Stoic Cosmology and Ontology; Aristotle Excerpts


Cicero (106-43 B.C. ) The "Dream of Scipio" from De re publica (W.D. Pearman translation) References are to Pearman's sections.

9. And as I gazed upon this more intently, "Come!" said Africanus, "how long will your mind be chained to the earth? Do you see into what regions you have come? See! the universe is linked together in nine circles or rather spheres; one of which is that of the heavens, the outermost of all, which embraces all the other spheres, the supreme deity, which keeps in and holds together all the others; and to this are attached those everlasting orbits of the stars. Beneath this there lie seven, which turn backwards with a counter revolution to the heavens; and of these spheres that star holds one, which men on earth call Saturn's star. Next is that bright radiance, rich in hope and healing for the sons of men, which is called Jove's star; then one fiery red and dreaded by the world, which you call Mars; next lower down the sun holds nearly the middle region, the leader, chief and ruler of the other lights, the mind and ordering spirit of the universe, of such magnitude that he illumines the whole and fills it with his light. With him Venus and Mercury keep pace as satellites in their successive spheres; and in the lowest zone of all the moon revolves lighted up by the rays of the sun. Now below these there is nothing more but what is mortal and transient except those souls which the bounty of the Gods has given to the sons of men; above the moon all is eternal. As for the earth, the ninth and central globe, it does not move but is the lowest point, and towards it all heavy bodies tend by their own gravity." 10. And, as I gazed on these things with amazement, when I recovered myself: "What," I asked, "what is this sound that fills my ears, so loud and sweet?" "This," he replied, "is that sound, which divided in intervals, unequal, indeed, yet still exactly measured in their fixed proportion, is produced by the impetus and movement of the spheres themselves, and blending sharp tones with grave, therewith makes changing symphonies in unvarying harmony. For not only is it impossible that such vast movements should sweep on in silence; but, by a natural law, the outermost parts on the one side give a grave, and on the other a sharp sound. Wherefore the highest of all, the celestial zone equipped with stars, whose revolution is more swift, moves with a sharp, high note; while this one of the moon, as it is the lowest, with the deepest tone of all. For the earth, which is the ninth, remaining motionless is ever firmly planted in one spot, clinging closely to the centre of the universe. Now the revolutions of those eight spheres, of which two have the same power, produce seven sounds with well-marked intervals; and this number, generally speaking, is the mystic bond of all things in the universe, And learned men by imitating this with stringed instruments and melodies have opened for themselves the way back to this place, even as other men of noble nature, who have followed godlike aims in their life as men.

Cicero (106-43 B.C. ) On the Nature of the Gods (Francis Brooks translation) References are to book and section.

II. 6. Chrysippus, again, speaks in a way which, though his own mind is a very keen one, he seems to have learnt direct from nature, rather than to have discovered himself. “For if,” he says, “there is something in nature which the mind, the reason, the strength, and the power of man would be unable to produce, surely that which does produce it is higher than man; now the heavenly bodies, and all those phenomena which observe an everlasting order, cannot be created by man; consequently that by which they are created is higher than man. And what could you say this was rather than God? For if there are no gods, there can be nothing higher in nature than man, since he alone possesses reason, and nothing can surpass reason in excellence. But that there should be a man who thinks that in the whole universe there is nothing higher than himself shows senseless arrogance. There is, then, something higher, and therefore there is assuredly a God.” Is it the fact that if you saw a large and beautiful house, you could not be persuaded, even if you did not see the master, that it had been built for the sake of mice and weasels,1 and would you not present the appearance of downright imbecility if you supposed that all this adornment of the world, all this diversity and beauty of the heavenly bodies, all this might and amplitude of sea and land, were a dwelling-place belonging to you and not to the immortal gods? Is not even this understood by us, that everything above is better, whereas the earth is lowest, and surrounded by the thickest air? For this very reason the same thing which we see to be also characteristic of certain districts and cities, namely an extra degree of sluggishness in the minds of the inhabitants owing to the denser quality of the atmosphere, has befallen the human race, through their having been placed upon the earth, that is, in the quarter of the world where the air is thickest.2 And yet, on the ground even of man’s intelligence, we ought to consider that there exists some mind of the universe, one that is keener than his and divine. “For whence,” as Socrates says in Xenophon, “did man get hold of the mind he has?” Why, if any one were to ask whence we derive the vital juices, the heat that is distributed through the body, even the earthy firmness of the flesh,1 and lastly the breath we draw, the answer is clear, that we have received one element from earth, another from water, another from fire, and another from the air which we take in with our breath.

