'Some Tips For A Better Understanding Of Stoic Physics' by Elen Buzaré

Some Tips For A Better Understanding Of Stoic Physics

by Elen Buzaré

Editorial note: Readers of the blog may have grown weary of the intricacies of Stoic physics in recent days, but will I think nevertheless find Elen’s thoughtful reflections most interesting.

(From Héraclite, La lumière de l’Obscur, translation and commentaries by Jean Bouchart d’Orval, Les éditions du Relié, Sagesses, 1997)

I recently posted a message on the Facebook Stoicism Group to introduce to members the work of translation and commentaries of Heraclitus fragments by Jean Bouchart d’Orval.

As the concepts detailed in this book are not always very accessible, I tried to organise these notions on word format while translating them in English. I think that it may help modern stoics to develop a different view of stoic physics. At least, this may provoke debate and creative thinking.

Qualifying the stoic physics of pantheism always left me unsatisfied. Pantheism is a a very modern concept (17th century) that I believe does not give justice to what ancient Greek is conveying. I have been objected that Pantheism is the belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity. Pantheism is indeed derived from the Greek πᾶν pan (meaning “all”) and Θεός Theos (meaning “God”). This is perfectly true, however I am afraid that pantheism, because it tends to divinize the forces of nature, may be a way of « reifying » the Nature. And once you said that stoics were pantheists, then what ? This is a short cut.

That does not mean that modern stoics should set aside their Physics. Reality escapes from us. It is flowing while being in harmony with the order of things. This is why, stoic teaching tremendously uses Nature. If we look at Nature, we see the teaching. Nature is the reality itself, the fundamental order of things. If we leave this reality, we suffer.

This is what Heraclitus tried to explain to people of his era, 2 500 years ago. Jean Bouchart d’Orval introduces his view of Heraclitus to people of our era in a very different way from traditional scholars –apparently inspired from the Vedanta. He presents himself as having worked in his youth in nuclear physics fields in Canada but later decided to pursue to his questioning following the meditative practice and living in India for a few years. He does not claim to belong to any school, but his though is modulated by intuition of non-duality. He appears sometimes to be considered as a controversial person.

The following lines are not mine at all. I omitted references first of all because that would have made the reading absolutely painful but also because I simply reorganized notions related to ancient Greek philosophy that appears repeatedly throughout this book in a coherent manner. However, all credits belong to Jean Bouchart d’Orval.

There is nothing « to believe in » nor « to have faith in » in the following lines. I simply hope that it will encourage debate and intelligent reflection.

I – About the phenomenal world

Definitions :

« Phenomenon » (φανερόν – phanerôn) :

  • literally means « That is showing itself », « That is coming to appearance ».

« Nature » (ϕυσις- phusis):

  • It is not certain that the word « nature » is a good translation for phusis. The contemporary signification of « nature » means the whole of the phenomena of the universe, with its laws as studied by the sciences of Nature (chemistry, physics, biology, etc.).
  • Originally, the word phusis appeals to the idea of « to be born », « to grow ». Phusis may be « that which makes appear all that can be perceived », or « that which governs all things ».
  • Phusis is that is growing, that is spreading out, that is coming to appearance. That is the Real as it manifests itself in space and time.

« The World »:

  • The world is the « Great Living » and it appears as « world » when there is perception.
  • The manifested world is the gift of Reality, unexplorable and without access as Reality, but accessible as the « world ». It is not possible to say that Reality « is ». The verbs « to be » and « not to be » are not applicable to « That which is neither something nor nothing ». The emergence of the form is the manifestation of the reality, but it also provokes the retreat of the reality. A thing is always perceived as a thing, either way it could not be perceived. The reality manifests itself by removing itself, it comes to being, erasing itself in forgetting.
  • The manifestation of the Unique that we call « the world » is but movement and becoming

« All things » (τα παντα- ta panta) :

