[2.2.7] Virtue, Vice and Indifferent in Stoic Ethics

Stoic virtue ethics teaches, that relative to the goal of living for a sage (see [2.2.1]):

  • virtue is the only good thing, necessary and sufficient for a happy life,
  • however, there are preferred indifferent things, those who hold value.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main categories of stoic virtue ethics:

Virtue, vice and indifferent in stoic ethics
Person A human person has a goal of living. has GoalOfLiving; has, experiences Something; has Knowledge as shared part
GoalOfLiving“Aristotle’s ethics provides the form for the adumbration of the ethical teaching of the Hellenistic schools. One must first provide a specification of the goal or end (telos) of living.is (relates to) Happiness
Happiness“A bit of reflection tells us that the goal that we all have is happiness or flourishing (eudaimonia). But what is happiness?… Zeno’s answer was ‘a good flow of life’ or ‘living in agreement,’ and Cleanthes clarified that with the formulation that the end was ‘living in agreement with nature’. Chrysippus amplified this to (among other formulations) ‘living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature;’ later Stoics inadvisably, in response to Academic attacks, substituted such formulations as ‘the rational selection of the primary things according to nature.'”relates to Virtue
SomethingFor stoics is the highest ontological genus: to be something (τί, ti) is to be some particular thing. These somethings related to the goal of living can be categorized as virtues, vices and indifferents.
Knowledge“Stoics identify the moral virtues with knowledge. […] Thus a specific virtue like moderation is defined as ‘the science (epistêmê) of what is to be chosen and what is to be avoided and what is neither of these’ (Arius Didymus, 61H). More broadly, virtue is ‘an expertise (technê) concerned with the whole of life’ (Arius Didymus, 61G). Like other forms of knowledge, virtues are characters of the soul’s commanding faculty which are firm and unchangeable.”is Something
Virtue“The only things that are good are the characteristic excellences or virtues of human beings (or of human minds): prudence or wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, and other related qualities. “is Something
Prudence, Wisdom, Justice, Courage, ModerationPrudence, wisdom, justice, courage and moderation are virtuessubkind of Virtue
Good“The best way into the thicket of Stoic ethics is through the question of what is good, for all parties agree that possession of what is genuinely good secures a person’s happiness. The Stoics claim that whatever is good must benefit its possessor under all circumstances.” characterizes Virtue
Vice“only vice is genuinely bad” is Something
Bad“only vice is genuinely badcharacterizes Vice
Indifferent “there are situations in which it is not to my benefit to be healthy or wealthy. (We may imagine that if I had money I would spend it on heroin which would not benefit me.) Thus, things like money are simply not good, in spite of how nearly everyone speaks, and the Stoics call them indifferents’ – i.e., neither good nor bad.” is Something
Not good and not bad characterizes Indifferent
“Some indifferent things, like health or wealth, have value (axia) and therefore are to be preferred [indifferent], even if they are not good, because they are typically appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion) for us.”is Indifferent
Value Value (axia) is a property of being “appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion)”. characterizes PreferredIndifferent
NotPreferred Indifferent Indifferents not characterized by Value.is Indifferent


  • All citations from: Baltzly, Dirk, “Stoicism”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 5/12/2019
Updated: 27/11/2020

[2.2.6] Stoic Cosmology

For the Stoics, the universe:

  • is a unitary spherical body located in the void, with properties resembling those of a living being,
  • can be entirely explained by two principles, the active pneuma and the passive matter,
  • has a life cycle consisting of three ever-repeating phases, characterized by the dominance of fire (conflagration), of elements, and of bodies (in the present period).

The stoic cosmological model is using concepts from stoic ontology [2.2.5] and psychology [2.2.1].

The OntoUML diagram below presents the structure of the stoic universe:

Stoic cosmology
Universe“The governing metaphor for Stoic cosmology is biological, in contrast to the fundamentally mechanical conception of the Epicureans. The entire cosmos [universe] is a living thing and God stands to the cosmos as an animal’s life force stands to the animal’s body, enlivening, moving and directing it by its presence throughout. The Stoics insistence that only bodies are capable of causing anything, however, guarantees that this cosmic life force must be conceived of as somehow corporeal.”
“Just as living things have a life-cycle that is witnessed in parents and then again in their off-spring, so too the universe has a life cycle that is repeated. This life cycle is guided by, or equivalent to, a developmental plan that is identified with God. There is a cycle of endless recurrence, beginning from a state in which all is fire, through the generation of the elements, to the creation of the world we are familiar with, and eventually back to the state of pure designing fire called ‘the conflagration’” UniversOnFire,
are all phases of Universe
PneumaGod is identified with an eternal reason or intelligent designing fire or a breath (pneuma) which structures matter in accordance with Its plan. The designing fire is likened to sperm or seed which contains the first principles or directions of all the things which will subsequently develop. The biological conception of God as a kind of living heat or seed from which things grow seems to be fully intended. The further identification of God with pneuma or breath may have its origins in medical theories of the Hellenistic period…
More specifically, God is identical with one of the two ungenerated and indestructible first principles (archai) of the universe.”
is part of the PresentUniverse
Pneuma comes in gradations and endows the bodies which it pervades with different qualities as a result. The pneuma which sustains an inanimate object is a ‘tenor’ (hexis, lit. a holding). Pneuma in plants is, in addition, physique (phusis, lit. ‘nature’). In animals, pneuma is soul (psychê) and in rational animals pneuma is, besides, the [central] commanding faculty (hêgemonikon) – that is responsible for thinking, planning, deciding. The Stoics assign to ‘physique’ or ‘nature’ all the purely physiological life functions of a human animal (such as digestion, breathing, growth etc.) – self-movement from place to place is due to soul. Tenor, Nature, Soul,
CentralCommandingFaculty are subkinds of Pneuma;
Tenor is part of Body;
Nature is part of Plant, Animal and Human;
Soul is part of Animal and Human;
CentralCommandingFaculty is part of Human
Matter “One principle [of the Universe] is matter which they regard as utterly unqualified and inert. It is that which is acted upon.” is contained by the Universe and Body
Body “Only bodies (σώματα, sômata) have being, or exist. Slogan: to exist is to have causal powers. Plato in the Sophist (247d–e): ‘Now, I say that what has some power to make something else into something, or to suffer the slightest, even once, this has real being. For I define being as nothing but power (δύναμις).’ The Stoic conception of existence is thus dynamic. Matter as such is passive, but bodies are not, since they are also infused by logos, which is active… only bodies can act or be acted upon” is part of the PresentUniverse
Inanimate object;
these are BodiesInanimate object,
Plant, Animal,
Human are Body
ElementElements are continuous, infinitely divisible substancesis part of Matter;
is contained by UnverseOfElements
Fire; Earth; Water; AirFire, Earth, Water; Air are elements;
Fire is contained by Universe in Fire


  • All citations from: Baltzly, Dirk, “Stoicism”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Suzanne Bobizen, Early Stoic Determinism, Presses Universitaires de France | Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 2005/4 – n° 48

First published: 28/11/2019