II.7. And the element which surpasses all these, I mean reason, and if we care to express it by a variety of terms, intelligence, design, reflection, foresight, where did we find, whence did we secure it? Shall the universe possess all other qualities, and not this one which is of most importance? Yet surely in all creation there is nothing nobler than the universe, nothing more excellent and more beautiful. There not only is not, but there cannot even be imagined anything nobler, and if reason and wisdom are the noblest of qualities, it is inevitable that they should exist in that which we acknowledge to be supremely noble. Again, who can help assenting to what I say when he considers the harmonious, concordant, and unbroken connection which there is in things? Would the earth be able to have one and the same time for flowering, and then again one and the same time in which it lies rough? Or could the approach and departure of the sun be known, at the time of the summer and winter solstice, by so many objects spontaneously changing? Or the tides of the sea, and of narrow straits, be affected by the rising or setting of the moon? Or the dissimilar movements of the planets be maintained by the one revolution of the whole sky? It would be certainly impossible for these things to come to pass in this way, with such mutual harmony amongst all parts of the universe, if they were not held together by one divine and all-pervading spirit. And this position, if argued, as I intend to argue it, in a fuller and more flowing style, is better able to escape the cavilling of the Academics, whereas if expressed more briefly and concisely in syllogistic form, as it used to be by Zeno, it is more exposed to criticism. For just as it is either difficult or impossible for a running stream to be tainted, while this may easily happen to water that is confined, so the onward flow of argument sweeps away the detractions of the critic, while that which is confined within narrow limits has hard work to defend itself. These arguments, for instance, which are expanded by modern Stoics, used to be compressed by Zeno as follows:—

II.8. “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”. In the same way it may be proved that the universe is wise, blessed, and eternal, for all objects that possess these qualities are more excellent than those which do not possess them, and there is nothing of greater excellence than the universe. By this means it will be proved that the universe is divine. He has also the following: “No part can be sentient where the whole is not sentient; parts of the universe are sentient, therefore the universe is sentient”. He goes further and urges his point in more precise terms. “Nothing,” he says, “that is inanimate and without reason can produce from itself a being that is animate and possessed of reason; the universe produces beings that are animate and possessed of reason, therefore the universe is animate and possessed of reason.” He also, as his habit frequently was, stated the argument in the form of a comparison, which was to this effect: “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?”

II.11. There is, then, an element which holds together and maintains the entire universe, an element, moreover, which is not without sensation and reason. For it is necessary that every element which is not isolated or simple, but which is joined and linked with something else, should have in itself some ruling principle, as, for instance, mind in the case of man, and in the case of animals something similar to mind, which prompts their desires. In trees, and in things which spring from the earth, the ruling principle is supposed to be placed in their roots. By ruling principle I mean the principle which the Greeks call γεμονικόν, which cannot but hold, and which ought to hold, the highest place in each genus. Consequently the thing in which the ruling principle of the whole of nature is contained, must in the same way be the most perfect of all, and the most worthy of power and dominion over all existence. Now we see that in parts of the universe (for there is nothing in the entire universe which is not a part of the whole), sensation and reason exist. These qualities must therefore exist, and exist more vividly and to a greater extent, in that part in which the ruling principle of the universe resides. Consequently the universe must be intelligent, and the element which holds all things in its embrace must excel in perfection of reason; the universe, therefore, must be divine, and so must the element by which the whole strength of the universe is held together. This fiery glow which the universe possesses is also far purer, clearer, and nimbler, and on that account better fitted to arouse sensation, than this heat of ours, by which the objects known to us are preserved and made strong. Since, then, men and animals are maintained by this heat, and through it possess motion and sensation, it is absurd to say that the universe is without sensation, when it is maintained by a burning heat which is unmixed, and free, and pure, and at the same time in the highest degree vivid and nimble, especially considering that the heat which belongs to the universe is moved by itself and its own action, and is not stirred by anything distinct from itself, or by impact from outside. For what can be mightier than the universe, so as to act upon and set in motion the heat by which the universe is to be held together?

