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Fate, Freedom, and Happiness: Clement and Alexander on the Dignity of Human Responsibility
 9781463239282, 1463239289

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Fate, Freedom, and Happiness

Gorgias Studies in Early Christianity and Patristics 


*RUJLDV6WXGLHVLQ(DUO\&KULVWLDQLW\DQG3DWULVWLFV}isdesigned to advance our understanding of various aspects of early Christianity. The scope of the series is broad, with volumesaddressing the historical, cultural, literary, theological andphilosophical contexts of the early Church. The series, reflecting the most current scholarship, is essential to advanced students and scholars of early Christianity. Gorgias welcomes proposals from senior scholars as well as younger scholars whose dissertations have made an important contribution to the field of early Christianity.

Fate, Freedom, and Happiness

Clement and Alexander on the Dignity of Human Responsibility

Daniel S. Robinson

gp 2019

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA www.gorgiaspress.com Copyright © 2019 by Gorgias Press LLC All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of Gorgias Press LLC. ‫ܙ‬



ISBN 978-1-4632-3928-2

ISSN 1935-6870

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A Cataloging-in-Publication Record is available from the Library of Congress. Printed in the United States of America

TABLE OF CONTENTS Table of Contents ..................................................................................... v Acknowledgments ................................................................................... ix Abbreviations ........................................................................................... xi Editions and translations of primary sources............................ xii Chapter One. Introduction ..................................................................... 1 Albrecht Dihle ................................................................................. 4 Michael Frede ................................................................................... 9 Charles Kahn and Richard Sorabji.............................................. 13 Chapter Two. The Hellenistic background ........................................ 21 Why you should not believe in determinism: Epicurus (341–270 BCE) ..................................................................... 26 Why you should believe in determinism: the Stoics ................ 37 Chapter Three. A monistic theodicy: the biblical platonism of Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE – 50 CE) ..................................... 47 Philo on the Telos ......................................................................... 49 Philo’s mystical-theological understanding of the good.......... 51 Philo’s defense of providence ..................................................... 57 Philo and Chrysippus on theodicy .............................................. 62 Good as being ................................................................................ 70 Philo on creation of man.............................................................. 77 Conclusion ...................................................................................... 79 Chapter Four. A dualistic theodicy: the middle-platonism of Plutarch of Chaeronea (46–120 CE) .......................................... 83 Plutarch’s view of good and evil ................................................. 85 Problems of theodicy .................................................................... 93 Plutarch’s cosmological solution to theodicy ............................ 98 Providence and fate.....................................................................102 Conclusion ....................................................................................103 Chapter Five. Alexander’s precedents ...............................................107 Alexander on responsibility and freedom ................................108 v



Aristotle’s ambiguity on determinism ......................................113 Peripatetic developments ...........................................................119 Middle-platonic developments ..................................................121 Chapter Six. Analysis of the De Fato..................................................127 Dedication of the treatise ...........................................................128 Structure of the treatise ..............................................................130 Deliberation’s function toward moral progress ......................132 Alexander’s two-sided ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ .................................................135 Fate, necessity, contingency .......................................................137 The chain of necessary causes ...................................................138 The existence of the contingent ................................................139 Psychological evidence against the chain of fate ....................144 What is the ëÎЏ÷ÄėÅ? ............................................................145 Deliberation ..................................................................................151 Aristotle on deliberation and responsibility ............................153 Chapter Seven. Indeterminist deliberation .......................................157 Deliberation’s advantage for moral progress ..........................181 The coherence of Alexander’s rhetorical strategy ..................185 Chapter Eight. Clement’s rhetorical strategy ...................................187 Christianity as source of all knowledge ....................................191 The object of knowledge ............................................................200 The desirability of knowledge....................................................206 The structure of knowledge .......................................................209 ÈÉŦ¾ÐÀË .................................................................................210 ÊͺÁ¸ÌŠ¿¼ÊÀË ..........................................................................215 Instruction and obedience..........................................................218 ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË ...............................................................................221 The history of knowledge ..........................................................223 The unity of God .........................................................................224 Historical progression of knowledge........................................228 Chapter Nine. Clement’s philosophical arguments.........................231 Clement’s perspective on Gnostic ethical cosmology ...........232 Tripartite division of humanity .................................................234 Sin and salvation ..........................................................................239 Clement’s criticisms of this teaching ........................................249 Clement’s concept of the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ ...........................................251 Aristotle’s definition of the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ ........................................252 Clement’s definition of the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ ........................................254



The voluntary and involuntary: ÒÌÍϼėÅ, ÖĸÉ̊żÀÅ, Ò»ÀÁ¼ėÅ ..................................................................................255 Clement’s appropriation of Aristotle........................................262 Faith not predetermined by antecedent causes.......................270 Conclusion ....................................................................................283 Chapter Ten. Conclusion ....................................................................287 Distinctions from other accounts .............................................294 Bibliography ..........................................................................................303 Index .......................................................................................................313

