The Profile Emerges

  • Michael Bertram Crowe


In any history of the natural law the Stoics occupy an important place. There is general agreement that they were the first to systematize the concept, although not all would agree with the comment of Samuel Pufendorf (1632–1694), himself a key-figure in the modern shaping of the natural law, that the Stoic concept had been narrowed by the substitution of Aristotle’s philosophy of law and politics for the Stoic ideas.1 But which Stoics? And what was their conception of the natural law? These are questions not easily answered when one recalls that the school stretches over half a millenium and includes thinkers that differ even on matters one would have thought essential. Zeno of Citium (c. 336-264 b.c.) appeared at Athens, teaching at the painted porch (stoa poikile, whence the name’ stoic’) about the year 300 b.c. He and his first successors, Cleanthes (c. 331-233 b.c.) and Chrysippus (281-208 b.c.) constitute the Early Stoa. The Middle Stoa is represented mainly by Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185-110 b.c.) and Poseidonius of Apamea (135-51 b.c.); and the Late or New Stoa covers the first to the third centuries a.d., the age of Seneca (3-65 a.d.), the former slave Epictetus (c. 60-100 a.d.) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus who reigned from 161 to 180 a.d.


Human Nature Supra Note Tripartite Division Stoic Philosopher Stoic Morality 
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  1. 13.
    Lives of the Philosophers VII, 86-88; cf. Cicero, Acad. I, 10, 38; J. Stelzenberger, Die Beziehungen der frühchristlichen Sittenlehre zur Ethik der Stoa, p. 100; J.T.C. Arntz, “Natural Law and its History” in Concilium, 5 (1965), pp. 23–32.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Cf. G. Watson, “The Early History of Natural Law” in Irish Theological Quarterly, 33 (1966) pp. 72–73 for detailed references and the observation that allowance must be made for the polemics of the witnesses. The theme of suicide in Stoicism has attracted much attention, cf. supra, note 4.: Thus Seneca says “Malum est in necessitate vivere. Sed in necessitate vivere nulla necessitas est. Quidni nulla sit? Patent undique ad libertatem viae multae, breves, faciles. Agamus Deo gratias quod nemo in vita teneri potest...”; Epictetus says I,9 “The door is open”; cf. I, 2; and Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, V, 29, says that “the philosopher chooses the mode of his death just as he chooses a ship for a journey or a house to live in. He leaves life as he would leave a banquet — when it is time. He lays aside his body when it no longer suits him, as he would lay aside worn-out clothes and withdraws from life as he would withdraw from a house no longer weather-proof”. Of the leading Stoics Zeno, Cleanthes, Antipater and Seneca are said to have committed suicide; and the classical example of Stoic suicide was that of Cato the Younger.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 25.
    De offic. I, 2, 6; II, 17, 60: “... hic ipse Panaetius, quem multum in his libris secutus sum”; III, 7, 33; H. Cairns, Legal Philosophy from Plato to Hegel, p. 130. E. Levy, “Natural Law in Roman Thought” in Studia et documenta Historiae et Juris, 15 (1949), pp. 2–6.Google Scholar
  4. 34.
    De rep., III, 11, 19; cf. E. Levy, “Natural Law in Roman Thought” in Studia et Documenta Historiae et Juris, 15 (1949), p. 18.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Bertram Crowe
    • 1
  1. 1.University CollegeDublinIreland

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