Zeno of Citium

You may not be as familiar with him as with most of the others on this list, but Zeno founded the school of Stoicism. Stoicism comes from the Greek “stoa,” which is a roofed colonnade, especially that of the Poikile, which was a cloistered piazza on the north side of the Athenian marketplace, in the 3rd Century BC.

Stoicism is based on the idea that anything which causes us to suffer in life is actually an error in our judgment, and that we should always have absolute control over our emotions. Rage, elation, depression are all simple flaws in a person’s reason, and thus, we are only emotionally weak when we allow ourselves to be. Put another way, the world is what we make of it.

As a moral system, Stoicism had a wide acceptance in the Roman republic and the empire, Marcus Aurelius being the most notable follower. The physical system, however, soon became contaminated with elements of Platonism and Aristotelianism; Stoic ideas occur frequently but rather unsystematically in the work of Galen, the Neoplatonists, and the Peripatetic commentators. The unified and consistent world picture worked out by Zeno, which was in fact a remarkable achievement, lost its clear outlines and merged with the general amalgam of Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and Christianity that dominatedn the intellectual centers of late antiquity.

In his treatment of Logic, Zeno was influenced by Stilpo and the other Megarians. Zeno urged the need to lay down a basis for Logic because the wise person must know how to avoid deception. Cicero accused Zeno of being inferior to his philosophical predecessors in his treatment of Logic, and it seems true that a more exact treatment of the subject was laid down by his successors, including Chrysippus. Zeno divided true conceptions into the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, permitting for free-will the power of assent (sunkatathesis) in distinguishing between sense impressions. 

Zeno established his own school about 300 b.c., perhaps in deliberate opposition to the school of Epicurs, which had recently been founded. He taught in the Stoa Poikile, or “Painted Colon-nade”; and the name “Stoics” supplanted “Zenonians” for his pupils. At the end of his life he was given public honors by the Athenians. The head-ship of the school passed first to Cleanthes of Assos,and the to Chrysippus of Soli: the individual contributions of the three to the school’s doctrine are hard to disentangle, in the absence of any complete writings, and this article does not attempt the task. The school survived until at least a.d. 260.

Epicureanism is the usual school of thought considered the opposite of Stoicism, but today many people mistake one for the other or combine them. Epicureanism argues that displeasures do exist in life and must be avoided, in order to enter a state of perfect mental peace (ataraxia, in Greek). Stoicism argues that mental peace must be acquired out of your own will not to let anything upset you.

Death is a necessity, so why feel depressed when someone dies? Depression doesn’t help. It only hurts. Why get enraged over something? The rage will not result in anything good. And so, in controlling one’s emotions, a state of mental peace is brought about. Of importance is to shun desire: you may strive for what you need, but only that and nothing more. What you want will lead to excess, and excess doesn’t help, but hurts.

Zeno died around 262 BC.