  • designates everything that is an object of perception, all the elements of the phenomenal world. In other words: everything that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • The  ta panta name « all things », all what is. In practical terms, it constitutes all that can be perceived, all of which we can say « this is ». The domain of the ta panta is very wide : it can be a table, a tree, an animal, a human being, an atom, a ray of light, a galaxy, an emotion, a thought, a desire, a state of mind, everything.
  • Are images formed on occasion of perception

Characteristics of « all things »:

  • Every «thing» has its contrary
  • Every «thing» knows an end
  • Every «thing» is conditioned and interdependent, ceaselessly moving. They are transient, ephemeral sparkles, flashes of the Unique. Each sparkle has a special colour, a particular identity, but as the Unique has no colour in itself, no distinctive sign, this sparkle is necessarily limited in time and space. « All things » are governed according to this way, not by will, but by factual situation.
  • All that is manifested holds by a dynamic balance of opposed energies, may it be in the « world », in our body or in our mind. This is only when one adopts an individual perspective that the contraries oppose themselves, that one is good, the other bad, that one is to select, the other to reject. The contraries are the instruments of the deployment of the Unique. It is out of the play of the opposites that harmony follows
  • No movement would be possible without opposed tensions
  • The more one is exploring the intimacy of matter, the more one is finding movement : the more one is approaching the infinitely small, the more the movement seems to be fast : cellular exchanges, intra-cellular exchanges, inter-molecular vibrations, movement of the electrons around the core of the atom, exchanges between protons and neutrons inside the core of the atom. Exchanges do not constitutes an important part of matter ; but the whole. That is why physicists are now more cautious with their images : they are more referring to energy patrons rather than to particles. All what one is designating as matter, or universe, is no more than process, links, exchanges. Nothing is static in the universe.
  • It is also true at our level of perception : the lack of exercise causes the degeneration of muscles, bones, cardio-vascular system and a weakening of the general organism, including the nervous system and the immune system. Each one of us can verify this. This is true of all process of life.

II – About the logos :

The logos is referred to different  designations: « That which is wise » (sophon), the Unique (Hen), the logos, « that which governs all things », « That which knows », The Divine, The Reality etc.

Definitions :

« λόγος– Logos » :

  • what the word « logos » designates is central to Heraclitus. Translators of Saint John’s Gospel rendered this word by « spoken word, language ». The philosophers translates this word by « discourse », « true discourse » but that does not help much. Before being « spoken word » or « discourse », logos initially means gathering. Legein means « to gather », « to collect », « to pick up » and its meaning later evolves in classical Greek to mean « speaking, saying something ».
  • Logos designates the movement of the « Unique » coming to visible.

Characteristics of the logos :

