Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why Did Early Stoicism Ignore Aristotle?

Zeno of Citium came to Athens around 300 BC and founded the School of Stoicism which formed a deep bond with the philosophical culture in ancient Greece. But we don’t find any sign of engagement between Zeno's Stoicism and Aristotle’s philosophy. David Sedley offers an answer in his essay, “The School, from Zeno to Arius Didymus” (Chapter 1; The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, edited by Brad Inwood). Here’s an excerpt:
One apparent feature of early Stoicism that has caused controversy is the surprising rarity of engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle. Even some of the most basic and widely valued tools of Aristotelian philosophy, such as the distinction between potentiality and actuality, play virtually no part in Stoic thought. Although there is little consensus about this, the majority of scholars would probably accept that, at the very least, considerably less direct response to Aristotelianism is detectable in early Stoicism than to the various voices of the Socratic-Platonic tradition. It is not until the period of Middle Stoicism (see Section 7) that appreciation of Aristotle’s importance finally becomes unmistakable. Yet Aristotle and his school were among the truly seminal thinkers of late-fourth-century Athens and, in the eyes of many, Aristotle himself remains the outstanding philosopher of the entire Western tradition. How can a system created immediately in his wake show so little consciousness of his cardinal importance? One suggested explanation is that Aristotle’s school treatises, the brilliant but often very difficult texts by which we know him today, were not at this date as widely disseminated and studied as his more popularising works. But an alternative or perhaps complementary explanation lies in Zeno’s positive commitment to Socratic philosophy, of which the Peripatetics did not present themselves as voices. Either way, we must avoid the unhistorical assumption that Aristotle’s unique importance was as obvious to his near-contemporaries as it is to us.

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