Hand Over Fist: The Failure of Stoic Rhetoric

Classical Quarterly 38 (2):392-427 (1988)
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Abstract
Students of Stoic philosophy, especially of Stoic ethics, have a lot to swallow. Virtues and emotions are bodies; virtue is the only good, and constitutes happiness, while vice is the only evil; emotions are judgements ; all sins are equal; and everyone bar the sage is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Non-Stoics in antiquity seem for the most part to find these doctrines as bizarre as we do. Their own philosophical or ideological perspectives, and the criticisms of the Stoa to which these gave rise, are no less open to criticism than are the paradoxes and puzzles under attack – but they may be, often are, better documented, less provocatively attention-begging, or simply more familiar. Even disputes within the Stoa can be obscured or distorted by modern prejudices. Posidonius rejected Chrysippus' theory of a unitary soul, one rational through and through, on the grounds that such a theory could not satisfactorily account for the genesis of bad – excessive and irrational – emotions, the πάθη. Posidonius' own Platonising, tripartite soul feels more familiar to us because the Republic tends to be a set text rather more often than do the fragments of Chrysippus' de anima; and the balance in Plato's favour is unlikely to change. When Posidonius wrote, on the other hand, the Chrysippean soul was school orthodoxy, and Platonism the latest thing in radical chic.
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