  • Is transcendent : transcendent does not mean disconnected of all things, separated from all things ; it means that it is not something and that it cannot be grasped. When all we know about water is ice, liquid water and water vapor, we cannot have an idea of what water is in itself and not as one of its forms. But water in itself is not separated or foreign to the waves, to the clouds or to the ice floe. In the same way, could that which is wise and « governs all things », « the One, the only Wise », be separated even for a split second from its own forms, which are « all things ».
  • According to Heraclitus, there is identity between the  panta and the hen (the Unique). The identity between « ta panta » and the « Hen » is the essence of knowledge, of wisdom. It is a true identity. All things do not come out the Unique, either created by the Unique, or fragment of the Unique. No : Heraclitus claims that there is only the Unique. « All things » is the « Unique ». Every « thing » is the image of the Unique, his visibility in the world of perception. The human being only knows images of reality : this is what he names things. He believes that all these objects are separated from each others and from himself. He identifies himself with his body, his thoughts, his preferences, his habits etc. This is the ordinary state of consciousness. This is the source of faintness, sufferings and neverending torments for human being of every era and cultures.
  • Yet the Unique is not a thing ; otherwise, Heraclitus would have only talked about the panta, and not about the Hen. This is why the Unique is « unexplorable and without access ». This is the main difficulty in the realisation of the Unique : at each stage, we may be tempted to objectivize it, to turn it into a thing, an object of perception, of knowledge, of discussion.
  • Is timeless, is always (eontos aei) that is « always true »
  • Governs all things through all things because it is the only reality of all things
  • The Unique does not exist as one of the elements of the phenomenal world, it is not « in the making ».
  • Needs no law to « regulate » the sparkles of his appearance. This is exactly the law of conservation of energy in modern science, that can be assimilated to law of action and reaction. This is a conservation of the whole, and not some will, that make all the elements to be regulated by an inexorable becoming. « In transforming itself it is resting ». The transformation of the elements is the expression of the essential untransformation of the Unique, which is the sole reality. Heraclitus employs the term kubernesai to significate « governs » : this corresponds to the action to guide a small boat by mean of a rudder. It is by leaning on the streams that it is possible to guide oneself on the waters. As soon as degeneration wins, a correction is applied naturally The universe is purposelessly governed by the mere fact that it is itself.
  • Is unintentional
  • Has no opposite
  • Is pure conscience and through the mechanisms of perception of this universe, most notably the nervous system of the human being, its true nature is shining, while being veiled by the illusory impression of existing as a person, an entity separated from the whole.
  • The fire is the Unique in his material aspect of dissolution and transformation. The fire represents for « all things » (ta panta) the extreme possibility, the destruction. That is why it is the judge of « all things ».
  • Lightning (keraunos) names the fire in all its shining purity. What are the features of lightning ? Imprevisibility, instantaneity and power. The human being generally thinks that he can control the main factors of his life ; he can at least believe it for a long period of time. He gets to sleep in an imaginary world, the one of his representations of reality and reassure himself cultivating the known : his own image of his body, his preferences, his opinions, his relationships, his friends, his house, his job, his country, his religion in short anything that contributes in making him believe that he is existing as an individual. This is only when life submits him to important clashes or conflicts that his concepts are shattered. This is the test of contraries. Death, disease, failure is lightning that strikes and takes out man of his drowsiness.

III – About the human beings :

There is neither chance nor a God to judge us. Individual freedom is a delusion, chance too. This is Human Being’s attitude that shapes his destiny. This behaviour is not the consequence of a choice, because there is only the Unique and all that is action-reaction is nothing less than the expression of the unity and indetermination of the Unique (the Unique is not something). Heraclitus observes that it is man, by his way of being, his attitude, who is doing the job. These are not our actions that enchain us, this is our way of being, our attitude. Our actions may belong to the past, but we are always carrying our attitude wherever we are going ; The act and its retribution are manifestation of Human being attitude, even if we do not comprehend it clearly.

There are two categories of human beings :

« The sleepings»:

  • They are «the sleepings » because they forget reality, they live in a personnel, or individual manner, stupidly waiting for the inevitable destruction of the body
  • They are also qualified as being « oi polloi » i.e. the multitude
  • They try to find it (i.e « that which is wise ») to the level of « all things » and so frustration and sorrow await them
  • They are established in duality
  • They are not skilled in the listening of the logos
  • They are living as if they had an individual consciousness
  • They are taking refuge in an individual world
  • They are living at the level of appearences
  • They are inhabited by horizontality.

« The sage » :