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am very grateful to all the professors, students, and administrative staff at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California for establishing and maintaining an academic environment wherein I was able to conceive of and complete the bulk of this project. I would like to thank especially the members of my dissertation committee for all of their helpful guidance and very constructive criticism. Fr. Eugene Ludwig at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology patiently discussed with me over a long period of time the significant overlap between the concerns of ancient theologians and philosophers. These many conversations and seminars with Fr. Eugene strengthened my curiosity and capacity for inquiring into the exchange of ideas among the Jewish, Christian, and pagan authors of antiquity. Fr. John Behr of St. Vladimir’s Seminary was also of great help at the very beginning stages in affirming the fruitfulness of further research on Clement of Alexandria and also in recommending a basic method of approach. Thomas Cattoi at the Jesuit School of Theology encouraged me to clarify many of my ideas and to refine my argument. He also gave me space to do this as an assistant lecturer in his Patristic Spirituality class. Tony Long at the University of California at Berkeley was especially helpful in providing expert guidance on the Stoic and Peripatetic issues so pervasive in this project. His questions and observations were challenging and extremely productive, as were his criticisms of my argument and composition. He also allowed me to develop many of my ideas as an assistant lecturer in his Ancient Cosmology class. I owe a further debt of gratitude to Gorgias Press and to the anonymous scholars who read the initial manuscript. Their comments and suggestions greatly strengthened this book. In light of all of this scholarly assistance, I must of course point out that I remain solely responsible for the shortcomings herein. ix



I must also acknowledge the wonderful teaching opportunities afforded me at The California State University East Bay, where I have found a truly supportive and accommodating faculty and library staff while I competed this project. Librarian Jan Jacket and Professors Linda Ivey, Kevin Kaatz, and Elizabeth McGuire have each been especially encouraging. Most fundamentally, this project would certainly never have come about without countless conceptual conversations with the artist David Wallace Haskins and immeasurable encouragement and patience from my wife, Erin. Their support and sustained energy was absolutely essential to me from the formative stages through to the completion of this work.

ABBREVIATIONS Fat. Mant. Q. Didask. ApJn. EE. NE. Rhet. TD. Fin. Fat. Str. Ped. Prot. ExcTheo. L&S

Prov. StoRep

Alexander of Aphrodisias, On Fate. ——, Mantissa. ——, Quaestiones. Alcinous, Didaskalikos. The Apocryphon of John. Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics. Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle, Rhetoric. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations. ——, De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum. ——, On Fate. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis. ——. Paidagogos. ——. Protreptikos. ——. Excerpta ex Theodoto. Long, A. A. and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Philo, De Providentia. 1 Plutarch, On Stoic Contradictions.

I follow Winston’s abbreviations for all of Philo’s works. David Winston, Two Treatises of Philo of Alexandria: A Commentary on De Gigantibus and Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis, Brown Judaic Studies (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983), xix–xx. 1


xii Comm. Fac. Isis.

FATE, FREEDOM, AND HAPPINESS ——, On Common Conceptions Against the Stoics. ——, On the Face that Appears in the Moon. ——. On Isis and Osiris.

EDITIONS AND TRANSLATIONS OF PRIMARY SOURCES Alexander of Aphrodisias Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate: Text, Translation and Commentary. Edited and translated by Robert W. Sharples. London: Duckworth, 1983. Alcinous.

Didaskalikos. Alcinous: The Handbook of Platonism. Edited and translated by John M. Dillon. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.


In Aristotelis De Interpretatione Commentarius, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, Volume IV, Pars V. Edited by Adolfus Busse. Berlin: George Reimer, 1895.


The Apocryphon of John. Edited and translated by Bentley Layton. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.

Arius Didymus

Epitome of Stoic Ethics. Edited and translated by Arthur John Pomeroy. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999.


Aristotelis Ethica Eudemia. Edited by Franz Susemihl. Lipsiae: B. G. Teubneri, 1884. Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachea. In Scriptorum classicorum bibliotheca Oxoniensis, edited by Ingram Bywater. Oxford: Clarendon, 1920. Aristotelis Ars Rhetorica. edited by W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon, 1959.


Tusculan Disputations. Edited and translated by Je. E. King. The Loeb



Classical Library Latin Authors. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950. De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum. Edited and translated by H. Rackham. 2nd ed. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931. De Fato. Edited and translated by H. Rackham. 2nd ed. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931. Clement of Alexandria

Clemens Alexandrinus. Edited by Otto Stählin. 4 vols. Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller Der Ersten Jahrhunderte. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1960. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A. D. 325. Edited and translated by Philip Schaff. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950. The Excerpta Ex Theodoto of Clement of Alexandria. Translated by Robert Pierce Casey. Studies and Documents. London: Christophers, 1934.


Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by Robert Drew Hicks. 2 vols. The Loeb Classical Library Greek Authors. New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1925. Opere. Edited by Graziano Arrighetti. Torino: G. Einaudi, 1972. Epicurus, the Extant Remains. Translated by Cyril Bailey. Oxford: Clarendon press, 1926. Long, A. A. and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge


FATE, FREEDOM, AND HAPPINESS Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.


