Friday, November 2, 2012

Finished reading: Guide to Stoicism

Last night (November 2), I finished reading another book on Stoicism. It was first published in 1908 by Archibald Constable & Co., London. It belongs to the series, Philosophies Ancient and Modern. Since then it has been reproduced as A Little Book of Stoicism, and as Guide to Stoicism.

Fortunately, the original first edition titled as Stoicism, is available at Its author is St. George Stock, a scholar not well-known, only that he was born in 1850, and at the end of his Foreword to the book is written “St. George Stock M.A. Pemb. Coll. {Pembroke College} Oxford.” 

Here is what little information I could find about him and his work:

“It is rare to encounter a published author from the relatively recent past for which almost no biographical information can be found online. I have found such a person, in the form of a philosophy scholar by the curious and intriguing name of “St. George William Joseph Stock.” Who gets named “Saint,” or did he give himself that moniker? When was he born, and when did he die? Where did he live? Trying to suss out the life of this enigmatic “Saint George” is maddening.

“Four of Stock’s books are available as free ebooks from Google Play (and elsewhere): Attempts At Truth (1882), Deductive Logic (1888)Selections From The Septuagint: According To The Text Of Swete (1905) and Stoicism (1908). These might not sound like the most exciting reads, but could something saucier be in the offing? I found a book on Amazon called The Romance of Chastisement; or, Revelations of the School and Bedroom, by “An Expert.” The pseudonym, “An Expert,” was later identified as one “St. George H. Stock.” St. George “H.” Stock? Where did the “H”come from? Can this be the same “St. George Stock,” and if not, just how many “St. George Stock”s are there floating around in the mists of lost time and forgotten history?”

For more information about his work, visit:

As mentioned above, at the end of his Foreword to the book is written “St. George Stock M.A. Pemb. Coll. Oxford”, today I sent an email to Amanda Ingram, Archivist at the Pembroke College, requesting St. George Stock’s biographical information, and just in minutes the following information was provided; it is shared below with thanks to Amanda Ingram:

“St. George William Joseph Stock was a scholar at Pembroke College - his matriculation register entry records that he was the second son of St. George Henry Stock of Douglas, Isle of Man, a gentleman. He was educated at Victoria College, Jersey, and matriculated at Pembroke on 26th October 1868, aged 18. He was awarded a King Charles I scholarship 1868-1873 (a closed award for scholars from the Channel Islands) and obtained a second class B.A. in litterae humaniores (classics) on 5th Feb 1873 and his Oxford M.A. in 1875. He became a Lecturer in Greek at Birmingham University and died in 1922 in Castle Bellingham, co. Louth, Ireland.”

I think Stock’s book is more authoritative since it is based on primary sources. Actually, Stock talks of Greeks and Romans as if he is from the same stock. He claims to be an adherent of Peripatetic school. 

This about 100 page little book is worth-reading.

See some excerpts from this book:

“If you strip Stoicism of its paradoxes and its willful misuse of language, what is left is simply the moral philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, dashed with the physics of Heraclitus.” [Foreword]
“Among the Greeks and Romans of the classical age philosophy occupied the place taken by religion among ourselves. Their appeal was to reason not to revelation.” [P. 1]

“We are born into the Eastern, Western, or Anglican communion or some other denomination, but it was of his own free choice that the serious-minded young Greek or Roman embraced the tenets of one of the / great sects which divided the world of philosophy.” [PP. 1-2]

“It was as difficult to be independent in philosophy as it is with us to be independent in politics.”
[P. 2]

We know very well that independents in politics are actually the “Bargainers” in the game.

“Aristotle, as Shakespeare knew, thought young men 'unfit to hear moral philosophy.’ And yet it was a question or rather the question of moral philosophy, the answer to which decided the young man’s opinions on all other points.” [P. 2]

“Their {Stoics’} moral philosophy affected the world through Roman law, the great masters of which were brought up under its influence.” [P. 5]

That’s the significance of Stoic philosophy!