  • Is the egrègoros (i.e the awakened), the Best, the dry soul
  • Has a « dry soul » because this is the soul where any traces of ignorance has evaporated, under the prolonged action of the sun of Knowledge. On the contrary the humid soul is weak, softened by the energetic dispersion linked to the pursuit of pleasures.
  • Has accomplished the telos of the human incarnation
  • Perceives reality without mixing (samyoga) it, that is identifying it, with any form of the phenomenal world. The discrimination has come and it is the cessation (nirodha) of confusion (literal translation of samyoga), the abolition of ignorance (avidya).
  • Is listening to the logos : this means is « picking the gloom ». The listening is contemplation, which implies an absence of direction. What is an undirected listening ? Who can impose a direction to the listening ? Asking the question is already answering. An oriented listening is a listening of the known, of the thought, of the cerebral, of the memory, of habits. Some use the term « egoic seizure »
  • Is wise, sensible, has a healthy mind. Having a healthy mind is seeing clearly, that is keeping one’s attention on the reality and not living at the level of appearances. It would be possible to say « pick the reality as it is »
  • Is updating in space and time the deep vision
  • Is inhabited by verticality

Wisdom/Knowledge :

  • The knowledge is in fact a recognition (ginoskein).
  • Is what establishes ease, joy and serenity, not partially or temporarily, but definitively and in totality
  • Is the realisation of the Unique, that is the absence of ignorance. This knowledge is unshakable, even when the drama of the world is buzzing. The sleeping, however are getting by in their own mental enclosure, where every perception is interpreted in the frame of a subject/object relationship, which is the last thing that a human being questions.
  • Must not be mistaken with the accumulation of knowledge, erudition.
  • Freedom means total absence of constraints
  • As long as a thought, a situation, a desire is disturbing or menacing one’s serenity, this means that his realisation is not absolute and that the listening is still a necessity in order to definitively eliminate roving and confusion.

Truth (αληθεία – aletheia) :

  • Aletheia suggests the absence of covering, the absence of forgetting (lèthè). In his first light meaning, truth is not something, it is « that which is already here », « that which is always here ».

Meditation (askesis of listening to the logos, mindfulness)

  • Meditation is that which brings an inner liberation that has the same quality as the Unique : natural, unintentional, inherent
  • When meditation is as natural and devoid of intention in the nervous system of the human being, as is the manifestation of the world in the Unique, ignorance disappears and light is shining in all its brightness.
  • Realisation comes by imitating the manifestation, when there is no intention, however subtle may it be. This is total humility.
  • No matter the « objects », « impressions » or « thought » perceived : this is when the absence and the presence of theses forms, when registered, are nor seen as being different, when there is the Unique.
  • Do not consists in not having or having thoughts.

After a Law degree in France and in Scotland as an Erasmus student, Elen Buzaré has been working in the insurance broking field for over 10 years now. She first encountered Stoicism when she read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations at the age of 20 and since then, dedicated herself to the comprehension of the Stoic teaching, mostly as self learner. This led her a few years later to publish a little essay on Stoic spiritual exercises, a little book very much inspired by Stoic (in the light of the regretted Pierre Hadot’s work), Christian orthodox and Buddhist spiritualities. She is convinced that practising a form of mindfulness is central to Stoic practice in the sense that it develops  an acute awareness of phantasiai and hence the ability to suspend judgement to question them. She would also be happy to explore further the Stoic physics as she feels that ethics has no real sense without its foundations. She also created  Yahoo ! Discussion group named Stoici Amici for French speakers. You can join here

Leave a Reply

18 thoughts on “'Some Tips For A Better Understanding Of Stoic Physics' by Elen Buzaré”

  1. Just revisiting this on the one-year anniversary of my last question (above). Elen, if you ever check back in here, I’d still be interested in reading your response.

    thanks,
    Mark

  2. I don’t mean to be rude, and it’s quite possibly a reflection on my own intelligence, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of most of this blog post. I know Heraclitus’ fragments are considered gnomic and knotty, but this commentary seems more elliptical, perhaps, than the Heraclitean source material itself.

    I don’t have the first notion of what to make of ideas such as these:


    -The logos…needs no law to « regulate » the sparkles of his appearance.
    -The sage…is listening to the logos : this means is « picking the gloom ».

    I’m as ready as the next guy to learn more about Heraclitus, but this piece didn’t do it for me.

