Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy

Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy

Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy

Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy

Synopsis

Susanne Bobzien presents the definitive study of one of the most important intellectual legacies of the ancient Greek world: the Stoic theory of causal determinism. She identifies the main problems that the Stoics addressed and reconstructs the theory. She discusses how the Stoics squared their determinism with their conceptions of possibility, action, freedom, and moral responsibility, and how they defended it against objections and criticism by other philosophers. She shows how the Stoics distinguished their causal determinism from ancient theories of logical determinism, fatalism, and necessitarianism. Along the way she gives an authoritative account of many other related aspects of Stoic thought, including their views on the predictability of the future, the role of empirical sciences, the determination of character, and moral freedom. Bobzien's study of these central doctrines of Stoicism reveals the considerable philosophical richness and power that they retain today.

Excerpt

The subject of this book is the Stoic theory of universal causal determinism: what it was; how the Stoics justified it; how they attempted to make it square with philosophically meaningful concepts of contingency, of purposeful action, of freedom and of moral responsibility; how the Stoics defended it against objections and criticism by other philosophers. In the course of following up these issues I also consider the Stoic views on the correlation of teleological and mechanical determinism, on the predictability of the future, on the role of empirical sciences, on the determination of character, and on the kind of freedom one gains by being moral; and the questions of how Stoic determinism is distinct from ancient theories of logical determinism, fatalism, and necessitarianism.

However, it would be misleading to describe my primary concern as answering the question of how the Stoics dealt with the problem of determinism and freedom. This may appear to be the obvious question to ask-- especially so since the Stoics appear to stand at the beginning of the long tradition of compatibilist determinist positions. But the general emphasis in this book is different. The underlying primary question is: what were the problems the Stoics faced? what were their questions? and only then: what were their answers? For it becomes clear quickly that under the surface of superficial resemblance to modern discussions of the free-will problem (which sometimes is wrongly increased by the use of certain theory-laden terms in translations of the sources) a very different ontological framework lurks, and it is only within this framework that one can fully appreciate the intricate Stoic argumentation, and the ensuing ancient debates over their position.

It is these differences that should make the Stoic position interesting to philosophers today, rather than the many similarities. (What is the philosophical use of saying: 'look, they already thought this back then'?) The controversy over determinism between the Stoics and their critics is of significance, since it helps us to see how a difference in philosophical basis and perspective leads to the rise of different philosophical problems.

But the Stoic position on determinism and freedom is also of major interest for our understanding of Stoic philosophy. Stoic philosophy is systematic philosophy; i.e. the Stoics conceived of all of their philosophical partial theories as fitting together and forming a consistent whole. As a result, Stoic philosophy is extremely complex. That makes it endlessly . . .

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