“If the Stoics then did not add much to the body of philosophy, they did a great work in popularising it and bringing it to bear upon life.” [P. 5]

Another point that shows the importance of Stoicism, and Stock dwells meaningfully on this theme:

“An intense practicality was a mark of the later Greek philosophy. This was common to Stoicism with its rival Epicureanism. Both regarded philosophy as ' the art of life,' though they differed in their conception of what that art should be.” [P. 5]

“We connect the term {‘nature’} with the origin of a thing, they connected it rather with the end; by the 'natural state' we mean a state of savagery, they meant the highest civilisation; we mean by a thing's nature what it is or has been, they meant what it ought to become under the most favourable conditions: not the sour crab, but the mellow glory of the Hesperides, worthy to be guarded by a sleepless dragon, was to the Greeks the natural apple.” [PP. 7-8]

This observation of Stock’s is laden with dangerous implications. It’s no place to go into the details of the implications, however, I would like to add that this characteristic of Greek thought is a way of looking forward and recreating what is already there, i.e. to realize its perfection, whatever it is!

“Following out this conception the Stoics identified a life in accordance with nature with a life in accordance with the highest perfection to which man could attain.” [P. 8]

“The end of life then being the attainment of happiness through virtue, how did philosophy stand related to that end? We have seen already that it was regarded as 'the art of life.' Just as medicine was the art of health, and the art of sailing navigation, so there needed to be an art of living.” [P. 9]

“It was said of Chrysippus that his demeanour was always quiet, even if his gait were unsteady, so that his housekeeper declared that only his legs were drunk.” [P. 72]

It’s really amazing to see how the Greek philosophers lived and philosophized! That was the first ever and the only society which deserves to be called a philosophical society.

"The absence of any appeal to rewards and punishments was a natural consequence of the central tenet of the Stoic morality, that virtue is in itself the most desirable of all things.” [P. 100]

So the Stoic morality may be dubbed as a morality of virtue?

“They {the Stoics} were the first fully to recognise the worth of man as man; they heralded the reign of peace, for which we are yet waiting; they proclaimed to the world the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; they were convinced of the solidarity of mankind, and laid down that the interest of one must be subordinated to that of all. The word 'philanthropy,' though not unheard before their time, was brought into prominence by them as a name for a virtue among the virtues.” [P. 101]

Such are the penetrating features of the Stoicism!

“Virtue, with the earlier Greek philosophers, was aristocratic and exclusive. Stoicism, like Christianity, threw it open to the meanest of mankind. In the kingdom of wisdom, as in the kingdom of Christ, there was 'neither barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free.' The only true freedom was to serve philosophy, or, which was the same thing, to serve God; and that could be done in any station in life. The sole condition of communion with gods and good men was the possession of a certain frame of mind, which might belong equally to a gentleman, to a freedman, or to a slave. In place of the arrogant assertion of the natural nobility of the Greeks, we now hear that a good mind is the true nobility. Birth is of no importance; all are sprung from the gods.' The door of virtue is shut to no man: it is open to all, admits all, invites all free men, freedmen, slaves, kings, and exiles. Its election is not of family or fortune; it is content with the bare man.' Wherever there was a human being, there Stoicism saw a field for well-doing.” [PP. 102-103]

Thus, it is Stoic philosophy that struck a blow to the moral elitism of Aristotle, and their times. They were thoroughly humanist!

“Cosmopolitanism is a word which has contracted rather than expanded in meaning with the advance of time. We mean by it freedom from the shackles of nationality. The Stoics meant this and more. The city of which they claimed to be citizens was not merely this round world on which we dwell, but the universe at large with all the mighty life therein contained. In this city, the greatest of earth's cities, Rome, Ephesus, or Alexandria, were but houses. To be exiled from one of them was only like changing your lodgings, and death but a removal from one quarter to another. The freemen of this city were all rational beings sages on earth and the stars in heaven. Such an idea was thoroughly in keeping with the soaring genius of Stoicism.” [PP. 103-104]

It was at the start of the 20th century (the book was published in 1908) that Stock observed cosmopolitanism, instead of expanding, to be contracting; the same is true for the present age. Though there runs a parallel cosmopolitan stream in the form of globalization, but intellectually and morally Cosmopolitanism is weakening.

“The philosophy of an age cannot perhaps be inferred from its political conditions with that certainty which some writers assume; still there are cases in which the connexion is obvious. On a wide view of the matter we may say that the opening up of the East by the arms of Alexander was the cause of the shifting of the philosophic standpoint from Hellenism to cosmopolitanism. If we reflect that the Cynic and Stoic teachers were mostly foreigners in Greece, we shall find a very tangible reason for the change of view. Greece had done her work in educating the world, and the world was beginning to make payment in kind. Those who had been branded as natural slaves were now giving laws to philosophy. The kingdom of wisdom was suffering violence at the hands of barbarians.” [P. 105]

Stock is so incisive and meaning is heartening and at the same time pleasing. He rejects socio-political explanations as the cause of philosophical evolution, and in the same vein censures Hellenism and through a historical reading sees a cosmopolitan spirit developing out of it via those whom Hellenism considered natural slaves.

