Study Questions on the Classical-Stoic Cosmology and Ontology

Aristotle, Physics, Book II.

The first excerpt is from Aristotle’s Physics, his famous account of the four causes. This is an example of ontology in the Classical tradition. The four “causes” of Aristotle, in the order in which they are discussed in Book II, are usually referred to as (1) the material cause, (2) the formal cause, (3) the efficient cause, and (4) the final cause. As you read the material in the Physics, match up his discussions and definitions to these labels.

1. In Book II, section 3, What does Aristotle mean by the material cause? the formal cause? the efficient cause? the final cause?

2. According to Aristotle in Book II, section 8, do these causes apply to natural things as well as to man-made things (called "artifacts")?

3. Does everything that exists have a final cause or purpose? Does nothing have a purpose? Do only artifacts—that is, man-made products—have a purpose?

Aristotle, Metaphysics

1. Does Aristotle say that God exists because there must be a god, given the nature of reality, or that God has revealed Himself to man in an act of theophany?

2. What role does the phenomenon of movement—physical motion—have in Aristotle’s argument?

3. What are the most significant characteristics of God, according to Aristotle? That is, which characteristics does Aristotle mention?

4. Does Aristotle discuss any cosmogony here? Any notion of God the Creator?

5. What is God’s relationship to the universe? To nature?

Cicero, “Dream of Scipio” in De Re Publica

1. What kind of discussion are Scipio and Africanus engaged in—ontological or cosmological?

2. Describe the ontological/cosmological account that Scipio gives us here.

3. In a word, what is the key characteristic of the world in which we live, according to Scipio?

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods

1. Cicero cites the Stoic sage Chrysippas on the subjects of God, man, and nature. What is Chrysippas’s argument for the existence of God? In a word or a phrase, how does he describe God in section 6?

2. What, according to Cicero in section 7, is the noblest reality? Or does Cicero describe the noblest realities? What is their relation to each other?

3. What is Cicero’s impression of the relationship of the different parts of the universe to each other and to the whole? What is the source of this relationship? Cosmos is a Greek word meaning “good order.” According to Cicero, is the world in which we live a cosmos?

4. In sections 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, Cicero points to several things that pervade the universe. List them. What is their relationship to each other?

5. In sections 12 and 13, Cicero describes an order of being or ontological order in which man fits. What is this order? What is man’s place? (this is philosophical anthropology)

6. In section 14, what is Chrysippas’s view of the order of the universe? Is it a teleological view? Why? Why not?

Epictetus, Discourses

1. Does Epictetus agree with Chrysippas’s view of the universe? Explain.

2. Does Epictetus agree with Cicero’s order of being? his philosophical anthropology?

3. What is a “daimon” (often misleadingly translated as “Demon”), according to Epictetus?

4. What is the divine oath that Epictetus thinks all of us should take?

5. For Epictetus, what is true freedom?

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

1. According to Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s greatest emperors, of what two cities was he a citizen?

2. According to Marcus Aurelius, what is true freedom?

3. According to Marcus Aurelius what else, in addition to the things listed in Question 10, pervades the universe?

4. What kind of judge is God, according to Marcus Aurelius?


How does the Classical conception of reality and the universe compare to and contrast from the mythopoeic conception? That is, how is it similar to and different from the mythopoeic view?

How does the Classical conception compare to and contrast from the Epicurean conception?