Epictetus (c. late 1st-early 2d A.D.), Discourses (Ernest Barker translations) 

i.6. From everything which is or happens in the world, it is easy to praise Providence, if a man possesses these two qualities, the faculty of seeing what belongs and happens to all persons and things, and a grateful disposition. If he does not possess these two qualities, one man will not see the use of things which are and which happen; another will not be thankful for them, even if he does know them. If God had made colours, but had not made the faculty of seeing them, what would have been their use? None at all. On the other hand, if He had made the faculty of vision, but had not made objects such as to fall under the faculty, what in that case also would have been the use of it? None at all. Well, suppose that He had made both, but had not made light? In that case, also, they would have been of no use. Who is it, then, who has fitted this to that and that to this? And who is it that has fitted the knife to the case and the case to the knife? Is it no one? And, indeed, from the very structure of things which have attained their completion, we are accustomed to show that the work is certainly the act of some artificer, and that it has not been constructed without a purpose. Does then each of these things demonstrate the workman, and do not visible things and the faculty of seeing and light demonstrate Him? And the existence of male and female, and the desire of each for conjunction, and the power of using the parts which are constructed, do not even these declare the workman? If they do not, let us consider the constitution of our understanding according to which, when we meet with sensible objects, we simply receive impressions from them, but we also select something from them, and subtract something, and add, and compound by means of them these things or those, and, in fact, pass from some to other things which, in a manner, resemble them: is not even this sufficient to move some men, and to induce them not to forget the workman? If not so, let them explain to us what it is that makes each several thing, or how it is possible that things so wonderful and like the contrivances of art should exist by chance and from their own proper motion?

What, then, are these things done in us only. Many, indeed, in us only, of which the rational animal had peculiar need; but you will find many common to us with irrational animals. Do they them understand what is done? By no means. For use is one thing, and understanding is another: God had need of irrational animals to make use of appearances, but of us to understand the use of appearances. It is therefore enough for them to eat and to drink, and to sleep and to copulate, and to do all the other things which they severally do. But for us, to whom He has given also the faculty, these things are not sufficient; for unless we act in a proper and orderly manner, and conformably to the nature and constitution of each thing, we shall never attain our true end. For where the constitutions of living beings are different, there also the acts and the ends are different. In those animals, then, whose constitution is adapted only to use, use alone is enough: but in an animal which has also the power of understanding the use, unless there be the due exercise of the understanding, he will never attain his proper end. Well then God constitutes every animal, one to be eaten, another to serve for agriculture, another to supply cheese, and another for some like use; for which purposes what need is there to understand appearances and to be able to distinguish them? But God has introduced man to be a spectator of God and of His works; and not only a spectator of them, but an interpreter. For this reason it is shameful for man to begin and to end where irrational animals do, but rather he ought to begin where they begin, and to end where nature ends in us; and nature ends in contemplation and understanding, in a way of life conformable to nature. Take care then not to die without having been spectators of these things.

i.14. When a person asked him how a man could be convinced that all his actions are under the inspection of God, he answered, Do you not think that all things are united in one? "I do," the person replied. Well, do you not think that earthly things have a natural agreement and union with heavenly things? "I do." And how else so regularly as if by God's command, when He bids the plants to flower, do they flower? when He bids them to send forth shoots, do they shoot? when He bids them to produce fruit, how else do they produce fruit? when He bids the fruit to ripen, does it ripen? when again He bids them to cast down the fruits, how else do they cast them down? and when to shed the leaves, do they shed the leaves? and when He bids them to fold themselves up and to remain quiet and rest, how else do they remain quiet and rest? And how else at the growth and the wane of the moon, and at the approach and recession of the sun, are so great an alteration and change to the contrary seen in earthly things? But are plants and our bodies so bound up and united with the whole, and are not our souls much more? and our souls so bound up and in contact with God as parts of Him and portions of Him; and does not God perceive every motion of these parts as being His own motion connate with Himself? Now are you able to think of the divine administration, and about all things divine, and at the same time also about human affairs, and to be moved by ten thousand things at the same time in your senses and in your understanding, and to assent to some, and to dissent from others, and again as to some things to suspend your judgment; and do you retain in your soul so many impressions from so many and various things, and being moved by them, do you fall upon notions similar to those first impressed, and do you retain numerous arts and the memories of ten thousand things; and is not God able to oversee all things, and to be present with all, and to receive from all a certain communication? And is the sun able to illuminate so large a part of the All, and to leave so little not illuminated, that part only which is occupied by the earth's shadow; and He who made the sun itself and makes it go round, being a small part of Himself compared with the whole, cannot He perceive all things?