De Providentia. Edited by Mireille HadasLebel. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1973. David Winston. Two Treatises of Philo of Alexandria: A Commentary on De Gigantibus and Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis Brown Judaic Studies. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983. Philonis Alexandrini Opera Quae Supersunt. Edited by Leopold Cohn, Paul Wendland and Siegfried Reiter. 6 vols. Editio minor. ed. Berolini: Typis et impensis G. Reimerii, 1896. The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. Translated by Charles Duke Yonge. New updated ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993.


Plutarch’s Moralia. Edited and Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. 15 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949.

CHAPTER ONE. INTRODUCTION Is the concept of free will a product of Christian thought, or does it originate in pre-Christian or non-Christian philosophy? Some idea of free will has been very prominent throughout the history of Christian theology and also throughout the history of western philosophy, so it makes sense that historians of thought would be interested in the origins of the idea. It turns out however that the concept of free will is not a single idea, but rather a whole genre of thinking that involves many different types of questions and problems. Just what a will is, and just what being free is, are only two of the initial questions that may elicit any number of answers from thinkers of various ages and traditions. There are perhaps two most general distinctions to make here. First, we could distinguish whether the will is an autonomous and distinct faculty of the soul, or whether it is a mere property or effect of the intellect and emotions, i.e.: whether there is actually ‘a will’, or whether it is simply the whole soul in its entirety that wills. Second, we could distinguish whether freedom means being capable of attaining what one truly wants, a good life consisting of true happiness and virtue, or whether freedom rather signifies being totally unpredetermined in one’s choices and actions. Accordingly, where one claims to find the origin of free will in this history of thought will necessarily depend on which kind of free will one is looking for, on which kind of ideas one accepts as answering the right questions. At this point it will be helpful to consider some of the claims that have been made about free will’s origin and the types of free will asserted by these claims. For the thesis that free will is a contribution of Christianity—the ‘Christian thesis’—we have the support of a few modern scholars and evidence from some ancient authors as well. Two of the distinguished Sather Classical Lectures at the University of California Berkeley have addressed this question 1



of free will’s development. The first of these, by Albrecht Dihle, argued for the ‘Christian thesis’ that this idea of free will was only fully articulated in the fifth century by St Augustine; And that even before this Augustinian articulation, the Platonists Galen and Celsus bore witness to the ancient recognition of Christianity’s peculiar theism which allowed God to rule by arbitrary will instead of necessary reason. 1 The second Sather Lecturer, Michael Frede, argued against the ‘Christian thesis’ by proposing that the Stoic Epictetus should be credited with a prior development of free will, though certainly not identical to Augustine’s. 2 Among Christian theologians, especially the twentieth-century Personalism of Emanuel Mounier and John Zizioulas, human freedom has been championed as the preeminent contribution of Christianity to philosophy. 3 Zizioulas argues on the basis of fourth-century Triadology Albrecht Dihle, The Theory of Will in Classical Antiquity, Sather Classical Lectures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982). 2 Michael Frede, A Free Will: Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought, Sather Classical Lectures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). 3 Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970). Jean Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, Contemporary Greek Theologians (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). Zizioulas opposes the view of divine personhood and of divine freedom to the Platonists, Aristotelians, and Stoics whom he characterizes in common as holding a view of God bound by logical necessity. Zizioulas notes (29, n.7) that the gods of the poets retained the capacity to intervene in the world, but that this ability was withdrawn by the philosophers. A thorough analysis of Neoplatonic theurgy from this Personalist perspective is needed to evaluate the historical accuracy of Zizioulas’ characterization of Greek philosophy. It seems plausible that Zizioulas’ criticism of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics may hold without requiring the significant contributions of Neoplatonic thought to fall within the same prison of necessity. Plotinus’ Ennead 6.8 for instance affirms the total freedom of the Good, which is of course revered as beyond being in marked agreement with the Orthodox Christian teaching. Plotinus et al., Plotinus, 7 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; 1966). This transcendence of being is a prominent and necessary step towards the articulation of 1