      1. Maybe so, Elen. But I’m not sure it’s fair to put the entire burden of the misunderstanding on me. 🙂

        I think it’s possible there are translation problems–i.e., I don’t think phrases like “the sparkles of his appearance” or “picking the gloom” will ever mean much (no matter how ready I might be to receive this information) without further rephrasing or paraphrasing; they’re just not idiomatic English expressions, so they don’t convey understandable information to the English reader. (In fact, Google searches on both of those phrases point only to this blog entry, so I may not be alone in my difficulty.)

        I am honestly curious about these concepts, so if you’re willing, I’d be grateful for a little further explanation. What does it mean to say that when someone is listening to the Logos, he’s “picking the gloom”? What does it mean to say that the Logos doesn’t need law to “regulate the sparkles of his appearance”? Is there a clearer, more idiomatic way to convey these ideas in English?

  3. Nigel,

    I have to desagree with Seneca because I that think that some words deserve particular attention.

    As yo say, the term “pistis” (usually translated by “faith” but could also mean “trust” -> see http://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm) has been borrowed by early christian from greek rhetoric.

    The wikipedia “pistis” article also precises that “Whereas, the Greeks took the notion of pistis as persuasive discourse that was elliptical and concentrated on the “affect and effect rather than on the representation of the truth”.The evolution of pistis in Christianity as a persuasive rhetorical technique starkly contrasts with its meaning used by the Greeks” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pistis#Persuasive_pistis_in_Greek_rhetoric_and_Christianity).

    So christians apparently made evolve the traditional rhetoric meaning of “pistis”.
    Furthermore, we have no evidence at all that the concept of “faith” ever belonged to the greek philosophical and stoic tradition. I do not know why it should be introduced nowadays in our armamentum.

    As for the difference between “faith” and “belief” I have just read a passage of a very interesting book written by Cheikh Khaled Bentounès (a sufi of the Alawiyya brotherhood) and whose title is “Thérapie de l’âme” (in English “Therapy of the soul”) which, I think is enlightening.

    “Faith” (or îmâm) in the sufi tradition may be understood as “an energy which put ourselves in a state of inner certitude as to a divine presence in our lives and in the creation, never without excluding the possibility of experiencing doubt. This energy penetrates the human heart in the form of light and a generates a relationship of trust between the being and his divine principle”

    On the contrary “belief” is rather linked to a thoughtless personnal convinction resulting from psychological and cultural conditionning from which come out all sorts of prejudices. In belief, the mind adheres to dogmas or religious practices without understanding their inner meaning, only because it is an habit or a custom, while in faith it has the free and personnal experience of this divine presence that inwardly overwhelm the inner self. ” (page 153)

    So my understanding is that “faith” belongs to one’s inner world, inner freedom, inner comprehension. It cannot be imposed from the outside.

    However it seems to be a common trait of monotheist religions that people confuse “faith” and “belief” which led to atrocities throughout history and again today with ISIS. One funny thing – If I dare say- is that Cheikh Khaled Bentounès explains that ISIS perverted the spiritual path proposed by Islam putting too much emphasis on “faith” before adding “but is it really possible to talk about “faith” when a being is so much submitted to rules and beliefs that it removes every personnal capacity of discriminating intelligence”.

    So I am sorry, but I tend to be extremely suspicious when I read someone writing that:

    ” Heraclitus ‘believed’ in the Logos as a ‘pure conscience’ and he was clearly trying to understand how the Cosmos is manifested and concluded that the Consciousness that is the Logos “Governs all things through all things because it is the only reality of all things.”

    and

    “As to the debate about faith or no faith may I also quote from Heraclitus: “What is divine escapes men’s notice because of their incredulity.”

    Sounds to be a rather dogmatic thought rather than personnal growth. Correct me If I am wrong

    1. I do see where you are coming from based on your definitions – some religions have given ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ a bad press. The trouble is I do not know of better words to use in today’s English to say that ‘I believe that the sun will shine tomorrow’ or ‘I have faith that the weather forecast for tomorrow is correct.’

