Volume 14, 2018
History of Philosophy
The Stoic Aspect of Spinoza
Oikeiosis in the Stoics and conatus in Spinoza
In France and the Netherlands, between 1580 and 1620, an age of religious and civil wars, Neo-Stoicism made its appearance, with Justus Lipsius, Guillaume du Vair and Pierre Charron as its key representatives. The Neo-Stoics sought to counter the irrationality and acrimony of wars by recourse to reason and especially to Stoic theories of nature and Logos. Yet, since the ideas of the Stoics were widely held as incompatible with Christian theology, Lipsius (1547-1606) sought to wed them with Christian teachings, as it were, to ‘Christianize’ them, a policy also adopted by Gassendi for the propagation of the Epicurean philosophy. Translations of works by the Stoics had appeared during the Renaissance period and they were disseminated widely. The first text we shall examine comes from the seventh volume of the works of Diogenes Lærtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers [Vitæ Philosophorum], which was devoted to the Stoics and was translated into Latin in 1433 by Ambrogio Traversari in Florence. The work of Diogenes Laertius was a basic source of Stoic philosophy and another source was the work of Cicero, whose writings were studied uninterruptedly throughout the Middle Ages. In this paper, I will quote and focus on certain passages on oikeiosis in Cicero’s De finibus, which was one of the key points of reference for philosophers in the 17th century. Spinoza’s library included the Letters of Cicero [Ciceronis Epistolæ], as well as the Εnchiridion and the Discours [Dissertationes] of Epictetus, in the 1595/96 bilingual Greek/Latin edition of Hieronymo Volfio, with a commentary by Simplicius. In his library there were also three editions of the works of Seneca, including the Moral Letters to Lucilius, which had been published by J. Lipsius and J. F. Gronovius (1649), and his Tragedies. Spinoza very rarely mentions other philosophers, yet explicit references to the Stoics are found in his writings, but for raising objections such as against their theory of the soul, their conception of the will, and the suicide of Seneca. The most important references, in my view, are implicit; yet, as I’ll attempt to demonstrate, above all it is these very places that reveal his affinity with the Stoics. I propose to focus first on the concept of oikeiosis, drawing on relevant citations in the texts of Diogenes Laertius, in Cicero’s De finibus and in Seneca’s Letter 121. I will then proceed to examine Spinoza’s notion of conatus. Oikeiosis, which is a core notion for the moral theory of the Stoics, has been rendered via a variety of words, such as “appropriation”, but also “love”, “familiarization”, “affinity”, “affection”, “endearment”, “being dear”. It has become accepted that it is an untranslatable term that, as it were, resists rendition through a single word. Oikeiosis is connected with three terms: oikeion, meaning familiar or dear, constitution of a being, and συνείδησις, meaning consciousness or sense of self, which in the text of Diogenes is not defined. Nevertheless, both the particular constitution of a living being and its consciousness evolve and can be perfected, which implies that the same may be true for oikeiosis. It is a complex notion, indeed, and it cannot be conveyed by a simple proposition. It is a fluid concept suspended amidst a web of other concepts, which are added to and influence each other’s meanings. Even though the meaning of oikeiosis cannot be conveyed through a single word and a simple proposition, it can be rendered through a system of propositions, which, as we shall see, is also the case in the exposition of conatus in Spinoza. Oikeiosis is a fundamental concept in the anthropology and the ethics of the Stoics. Its influence extends into the 17th and 18th centuries. The contribution of the Stoics, and also of the Epicureans, to 17th century thought, is in no way tangential, because it was that era that saw the introduction of new theories of nature, of natural laws and of human nature that differ from those in the Scholastic tradition. Oikeiosis is a source of inspiration for a number of thinkers, such as Grotius, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and for Spinoza, as we shall examine. Numerous studies have focused on oikeiosis in the Stoics, and indeed on conatus in Spinoza, and an affinity between them has already been identified. Nevertheless, in my view, the problem of defining both concepts is still open. Moreover, Stoic philosophy is not the theory of just one philosopher and the conception of oikeiosis is not just one and unique among the Stoics. If a source of inspiration for Spinoza’s theory of conatus is to be found in oikeiosis, it remains to be investigated to which philosopher he refers and which account of oikeiosis he has in mind. In my view, in his exposition of conatus Spinoza reformulates the concept of oikeiosis, in the context of his own, ordine geometrico system and in the web of its terms, in an implicit dialogue with the Stoics and also with his contemporaries.