that—in agreement with Mounier—it was this new development in Christian thought that could finally free personal existence from a fatalist necessity. 4 Another argument against the ‘Christian Thesis’ might be developed from some of Suzanne Bobzien’s work on Alexander of Aphrodisias. In the same year that Frede delivered his Sather Lectures, Bobzien published a study of Alexander of Aphrodisias. 5 Hers is an interesting study to consider alongside Frede’s because those authors highlighted in each, Alexander and Epictetus, held extremely different views of freedom but applied these views to the Orthodox Personalism in the modern writings of Berdyaev, Zizioulas, and Yannaras. Interestingly, Middle- and Neoplatonic understandings of divine transcendence developed exactly at the same time as early Christian patristic thought. 4 Zizioulas describes two ‘leavenings’ through which the Greek Christian Fathers corrected the necessity of previous Greek philosophy and established a theology of freedom rooted not in the nature but the persons of God. The first was primarily accomplished by St. Athanasius’ doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This leavening “made being…a product of freedom.” (Being As Communion, 39) God’s creation of the world was not necessary because the logical necessity of creation is posterior to the freely creative act of God. The second leavening was an extension of the first and was accomplished by the Cappadocians, primarily St. Basil, through the distinction between hypostasis and ousia. As the first leavening removed necessity from the being of the world, the second removed necessity from the being of God. Because the Cappadocians located the archē of God not in the divine ousia but in the person (hypostasis) of the Father who is the cause of the Son and Spirit, it was realized that the very being of God is no more necessary than that of the world. “In a more analytical way this means that God, as Father and not as substance, perpetually confirms through “being” His free will to exist.” (Being As Communion, 41) Thus according to Zizioulas the very possibility and significance of ultimate freedom was only recognized through the fourth-century Triadology of the Cappadocians in their distinction between the divine ousia and the divine hypostases, and particularly in the priority they gave to the latter over the former.” 5 Susanne Bobzien, “The Inadvertent Conception and Late Birth of the Free-Will Problem,” Phronesis 43, no. 2 (1998).



same ethical questions of human responsibility and moral improvement. Bobzien has shown how this Peripatetic arrived at a clearly indeterminist view of human choice through his particular application of Aristotelian logic to ethics in opposition to Stoic determinism. Bobzien does not claim that Alexander invented free will, but recognizes that his arguments against determinism in favor of a freedom to do otherwise are at least involved with the same arena of philosophical problems in which we find other arguments related to the development of free will. But a brief look at the narratives of Dihle and Frede might be helpful before moving on.

ALBRECHT DIHLE Albrecht Dihle approached the historical development of the concept of the will itself. He noticed that the ancient philosophers before and after Plato and Aristotle did not have any notion of a will as a distinct faculty operative in the human decision-making process. 6 Instead the intellect was seen as the locus of one’s desiring whatever one recognizes as good. 7 Dihle observed that some ancients criticized the God of the Bible as implausible since supposedly he could act from arbitrary intention instead of rational understanding or necessity. 8 Dihle suggests that this biblical theism might have been what enabled the Christians, especially St. Augustine, to “Even from this extremely abbreviated description of the basis of Greek moral philosophy, one can easily see that the concept of will has no place in its ideas.” “The concept of choice (ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË) is based on the assumption that intention… depends on the knowledge of something definite…That is one reason why the concept of choice does not admit the existence of a will separate from the intellectual cognition and evaluation of means and ends.” Dihle, 37, 69. 7 “Thus Platonists, Epicurean, and Stoics alike… referred the whole problem of moral conduct and moral perfection to the state of the human mind.” Dihle, 41. Aristotle came closer to but left unfulfilled the concept of a will. Dihle, 56–65. 8 Dihle notes Galen primarily (De Part. 11.14), and Celsus (Origen, C. Cels. 7.68) indirectly. Dihle corroborates their criticism of a volitional deity with reference to the Elder Pliny (Nat. Hist. 2.27), Seneca (Ep. 95.49), and Cicero (De Leg. 1.27). Dihle, 1–2. 6



eventually develop the concept of a will capable of operating independently of the intellect. 9 Dihle identifies a problem arising in philosophy with the reemergence of dogmatic Platonism. While the necessity of reason seemed sufficient for explaining the immanent material universe of the Epicureans and Stoics, the renewed emphasis on the transcendent in dogmatic Platonism after the second and third centuries CE introduced a concern for understanding what was now conceived as the ineffable source of the universe. Such understanding obviously raises problems for an epistemology based solely on the powers of the intellect since this ineffable and unknowable cause lies beyond the limits of knowable being. 10 Consequently, Dihle argues, this new philosophical interest in the transcendent source of reality opened up the need for some faculty beyond the intellect that could be capable of approaching the suprarational. 11 As Dihle observes, this is just where the imagery of the Bible surpassed the strictly rational language of the philosophers. 12 Not only was the biblical God beyond all confines of human or worldly reason, but the Bible also presented one’s access to divine salvation as through obedience to divine commands and not through one’s understanding of the inscrutable deity itself. At this point a distinction can already be seen between the volitional access to salvation offered by the biblical requirement of obedience and the intellectual access offered by traditional Greek rationalism. In Dihle’s account these two rival modes of approaching salvation—or simply ethics—remained a problem waiting to be solved by the eventual