      This is how I use the words. I belief something to be so or I have faith enough to live my life based on what I accept to be rationally thought out ideas.

      I have over the years looked at science, religions and Stoicism and have come to the conclusion that the thrust of Stoic science is correct, however much of it relates to what is now called metaphysics – it is not something that can be ‘proved’ by the scientific method. Therefor my acceptance of such is a belief and I have faith that such is correct.

      When it comes to ‘Another’, as I talked about in a previous piece, I know for a fact that ‘Something’ (a level of consciousness that has access to a wider spectrum of knowing than I have) involved itself in my life. The Stoic ideas about the Divine Fire offers me some ideas as to how to explain this.

      The existence of ‘Another’ I have to take as fact for I have personal experience of it. The rest I take as belief, and when I life my life on the basis of the fact and the belief I require an element of faith. However I am helped in my faith that my belief is sound, by the fact that I find reflections of my belief in the utterances of modern scientists.

      As to Stoicism being a faith, I would say that it is as much a faith as atheism is. Both involve a belief – either a belief in a deity or a belief that there is no deity.

      The biggest problem as can be seen is the use of words. I am not really interested when or where a particular word came into use. I may at times find it useful to understand its roots and how it has been used historically. However I am more interested in what a person is trying to say with the words that they do use.

      And quite clearly, from the writings of the Stoics of old Stoicism is pantheistic with talk at times that is monotheistic in nature. It is my view that the monotheistic talk is just a way of understanding different spectrums of the Consciousness that is the Divine Fire.

      Of interest, I see that the New Stoa also described Stoicism as pantheistic but they suggests that an atheist can also be a pantheistic Stoic. I am not quite sure how this could work. To me pantheism is seeing the deity as being in all that is and atheism is believing that there is no deity.

      Maybe it works in a different language. 🙂

      1. Some say that stoicism would be panentheism rather than pantheism.
        See this link for a definition. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/

        Just to deepen Cheich Khaled Bentounès thought, “Faith” is not the ultimate level of comprehension. The third and ultimalte level is “ihsân” (the state of excellence) that is the pacified soul. This soul achieved a state of perfect balance; she/he suffers less perturbations and live in peace. The two previous circles (i.e. ‘islâm” – the law- and ‘ îmân’ – the faith) are not abolished though. the law and the faith remain but the excellence is now the center and the relationship to law and faith are revivified.
        Excellence is a state of divine unity.
        The law (1st level) makes us live in the fear of a divine punishment if we disobey
        The faith (2nd level) is based on the promise of a paradisiacal state or salvation for those who behave well
        On the other hand, in the excellence state (3rd level), the pacified sould meets the unity and lives in this unity. This state of peace knows no punishment, reward or hope, it is charaterized by a total detachment. The soul no longer lives on the dual mode in an incessant inner twinge. It found in herself/ himself the balance point that put her/him to equal distance of anything.

        Kindest regards

        1. Thanks Elen. I had a look at the link on panentheism. Interesting.

          I must admit that I use such titles with trepidation – including theist and pantheist. I tend to use such titles to emphasise that Stoicism is not atheistic rather than to emphasise what it is.

          While we Stoics have our framework for a working understanding of how we can view the Divine Fire or God in relation to how we ought to live our lives, any classification of what we believe, beyond calling it Stoicism, risks trying to define the nature of God. And we all know that that is not really possible.

          “The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.”

          What matters is that we recognise the input of the Consciousness at all levels of existence and that we seek harmony with it; and such harmony is to be found through living a virtuous life.

          It does not matter if the Consciousness is akin to an integrated conscious master programme of a computer game or if it is akin to the Games Master that uses a transmitted signal to control the computer game. What matters is that we acknowledge the Consciousness, for otherwise the Game of Life we are engaged in ceases to be rational for we would be ignoring an integral part of the Cosmos as it is manifested.