"But I cannot," the man may reply, "comprehend all these things at once." But who tells you that you have equal power with Zeus? Nevertheless he has placed by every man a guardian, every man's Demon, to whom he has committed the care of the man, a guardian who never sleeps, is never deceived. For to what better and more careful guardian could He have entrusted each of us? When, then, you have shut the doors and made darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not; but God is within, and your Demon is within, and what need have they of light to see what you are doing? To this God you ought to swear an oath just as the soldiers do to Caesar. But they who are hired for pay swear to regard the safety of Caesar before all things; and you who have received so many and such great favours, will you not swear, or when you have sworn, will you not abide by your oath? And what shall you swear? Never to be disobedient, never to make any charges, never to find fault with anything that he has given, and never unwillingly to do or to suffer anything, that is necessary. Is this oath like the soldier's oath? The soldiers swear not to prefer any man to Caesar: in this oath men swear to honour themselves before all.

iv.7. Then through madness is it possible for a man to be so disposed towards these things, and the Galilaeans through habit,1 and is it possible that no man can learn from reason and from demonstration that God has made all the things in the universe and the universe itself completely free from hindrance and perfect, and the parts of it for the use of the whole? All other animals indeed are incapable of comprehending the administration of it; but the rational animal man has faculties for the consideration of all these things, and for understanding that it is a part, and what kind of a part it is, and that it is right for the parts to be subordinate to the whole. And besides this being naturally noble, magnanimous and free, man sees that of the things which surround him some are free from hindrance and in his power, and the other things are subject to hindrance and in the power of others; that the things which are free from hindrance are in the power of the will; and those which are subject to hindrance are the things which are not in the power of the will. And for this reason if he thinks that his good and his interest be in these things only which are free from hindrance and in his own power, he will be free, prosperous, happy, free from harm, magnanimous, pious, thankful to God2 for all things; in no matter finding fault with any of the things which have not been put in his power, nor blaming any of them.3 But if he thinks that his good and his interest are in externals and in things which are not in the power of his will, he must of necessity be hindered, be impeded, be a slave to those who have the power over the things which he admires (desires) and fears; and he must of necessity be impious because he thinks that he is harmed by God, and he must be unjust because he always claims more than belongs to him; and he must of necessity be abject and mean.


Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180), Meditations (George Long translation)

iv.4. If our intellectual part is common, the reason also, in respect of which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so, common also is the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community; if this is so, the cosmos is in a manner a state. For of what other common political community will anyone say that the whole human race are members? And from thence, from this common political community comes also our very intellectual faculty and reasoning faculty and our capacity for law; or whence do they come? For as my earthly part is a portion given to me from certain earth, and that which is watery from another element, and that which is hot and fiery from some peculiar source (for nothing comes out of that which is nothing, as nothing also returns to non-existence), so also the intellectual part comes from some source.

v.27. Live with the gods. And he does live with the gods who constantly shows to them, his own soul is satisfied with that which is assigned to him, and that it does all that the daemon wishes, which Zeus hath given to every man for his guardian and guide, a portion of himself. And this is every man's understanding and reason.

vi.44. If the gods have determined about me and about the things which must happen to me, they have determined well, for it is not easy even to imagine a deity without forethought; and as to doing me harm, why should they have any desire towards that? For what advantage would result to them from this or to the whole, which is the special object of their providence? But if they have not determined about me individually, they have certainly determined about the whole at least, and the things which happen by way of sequence in this general arrangement I ought to accept with pleasure and to be content with them. But if they determine about nothing- which it is wicked to believe, or if we do believe it, let us neither sacrifice nor pray nor swear by them nor do anything else which we do as if the gods were present and lived with us- but if however the gods determine about none of the things which concern us, I am able to determine about myself, and I can inquire about that which is useful; and that is useful to every man which is conformable to his own constitution and nature. But my nature is rational and social; and my city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world. The things then which are useful to these cities are alone useful to me. Whatever happens to every man, this is for the interest of the universal: this might be sufficient. But further thou wilt observe this also as a general truth, if thou dost observe, that whatever is profitable to any man is profitable also to other men. But let the word profitable be taken here in the common sense as said of things of the middle kind, neither good nor bad.

vii.9. All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to form the same universe (order). For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.

viii.34. If thou didst ever see a hand cut off, or a foot, or a head, lying anywhere apart from the rest of the body, such does a man make himself, as far as he can, who is not content with what happens, and separates himself from others, or does anything unsocial. Suppose that thou hast detached thyself from the natural unity- for thou wast made by nature a part, but now thou hast cut thyself off- yet here there is this beautiful provision, that it is in thy power again to unite thyself. God has allowed this to no other part, after it has been separated and cut asunder, to come together again. But consider the kindness by which he has distinguished man, for he has put it in his power not to be separated at all from the universal; and when he has been separated, he has allowed him to return and to be united and to resume his place as a part.

viii.35. As the nature of the universal has given to every rational being all the other powers that it has, so we have received from it this power also. For as the universal nature converts and fixes in its predestined place everything which stands in the way and opposes it, and makes such things a part of itself, so also the rational animal is able to make every hindrance its own material, and to use it for such purposes as it may have designed.