“The key role attributed to will (voluntas) in St. Augustine’s corresponding systems of psychology and theology… is not derived from earlier doctrines in the field of philosophical psychology or anthropology, and seems to mark a turning point in the history of theological reasoning…. This exactly corresponded to the indistinct but persistent voluntarism that permeates the Biblical tradition. (see above ch. I).” Dihle, 127. 10 Dihle, 11. 11 Dihle, 11–12. See especially Dihle’s mention of ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË as used by Clement of Alexandria, 108. 12 Dihle, 13. 9



discovery of the will as a distinct faculty. “The creation of such a notion was overdue by the end of the fourth century.” 13 Dihle credits the early Christians with making much progress towards the articulation of this theory of will, but ultimately presents the innovative doctrine of Augustine as the final answer to this philosophical problem. One of the great hurdles to overcome toward uncovering this solution was the unbridgeable ontological gap between God and humans. Since it was only God’s complete transcendence from the world of being that required a notion of some meta-intellectual human faculty capable of divine communication, that same total transcendence seemed to preclude any development of such a human faculty by analogy to the divine. 14 But Augustine approached “the problem of will” from the assumption that humanity’s creation in the image of God directly connected human psychology to Trinitarian theology so that by some analogy of being we should be able to derive a valid human psychology from the divine persons. 15 Dihle emphasizes the novelty of Augustine’s method of approaching the will. Augustine separated the will from intellectual cognition and argued from psychological introspection rather than from ontology as the previous Greek thinkers had. This new method enabled Augustine to conceive of the will as a distinct faculty standing alongside the memory and intellect in a human mental triad reflective of the Holy Trinity. 16 The three faculties work in conjunction with each other to accomplish cognition with the will serving a primary directive role throughout the process. 17 Operating from his novel psychological method, Augustine derived a theory of will independent of previous doctrines, “and seems to mark

Dihle, 122. “These fundamental assumptions precluded the transference of the notion of will, which had been invented to attain an adequate description of the unfolding of reality, from theology and ontology to the field of Biblical anthropology, ethics, and soteriology.” Dihle, 123. 15 Dihle, 125. 16 Dihle, 125. 17 Dihle, 126. 13 14



a turning point in the history of theological reasoning.” 18 His new notion of will could be applied equally to God and to humans, and so was capable of providing the mechanism by which humans could respond to the voluntaristic presentation of the biblical God and His commandments. Dihle identifies the key distinction in Augustine’s theory, which marks him off from previous thought, as the priority and independence of the will with respect to the intellect. From St. Augustine’s reflections emerged the concept of a human will, prior to and independent of the act of intellectual cognition, yet fundamentally different from sensual and irrational emotion, by which man can give his reply to the inexplicable utterances of the divine will… It is mainly through this entirely new concept of his own self that St. Augustine superseded the conceptual system of Greco-Roman culture. 19

The autonomy that Augustine saw in the will permeated the rest of his anthropological and theological thought and deeply informed his approach to the central question of salvation. “Yet the most important topic of St. Augustine’s theology in which the new concept of will became prominent was his doctrine of freedom, grace, and salvation.” 20 From Augustine’s controversy with the Pelagians, we can see the significance he placed on the will’s original freedom and postlapsarian corruption. Because the will is a primary and autonomous faculty of the human person, its corrupt state cannot be rectified by the natural efforts of the other faculties. Rather, divine grace alone is capable of restoring the corrupt will to its original freedom. Because the will is “the most important factor of human nature,” this gracious restoration of the will must necessarily “precede all intellectual, moral, or practical efforts of man.” 21 Following such restoration, which is “unpredictable, inexplicable, and not to be provoked or influenced by human activity,” the human will is

Dihle, 127. Dihle, 127. 20 Dihle, 129. 21 Dihle, 130–1. 18 19



again free and even more free to pursue the good than its original condition. 22 According to Dihle, St. Augustine’s account thus distinguished the will as distinct from and prior to the intellect, established the will as the faculty of primary importance for the purpose of attaining communion with God (ÊÑ̾Éţ¸) through obedience, and articulated in just what sense the human will is free, enslaved, and again liberated. This theory originates the modern notion of will and demarcates its inception from out of the background of ancient philosophy. “It is generally accepted in the study of the history of philosophy that the notion of will, as it is used as a tool of analysis and description in many philosophical doctrines from the early Scholastics to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, was invented by St. Augustine.” 23 Dihle confidently credits Augustine with the invention of free will, both as an independent faculty and with an articulation of its freedom. But, as Jared Diamond notes (in a completely different context), “Whenever some scientist [sc. historian] claims to have discovered ‘the earliest X’…that announcement challenges other scientists [sc. historians] to beat the claim by finding something still earlier.” 24 This certainly holds here, as Dihle’s has been challenged by several scholars, each pointing out various aspects of the theory that were developed by earlier philosophers. 25 This book also aims Dihle, 131. Dihle, 123; cf. 144. 24 Jared M. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 1999). 25 I will briefly discuss here Frede, Kahn, and Sorabji, but see also Mansfeld and Sedley on the question of the psychological faculty of will. C. Kahn, “Discovering the Will,” in The Question of “Eclecticism”: Studies in Later Greek Philosophy, ed. John Dillon and A. A. Long (Berkeley: UC Press, 1988); Richard Sorabji, “Freedom and Will: Graeco-Roman Origins,” in Selfhood and the Soul: Essays on Ancient Thought and Literature in Honour of Christopher Gill, ed. Richard Seaford, John Wilkins, and Matthew Wright (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); Richard Sorabji, “A Neglected Strategy of the Aristotelian Alexander on Necessity and Responsibility,” in Rereading Ancient Philosophy, Old Chestnuts and Sacred 22 23



to demonstrate an earlier instance of free will in Alexander and Clement at the end of the second century. But more importantly than simply finding an earlier specimen, I hope here to show how this earlier version of free will was different from Augustine’s, and to hint at the significance of such a different theory’s influence on subsequent Greek Christianity, as opposed to Augustine’s obvious influence on the Latin world. But first, we should consider the criticisms to Dihle’s claim.