  4. Helen,

    I am sorry if you do not like what I ‘implied’. I have no idea as to your intentions in submitting the piece or regards your understanding of Stoicism. It is unfortunate that your words combined with the timing of the posting of the piece and the ‘editorial note’ suggested an impatience by some of any discussion regards the spiritual nature of Stoicism.

    You say “I only meant that debates about stoic physics tend to be over emotional, and I had the impression that maybe some people may have been tempted to impose their point of view to others.”

    I would agree with you. I find the attempts by the atheists who post their denial of any involvement of the Divine Fire in the practice of Stoicism are often irrational and emotional and little more than attempts to impose their atheist faith on others while ignoring whole chunks of the Stoic teachings.

    I believe that the exchanges between Stephen Murphy and myself demonstrated an open unemotional debate with us both being careful not to try to impose our beliefs on each other. Whereas J Adkins’ posts whereby s/he attempts to rile me by trying to insult me by the use of words such as ‘mutaween’ etcetera demonstrates a clear lack of Stoic values.

    As to your question “where is the frontier between “faith” and “belief” ?”:

    As I live here in England in this day and age I tend to talk in the language I am used to – I have never been able to master any other language and have enough trouble with English whereby when faced with a question like yours I find myself scuttling back to my dictionary to confirm that I have understood the meaning of a word.

    So, ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are almost interchangeable nowadays with context offering some emphasis of intent in some circumstances.

    As to the word “pistis”, from my investigation it existed pre-Christian and pre-Islam – it is, after all, Greek and suggests that one is ‘persuaded’ (according to the most unbiased definition I could find). Presumably one is ‘persuaded’ by the rationale of something or by experience etcetera – and having been persuaded presumably one has faith or belief in what one has been persuaded of.

    So why try to expose my lack of linguistic skills by offering me lessons and so implying that I do not know what I am talking about. I am well aware of my limitations which is why I try to write in a manner that everyone will understand – after all Stoicism is for everyone, not just the intellectuals.

    As I often quote, Seneca advised looking to the whole teaching and not to get stuck in discussing the exact meaning of a particular word.

    1. Nigel, the ‘editorial note’ was just an attempt at humour (there has been much on this topic recently). It was not meant to imply that the topic is unimportant (and, not least from the amount of posts you respond to on this theme, you must admit that it has been given plenty of air-time on the blog. It will be again in the future).

      The blog has not pushed any one line on the theological aspects, giving instead to the reader the opportunity to read both sides of the fence, with articles by Chris Fisher, Mark Vernon and *yourself* arguing one side and articles by Tim LeBon and Donald Robertson arguing the other. Would you rather I only posted articles which argued for one point of view? Surely not. That would be anathema to the entire Stoic tradition. There was no Stoic ‘group-think’ in the ancient world, and nor need there be now.

      1. Thank you Paddy. The attempt at humour fell flat when read with Elen’s words. The unfortunate combination did appear to be an attempt to divert and suggest that some of the discussion had not been ‘intelligent reflection’. I accept your word that it was all just a coincidence.

        I know I can be a thorn in the side but I will keep arguing that classical Stoicism is a philosophy of life and faith and that any who argue differently are misguided or are deliberately trying to direct people away from what should be an undeniable fact.

        There are no sides in this matter. Stoicism is what it is and to be Stoic one signs up to the main tenets of Stoicism. True each Stoic is expected to fill in the detail for themselves, but there is and always has been a complete Stoicism which one signs up to in order to be able to call oneself a Stoic – and that includes Providence.

        Deny Providence and you are not a Stoic. You may be an Epicurean, you may be an Atheist or whatever, but you will not be a Stoic. After all, is not the question ‘Providence or atoms’ one of the basic areas of dispute between Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. The very question sets a belief in Providence as a key measure of what it is to be a Stoic.

