.

According to Spinoza, while we are absolutely determined both mentally and materially to be as we are, God, or Nature, is self-determined because God is a being from which all cause and effect relationships arise.

“From God’s supreme power, or infinite nature, an infinite number of things – that is, all things have necessarily flowed forth in an infinite number of ways, or always flow from the same necessity; in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows from eternity and for eternity, that its three interior angles are equal to two right angles” (Ethics, Part 1, XVII)

God is truly an infinite being that necessitates all truths both material and mental. All truths can be deduced from God the same way that in mathematics the sum of three interior angles of a triangle is deduced from the sum of two right angles.

It’s a shame we don’t have the complete works of the ancient Stoics but we know that they used a variety of methods to support their conclusion that the Universe is Divine and Providential.  In addition to using the ontological-style argument, Zeno used an empirical argument from design,

“If melodiously piping flutes sprang from the olive, would you doubt that a knowledge of flute-playing resided in the olive? And what if plane trees bore harps which gave forth rhythmical sounds? Clearly you would think in the same way that the art of music was possessed by plane trees. Why, then, seeing that the universe gives birth to beings that are animate and wise, should it not be considered animate and wise itself” (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II. 8)?

Unlike Spinoza, the Stoics used both a priori and a posteriori arguments to support their philosophical positions.

There’s no evidence the Stoics used the cosmological argument for the existence of God.  It’s doubtful they would’ve used such an argument primarily because the Stoics did not believe that the Universe had a beginning since the eternal Divine Logos is an eternal fiery reasoning substance that flickers out (ending the universe) and then reignites again (recreating the universe) ad infinitum. Also, God and Nature are inseparable.  The Universe is the necessary being that necessitates all things throughout Itself.

Despite different ways of justifying their pantheistic belief systems, Spinoza and the Stoics are on the same page that God is Nature and Nature is God.  Marcus Aurelius put it poetically,

“Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being” (Meditations,
IV, 40).


Why is there something rather than nothing? The Stoics provide an answer.

Our scientifically estimated 13.6 billion year old universe could have come from nothing as bizarre as that is to conceive in our minds.  How could something come from nothing?  This question never seemed to bother the ancient Greco-Roman philosophers as much as it did later Medieval philosophers.  God created the universe ex nihilo according to the Medieval interpretation of the Bible so it was thought that there was nothing in the beginning.  If an atheist during the Dark Ages had dared to question the existence of God, she would’ve been met with the question, “well, then how could something come from nothing?”

The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers never cared too much about the issue of how could something come from nothing because they just assumed something had been around since eternity so there was never a nothing.  The Stoics, for example, just assumed the universe had always been.  It, like a fire, sets off, sustains itself, and then extinguishes itself only to be set off again and this process goes on forever.  In fact, the universe is always dying and being reborn and everything that happened in all the previous universes happens in this universe.

The ancient Greco-Roman philosophers tended to have a cyclic vision of time that the universe would be born, sustain itself, die, be reborn and repeat ad infinitum.  This didn’t just happen cosmically but microcosmically.  Civilizations would be born, sustain themselves, and then die, only to have new civilizations be born from those civilizations.  It really wasn’t until Christianity that Western Civilization got the concept of linear time that began at some certain point, say, 4004 BC and terminates on Judgment Day say 2000-something when Jesus is supposed to return.

Anyway, it’s still possible the Stoics are right.  Maybe even though our universe had a beginning, our universe was just born from another universe that is part of an infinite multiverse that has always existed and will never die.  If our universe came from another universe, then it came from something, and if the multiverse is always there, then we never have to deal with the question, “how did something come from nothing?” because something has always been forever and ever.

Before the universe began, it might’ve been a singularity that went unstable.  While mathematically singularities are difficult to describe and physics breaks down, it’s possible that that singularity could’ve been eternally existing, thereby making it never needn’t of an explanation for where it came from.  The singularity had always just been, eternally existing.  Therefore, something never did come from nothing.

This is all just speculation but it makes you wonder how old things really are.  While our universe appears to be 13.6 billion years old.  How old was the singularity before it?  How old is everything outside our universe IF there is an OUTSIDE.

The Stoics had their answer so what is yours?


Is the God of Xenophanes the Stoic God?

Xenophanes of Colophon was an ancient Greek philosopher ( 570 – 480 BC) who is one of first recorded critics of anthropomorphic gods.

He says,

“Mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are,
and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form” (Diels-Kranz (D-K), fragment 14)”

Xenophanes is drawing our attention to what has been an issue with religion for centuries. Individuals often imagine their own God to look like them, to speak like them, and even have a specific gender. Xenophanes says,

“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have” (Fragment 15 (D-K)).

While Xenophanes was critical of religion, he wasn’t an atheist. He believed that there was One God that wasn’t in form or shape of humans.  He believed the One God to encompass the whole universe in spherical form.  God exercised control over the whole universe but was disinterested in human affairs.  Xenophane’s God can best be described as monotheistic, pantheistic, or pandeistic.

The question, of course, is did his view of one divine being existing spherically throughout the cosmos influence the Stoic’s conception of the divine?


God thus excludes the world; he is only its cause; in no sense is he effect, of himself or anything else. Pantheism (better, “pandeism,” for again it is not really the theos that is described) means that God is the integral totality of ordinary cause-effects, and that there, is no super-cause independent of ordinary causes and effects.

Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (1964), p. 347