MICHAEL FREDE The approaches of both Zizioulas and Dihle, though differing substantially from each other, located the origin of the concepts of human freedom and will in specifically Christian thought. Frede’s approach to the development of free will agrees with these two in the recognition that classical philosophy did not have a notion of the will or of freedom in a psychological sense, but his conclusion is very different. Frede’s treatment of this issue is helpful particularly in pursuing a clarification of the various kinds of freedom and the various kinds of will that might have been developed in addition to or as predecessors to the distinctly Augustinian will. In his introductory lecture, Frede pointed out that Augustine’s account of the will is by no means the only theory that was developed in antiquity nor the only one accepted by moderns. 26 He then proceeds to produce a historical account of variety in the development of ancient concepts of free will which eventually included that of Augustine. Frede specified that while he was pursuing this question without any particular preference for what kind of free will should be Cows, ed. Verity Harte and Raphael Woolf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Richard Sorabji, “Emotion and Peace of Mind from Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation,” in The Gifford lectures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Jaap Mansfeld, “The Idea of Will in Chrysippus, Posidonius and Galen,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 7, no. 1 (1991): 107–45; D. N. Sedley, “Commentary on Jaap Mansfeld,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 7, no. 1 (1991): 146–57. 26 Frede, 5–6.



considered the right kind of free will, he did assume a very general “schema” under which an idea of free will may be recognizable as such. 27 According to this schema there must first be some operation or event in the mind which is characterizable as a ‘will’ and is somehow responsible for human action; then there must also be some notion of freedom which is predicable of that notion of will. Frede points out that not all concepts of will must be free, but that if one is to hold a concept of free will, one must somehow be able to combine these two notions of a will and of freedom. This insight, as obvious as it might appear after having read it, is an extremely important contribution to the study of free will’s ancient development since it opens up the record of ancient thought to analysis on both of these fronts. Thus, throughout his study Frede was able to broadly trace the development of the will in both the Stoic model of a unitary soul and the Platonic/Peripatetic tripartite soul. Likewise he was able to take note of ancient concepts of freedom both compatible and incompatible with notions of fate or predetermination. Furthermore, Frede’s account does not assert any one stage of development as a radical reformulation of ancient psychology but is capable of grasping the assemblage of preceding components into subsequent conclusions. Frede identifies Epictetus as the philosopher with the first notion of a will because Epictetus was the first to articulate our responsibility for a mental event by which we choose to pursue a particular intention. 28 Epictetus’ account has us assenting to impulsive phantasiai on the basis of our ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË for which we are responsible and which Frede understands as “the will.” 29 This is not different from previous Stoic thought in any significant doctrinal Frede, 6–8. Frede, 42–48. 29 Frede, 8, 46. This, of course, does not imply that within Epictetus’ Stoic psychological model the will (ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË) is distinct or separate from the intellect. Rather Frede observes that this operation of the soul fulfills the function that a will is supposed to have. I will follow Frede’s method of identifying the function of a will in my analysis of Alexander and Clement, since like Epictetus and unlike Augustine, they do not posit a will as distinct from intellect. 27 28



way, but only insofar as Epictetus specifies that our choice is for an intention and not necessarily responsible for the intention’s fulfillment—earlier Stoics very well could have agreed with him. 30 Thus, Frede identifies the will in Epictetus as ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË and not ¹Çŧ¾ÊÀË as an indication that the intentions that we pursue are the consequences of our ability to choose these intentions for ourselves. 31 It is for this reason that, according to Epictetus, we bear responsibility for our ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË and, according to Frede, that this theory of ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË constitutes a theory of the will. 32 According to Frede, Epictetus’ novel use of the term ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË is different from Aristotle’s use of the same. 33 For many reasons Aristotle’s psychology of action does not include a concept of the will. Most important of these is the fact that Aristotle does not posit any mental event distinct from the intellect for which we are responsible and by which we determine which intention we will pursue. Aristotle’s understanding of ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË as choice is certainly a mental event for whose object we are responsible, but it is not the choice of an intention as in Epictetus; rather Aristotle’s choice is for particular actions to be taken in pursuit of a previously assumed intention or ¹Çŧ¾ÊÀË. 34 As Frede argues, Aristotle understood our intentions and rational desires as direct products of our intellect, and so not the products of any identifiable will. 35 Frede, 45. By using the word “intentions” here for Frede’s “willings,” I signify no disagreement, but am only trying to avoid confusion in the present simplified context. 32 Frede, 46. 33 Compare Frede’s discussion of Epictetus, 42–8, to that of Aristotle, 26–30. 34 “But intention (¹Çŧ¾ÊÀË) is rather for an end, while choice (ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË) is for those things ordered towards the end.” NE 3.2 1111b6–7; “We deliberate not about ends but about those things that lead toward ends.” NE 3.3 1112b12–17; “For the end is not subject to deliberation, but the means to the end [are].” NE 3.3 1112b33–4; “What is deliberated about and chosen are the same…for this is what follows from intention.” NE 3.3 1113a2–5. 35 Frede, 25–6. 30 31