Also, his “The kingdom of wisdom was suffering violence at the hands of barbarians.” is an indictment of the Greek wisdom!


It may be asked why I am so much interested in Stoicism. Ji, actually and particularly I am interested in moral philosophy. My especial focus is immorality of Pakistani society. I want to understand and explain why Pakistani society has morally degenerated. Why this society through and through immoral? 

And of course how a moral regeneration may be effected!

Here is the “contents” of the book:

I. Philosophy Among The Greeks And Romans
II. Division Of Philosophy
III. Logic
IV. Ethic
V. Physic
VI. Conclusion
Dates And Authorities

It is also important to see the ‘Dates and Authorities’ (printed at the end of the book) which gives among other things an idea of the chronological evolution of the Stoic philosophy.


Death of Socrates - 399
Death of Plato - 347
ZENO - 347-275
     Studied under Crates, - 325
     Studied under Stilpo and Xenocrates, - 325-315
     Began teaching - 315
Epicurus - 341-270
Death of Aristotle - 322
Death of Xenocrates - 315
CLEANTHES - Succeeded Zeno - 275
ZENO OF TARSUS - Succeeded Chrysippus
Decree of the Senate forbidding the teaching of philosophy at Rome - 161
Embassy of the philosophers to Rome - 155
PANJETIUS - Accompanied Africanus on his mission to the East - 143
     His treatise on 'Propriety' was the basis of Cicero's ' De Officiis.'
The Scipionic Circle at Rome
     This coterie was deeply tinctured with Stoicism.
     Its chief members were The younger Africanus, the younger Laelius, L. Furius Philus, Manilius,        
     Spurius Mummius, P. Rutilius Rufus, Q. JSlius Tubero, Polybius, and Panaetius.
Suicide of Blossius of Cumse, the adviser of Tiberius Gracchus, and a disciple of Antipater of Tarsus - 
Mnesarchus, a disciple of Pansetius, was teaching at Athens when the orator Crassus visited that city  
     - 111
     A great Stoic writer, a disciple of Pansetius, and a friend of Tubero
POSIDONIUS - About 128-44
     Born at Apameia in Syria,
     Became a citizen of Rhodes,
     Represented the Rhodians at Rome, - 86
     Cicero studied under him at Rhodes, - 78
     Came to Rome again at an advanced age, - 51
Cicero's philosophical works - 54-44
     These are a main authority for our knowledge of the Stoics - A D
Philo of Alexandria came on an embassy to Rome - 39
     The works of Philo are saturated with Stoic ideas, and he displays an exact acquaintance with   
     their terminology.
     Exiled to Corsica,
     Recalled from exile,
     Forced by Nero to commit suicide.
     His Moral Epistles and philosophical works generally are written from the Stoic standpoint,
     though somewhat affected by Eclecticism.
Plutarch - Flor. - 80
     The Philosophical works of Plutarch which have most bearing upon the Stoics are
     De Alexandri Magni fortuna aut virtute,
     De Virtute Morali,
     De Placitis Philosophorum,
     De Stoicorum Repugnantiis,
     Stoicos absurdiora poetis dicere,
     De Communibus Notitiis.
EPICTETUS, - Flor. - 90
     A freedman of Epaphroditus,
     Disciple of C. Musonius Rufus,
     Lived and taught at Rome until A.D. 90, when the philosophers were expelled by Domitian. Then   
     retired to Nicopolis in Epirus, where he spent the rest of his life.
     Epictetus wrote nothing himself, but his Dissertations, as preserved by Arrian, from which the
     Encheiridion is excerpted, contain the most pleasing presentation that we have of the moral
     philosophy of the Stoics.
     Banished to Gyaros, - 65
     Returned to Rome, - 68
     Tried to intervene between the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian, - 69
     Procured the condemnation of Publius Celer (Tac. H. iv. 10 ; Juv. Sat. iii. 116)
     Teacher of M. Aurelius, who learnt from him to appreciate Epictetus.
M. AURELIUS ANTONINUS - Emperor - 161-180
     Wrote the book commonly called his 'Meditations ' under the title of ' to himself."
     He may be considered the last of the Stoics.
Three later authorities for the Stoic teaching are
     Diogenes Laertius, - 200 ?
     Sextus Empiricus, - 225 ?
     Stobceus, - 500?

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