Modern Stoicism Expert Panel Posts – The Universe as One Living Creature

One of the perks for Patreon supporters of the Modern Stoicism organization are access to discussions by our panel of experts on Stoicism on selected topics. We’ve all been extraordinarily busy – as you can well imagine – so we haven’t quite managed yet to get them done on a monthly basis, but we plan to do so going forward.

This month, the passage suggested by one of our Patreon supporters is:

Constantly think of the universe as one living creature, embracing one being and soul; how all is absorbed into the one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass, and their wonderful web and texture.

Marcus Aurelius

Our panel members who weighed in this month on the topic are: Massimo Pigliucci, Christopher Gill, Greg Lopez, Chuck Chakrapani, and Tim Lebon, and their full discussion can be found here, on the Patreon site.

To give you an idea what the panel discussions comprise, here is Christopher Gill’s contribution to the discussion this month, responding to that passage from Marcus above:

The ancient Stoics saw the universe as a unified, organic entity (or animal), as Marcus describes, and one shaped by providential power. They also regarded all human beings as an integral part of the natural universe, though unusual among animals in having rationality (and being sociable in a rational way). They also believed human beings are capable of making independent, rational choices which contribute to the broader web of causes or ‘fate’.

We moderns may find it difficult to accept all these ideas, particularly the idea that the universe is a unified and providential whole. However, we have very good reasons to see ourselves as an integral part of nature’s broader pattern – we human beings have for too long seen ourselves as masters of the world and able to use it wholly for our own ends – and this has led to the environmental crisis we find ourselves in today.

We need to recover a sense of ourselves as part of nature as a whole and to live accordingly. Also we can recognise the force of the Stoic view that, as humans, we have special capacities (rationality, choice) while still forming part of the larger web of causes, and that we should do what we can to make our contribution to this larger web a positive one.

Stay tuned for next month’s discussion!

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

One thought on “Modern Stoicism Expert Panel Posts – The Universe as One Living Creature”

  1. Let’s try to unpack this.

    The Stoic view on determinism is summed up by Marcus where he states ‘all things work together to cause all that comes to pass’. Stoicism is sometimes accused of being arrogant in that it places humankind on a level with, if not above ‘the gods’ but below Zeus, the God that is the overall mind of the Cosmos. But Stoicism also does not separate us from Zeus. We are part of the ‘all things’ that are parts of the ‘one living creature, embracing one being and soul’.

    As such what we will is part of what God wills – we share in the determinism that is the will of God. And we ‘work together to cause all that comes to pass’ – and in this statement we are told that Stoicism does not believe in a pre-determined existence where at some point in the past something happened and that this caused everything that followed to be exactly as it is.

    Stoicism’s determinism is that of willing by the ‘one living creature’ and all of its parts. A willing that is based on what is (the unchangeable past) and that uses reason and rationality to cause what happens – that is the present flow of life.

    Now of course in that we are not privy to much that is being determined by the rest of the Cosmos, we can find ourselves choosing and acting (willing) in a manner that comes into conflict with the rest of the ‘all things work[ing] together to cause all that comes to pass’.

    In many areas of life what we choose will fit easily into the flow of what is being determined overall and there will be no conflict – physically or mentally. But where we start to not ‘live in accord with Nature’, either we will find that the Cosmos goes along with what we are trying to determine and will later make corrections to bring matters back into harmony, or we will come up against a brick wall in that the Cosmos will prevent the outcome we have been aiming for.

    Either way, not to be aware of what being part of ‘one living creature’ involves will lead to us being trampled by the rest of the Cosmos – we will suffer. And of course, if we are rational reasoning creatures, being aware that we are part of ‘one living creature’ will tell us that we need to live for all around us and not to live as if we as individual creatures are the centre of the universe.

    Knowing of the Stoic theism means that we will aim for our every choice and our every act (our ethics) to be of benefit to all around us. The fact that we know we are part of one living creature, embracing one being and soul and we know how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass we are faced with the reasoning behind all of our ethics, a reasoning that is summed up in the saying ‘Live in accord with Nature’ or ‘make my will one with the will of God’ – the core of Stoic ethics.

    Over on the International Stoic Forum a member of the list tells us that he does not believe that ‘a theological determinist is necessary for holding to Stoic Ethics’. [https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/stoics/conversations/messages/40760] However, as much as many try to attach Stoicism to some other theism or to atheism, when it comes to classic Stoicism ‘the Stoic theological determinist is necessary for holding to Stoic Ethics’.

    Remove the Stoic theological determinism and the Stoic providence and what you are left with is an ethics similar in some respects to Stoic ethics – however you do not have Stoic ethics.

    So while ‘we moderns’ may find it ‘it difficult to accept all these ideas’, the modern Stoic will have no such trouble because their theism removes all such difficulty.

    Adrian

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