        I know there are many who do not want to hear this fact especially where they have so much invested in their utterances on Stoicism. Instead of riling against my ‘dogmatism’ maybe they ought to learn the Stoic principle that they need to see matters as they really are.

        Borrow practices from Stoicism, even credit Stoicism for what has been borrowed, but do not claim that the ‘leaf’ is the ‘tree’. And please will the non-believers stop telling us real Stoics that we are wrong.

        And to you Paddy, of course there was a “Stoic ‘group-think’ in the ancient world” – what else was the ‘school’ of Stoicism, what else were the Stoas but a ‘place’ to learn what it took to be a Stoic.

    2. Truth is truth. You do act like the Stoic religious police, ranting on consecutive blog posts about people possibly thinking different than yourself and how you practice Stoicism at present is lacking all sorts of value, including Stoic ones.

      1. Ouch!!! Don’t you have anything other than insults in your repertoire?

        You accuse me of being a member of the Islamic religious police, now you claim that I am a member of the Stoic religious police. Make your mind up, please!

        And other than knowing that I defend Stoicism against the constant denials of its tenets (ranting in your eyes, reasoned argument based on the Stoic teachings from my point of view) what can you know about how I practice Stoicism – I don’t believe we have ever met.

        Come now, please get your act together and if you have anything constructive to say, say it. But please stop lowering the standards to be found on this site by your uninformative unsupported snide remarks….

        Oops, sorry, I have just lowered myself to your level. 🙂

    1. Thank you Elen for such an objective and informative piece. As a self-learning student of ancient Stoicism I am very grateful for access to your wisdom. I find solace in Stoic philosophy because I have the freedom to choose, instead of feeling the need to have a faith. I think Stoicism should be a tolerant discipline and every follower should interpret it as he or she feels appropriate – live and let live.

  5. An interesting ‘unbiased’ editorial note: “Readers of the blog may have grown weary of the intricacies of Stoic physics in recent days, but will I think nevertheless find Elen’s thoughtful reflections most interesting.”

    If one is interested in Stoicism why should one think that a discussion on Stoic physics would cause weariness?

    Elen finishes her introduction with the words: “There is nothing « to believe in » nor « to have faith in » in the following lines.” Elen also says: “I simply hope that it will encourage debate and intelligent reflection.” One could almost believe that she feels that the debate on the two previous posts was not ‘intelligent reflection.’

    One could also believe that this is why this midweek posting has been published – to stop talk of ‘belief’ and divert from talk of the Stoic belief in the Divine Fire especially with Elen ‘telling’ us what is not to be found in the writngs when it is there all the time.

    Heraclitus ‘believed’ in the Logos as a ‘pure conscience’ and he was clearly trying to understand how the Cosmos is manifested and concluded that the Consciousness that is the Logos “Governs all things through all things because it is the only reality of all things.”

    Of course the thoughts of Heraclitus were written down a few hundred years before Zeno came on the scene when Greek philosophy was in its infancy. By the time Zeno and his successors started looking at matters a lot more work had been done, but they did see some merit in some of what Heraclitus had to say.

    They took this and what they learnt from other philosophers and cultures and extracted what they called the ‘common perceptions’. They then looked to find a rational understanding of these ‘common perceptions’ and from such study came to the conclusions that became the basis of Stoic science – a science that is being shown to be sound even today with modern science also having to address the question of the Consciousness.

    As to the debate about faith or no faith may I also quote from Heraclitus: “What is divine escapes men’s notice because of their incredulity.”

    1. Hey Nigel, I am not sure I really like what you seem to imply about my intentions.
      I only meant that debates about stoic physics tend to be over emotional, and I had the impression that maybe some people may have been temped to impose their point of view to others.

      And by the way, “faith” (pistis) is rather a christian and later islamic (îmâm) concept than a greek philosophical one. This is why I personnally prefer to avoid this term when refering to stoicism.
      And where is the frontier between “faith” and “belief” ?