According to Frede, Epictetus added to his version of the will (ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË) a particularly Stoic notion of freedom (ë¼Ϳ¼Éţ¸, ¸ĤÌÇÈɸºţ¸). It is important to note that this Stoic view of freedom is significantly different from modern libertarian, indeterminist, or existentialist ideas of freedom. This view of freedom bears no implication of an ability to do otherwise, of any ‘two-sided,’ indeterminist ability to choose or not choose what we do in fact choose. 36 Nonetheless, it was a clear and explicit account of freedom consistent with Stoic thought. Frede described Epictetus’ understanding of freedom as an ability of humans, “unlike other animals’, to do the things that need to be done solely guided and motivated by our own understanding of things, rather than just being made to do things.” 37 Humans can be free because they can knowingly follow their own intentions in pursuing their own courses of action. But Epictetus did not think that absolutely everyone was in fact free. Rather, freedom is an attribute of the wise who alone correctly understand the divine management of the cosmos and correctly participate in that management. 38 He connected this understanding of freedom to his understanding of the will (ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË) through the traditional Stoic mechanism of assent. Those who have a pure will and are thus wise cannot be forced by anything external to themselves to give assent to phantasiai and so to intend to pursue any given course of action. On the other hand, those who have enslaved themselves to various passions through inaccurate assent will be forced by the various phantasiai to give assent and so to pursue what they will pursue. In this view, freedom of the will is certainly possible, but only enjoyed by those who are wise and are so able to direct their own assent and intention according to their own understanding of the correct and divine management of the world. 39 For this reason Frede paraphrases Epictetus’ statement in

I discuss Bobzien’s distinction between the ‘one-sided’ causal view of responsibility and the ‘two-sided’ potestative view more fully below, pages 124, 148, 157, 263. 37 Frede, 74. 38 Frede, 73–6. 39 Frede, 76–80. 36



the Discourses, “that he wishes it to be his main concern, up to the very last moment of his life that his will be free.” 40 Unlike Dihle who presented Augustine as a radical innovator in the ‘invention’ of the will, Frede concludes that, a few centuries before Augustine, Epictetus was the first not to ‘invent’ free will but to combine a notion of freedom with a notion of the will. Frede however recognized that each of these notions had an independent development after Epictetus, and this insight equally serves as a call for further research into the various stages in the developments of both freedom and of will.

CHARLES KAHN AND RICHARD SORABJI Toward this end, Charles Kahn had already pointed out in 1988 the ‘eclectic’ nature of the will’s development in ancient philosophy. 41 In each of four major developments toward a full-fledged theory of will, philosophers had combined, adopted, and adapted components of previous theories in order to suit their own concerns. In Kahn’s view, Augustine remains eminent in his unifying several psychological functions and ethical concerns around a single theory of the will, yet this remains not so much an invention as a combination of previous combinations. Similarly, Richard Sorabji presents Augustine’s role in the history of the will as one of collecting and organizing into a unified theory several distinct clusters of previously developed concepts and concerns. While Augustine again gets credit for this novel theory of will, it is not as inventor, but as collector. On the other side of things, Sorabji notes that plenty of scholars have surveyed the evidence for other kinds of will in several philosophers prior to Augustine. 42 From Plato all the way through to Maximus the ConFrede, 76; Epictetus, Disc. 3.5.7. Kahn, Discovering the Will. 42 Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind, 319. To the above list of scholars in note 25, Sorabji adds Terence Irwin, “Who Discovered the Will?,” Philosophical Perspectives 6, (1992): 453–73; Neal Gilbert, “The Concept of Will in Early Latin Philosophy,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1, no. 1 (1963): 17–35; M. Pohlenz, Die Stoa; Geschichte Einer Geistigen Bewegung, 2 vols. (Goࡇttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1948), 40 41



