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The Medieval And Modern Reception Of Stoicism

From the third century C.E., Stoicism was eclipsed as a creative force by Neoplatonism and Christianity. Both those movements replaced the Stoic holistic worldview with transcendent ideals, but they also absorbed and transformed key Stoic themes. The Stoic idea of logos (reason) as a bridge between the divine and the human, and as a fundamental principle of reality, was embraced in different ways by both Neoplatonists and Christians in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. One possible response was to draw on Stoic writings for their moral rigor but to ignore or revise their larger philosophical framework. This approach was applied to Epictetus's (c. 55–c. 135 C.E.) Handbook, a pithy statement of Stoic practical ethics; by the Neoplatonist commentator Simplicius (fl. c. 530 C.E.); and by medieval Christian ascetics, who used the text as a guide for monastic self-scrutiny. Christian philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) similarly drew on Stoic ideas to define the idea of virtue as a natural property. In the Enlightenment period, engagement with Stoicism was more full-hearted, and the Neo-Stoic Justus Lipsius (1547–1606) argued for the fundamental equivalence of Stoic and Christian ethics and theology. In the nineteenth century, Hellenistic thought was often regarded as an inferior phase of ancient thought by philosophers (notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) and scholars. But in the twentieth century, especially its last thirty years, Stoicism was an object of intensive scholarly study. The modern revival of virtue-ethics and cognitive approaches to emotion, and current interest in nonreligious practical ethics, have given Stoic ideas renewed appeal. In the twenty-first century, we may expect to find Stoicism also valued for its holistic approach to the universe and the mind-body relationship and the attempt to integrate ethics, science, and logic.


Algra, Keimpe, et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Bobzien, Susanne. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Inwood, Brad, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Long, Anthony. Stoic Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Long, Anthony, and David Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Christopher Gill

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Spectroscopy to Stoma (pl. stomata)Stoicism - The Stoic School In Antiquity, Main Doctrines, The Medieval And Modern Reception Of Stoicism, Bibliography