Recent essays, #22

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, my Patreon site devoted to practical philosophy. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription levels at $1, $3, and $5), but the majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, and why the Stoics got it wrong — part I. Philosophies of life have a lot in common with religions. Up to a point. Both systems of thought comprise, at a minimum, two components: a metaphysics and an ethics. The metaphysics provides adherents to a given system some notion of how the world works; the ethics gives them guidance on how to live in the world. So if you are a Stoic, for instance, you accept the metaphysical notion of a universal web of cause-effect (which the ancient Stoics called “god”), as well as that everything that exists is made of matter. Ethically speaking, you are on board with the idea that virtue is the only true good, and that we should behave as citizens of the world (cosmopolitanism). If you are a Christian, by contrast, metaphysically you accept that the world was created by an omnipotent god who exists outside of time and space, and ethically you agree that we should help others and offer the other cheek even to our enemies. (continue to read)

Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, and why the Stoics got it wrong — part II. De Natura Deorum was written by Cicero in 45 BCE. Cicero himself narrates, playing the part of a mediator in a discussion on the nature of the gods involving Gaius Velleius, representing the Epicurean school, Quintus Lucilius Balbus, arguing for the Stoics, and Gaius Cotta, speaking for Academic Skepticism, Cicero’s own preferred school of thought. Last time we have seen some of the arguments put forth by Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus — the first three heads of the Stoa — and how they were based on faulty reasoning, chiefly relying on what we today call the argument from design. I want to continue this analysis here, in order to understand why the Stoics got this part of their “physics” (that is, their metaphysics and natural philosophy) wrong. I have already discussed elsewhere the consequences (not many, really) of this failure for modern Stoics. (continue to read)


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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.