fessor, or the later John Damascene, or even later in Thomas Aquinas, ‘The’ will was invented, discovered, assembled, or appropriated far too many times to adequately keep track of. Fortunately, however, each time a modern scholar uncovers a new theory of will in an ancient author, along with it comes a new set of functions, components, and connections to other aspects of ancient psychology that further illuminates our understanding of this complicated history. The scholarship just mentioned, and especially the published Sather Lectures by Dihle and Frede are, of course, immensely valuable for charting many important developments and contrasts in the history of free will. However, their work is more helpful for understanding the eventual theory of Augustine, so prominent in the later Western European tradition, and perhaps less so for understanding subsequent Greek thought on free will. A primary disagreement between the two lecturers’ theses is simply whether Augustine’s should be considered the first theory of free will, and so necessarily the scope of their presentations remained organized around certain eventualities in Augustine’s theory. This is quite understandable. Augustine figures prominently in these accounts because his theory is the first to explicitly describe the functioning of this new distinct faculty called ‘the will,’ and because of his obvious significance in later European thought through his influence over the Latin-speaking Church. But what might be less obvious is his lesser significance on the Greek-speaking Church and subsequent Greek thought generally. Frede did in fact devote a chapter each to Alexander of Aphrodisias and to Origen of Alexandria, two Greek thinkers standing quite apart from the trajectory leading to Augustine’s eventual theory, particularly because of their indeterminism. But neither of these ancient Greek authors were very central to Frede’s project. While strongly criticizing Alexander, Frede insightfully used Origen primarily to highlight certain contrasting features in Augustine. It is my intention here to more fully develop the indeterminist trajectory of free will common to these very un-Augustinian think141–53, 319. Charles Kahn adds the significance of John Damascene and Thomas Aquinas.



ers. While Alexander of Aphrodisias will figure prominently in this book, instead of focusing on Origen himself, I will analyze the writings of Clement, Origen’s predecessor at the intellectual center of Christian Alexandria. Nonetheless, after this analysis of Clement, I will return to a very brief comparison of free will in Clement and Origen at the conclusion of this book. There has certainly been plenty of scholarship on Clement, generally, but his technical contributions to the indeterminist understanding of free will in Greek Christianity need to be more fully considered in close conversation with Alexander and within this larger narrative specifically concerning the history of free will. Clement’s contributions to the development of free will have remained virtually ignored in the several studies mentioned above, and perhaps for understandable reasons. As a Christian catechist, Clement has not been recognized as a professional philosopher of the same status as his rough contemporary Alexander, or as the other illustrious names winning the attention of ancient philosophy scholarship. He did not write any major work focused on the specific terms ë¼Ϳ¼Éţ¸, ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË, or ¹Çŧ¾ÊÀË, etc. His writings are very specifically Christian and are not organized around formal philosophical arguments or the traditional philosophical topics or questions. Nonetheless, Clement played a significant role in the development of ideas concerning freedom and the will particularly through his epistemological teachings centered around ÈţÊÌÀË, faith, and their influence on the emerging Christian theology of the Alexandrian school. In Clement’s particular understanding of faith one can see a psychological function that easily fits within the cluster of concepts normally associated with investigations of the will—a mental event for which one is responsible and which determines what kind of intentions one will pursue. Additionally, one can see in Clement’s doctrine of faith a clear emphasis on indeterminist freedom to do otherwise, similar to, but not a copy of, that of Alexander of Aphrodisias. Clement’s doctrine of faith then presents us with the earliest and most substantially developed Christian position, certainly not on the will, but more importantly on human freedom itself. Interestingly, then, for the sake of arguing the initial question of free will’s origin, the indeterminism of Alexander is shared just as strongly by his contemporary Clement, albeit in different and explicitly Christian vocabulary; and so whether the specifically indeterminist version of free will should go to the Peripa-



tetic or to the Christian seems rather too close, chronologically, to call. Alexander’s writing—and Clement’s, although perhaps Alexander’s view on this particular point has been better documented by scholars so far—is certainly an interesting case in the history of free will since he argues for human freedom and selfdetermination, but without any will identifiable as a distinct faculty. This stands in contrast most especially to Augustine’s theory which serves as the conceptual goal line of Dihle’s study and the several academic responses mentioned above. One might ask of course whether it is possible for a theory of free will to not include a distinct faculty of will, but such a question reveals a significant bias in the approach of the researcher. As Frede observes in response to Dihle, Epictetus did develop a theory of will, even though it differed from Augustine on this very point. Augustine is commonly recognized as the first to systematically posit the will as a distinct faculty, and so any inquiry specifically focusing on free will’s development necessarily becomes an inquiry into those developments culminating in Augustine’s own theory. The prominence of this Augustinian telos remains noteworthy. 43 But Augustine’s theory of free will was itself only one possible answer to a whole host of philosophical questions that had been shared by philosophers for centuries. We could just as well inquire not into the eventual development of this particular answer, but rather into the various trajectories taken by the several related questions leading both to Augustine’s answer—dominant in the Western Latin Tradition—and also to answers of a very different kind in the Eastern Greek Tradition. Such will be the approach of this book, not as a general history of free will, but as an analysis of two Greek answers to the questions of determinism, responsibility, and moral progress shared pervasively by thinkers of the Greco-Roman world. Clement and Alexander share many interesting features with each other and differ most substantially from Augustine in their lack of a will as a distinct faculty and in their notion of an indeterminist freedom to do otherwise which endures throughout the whole of a person’s 43

Above, notes 25, 41, and 42.



life. Here I agree with Frede’s method of locating the function of willing, rather than a particular faculty’s distinction from intellect. Thus, in analyzing Clement and Alexander in the following pages, I am more interested in their significant contributions to free will—to notions of freedom and responsibility in human actions and moral progress—than their contributions to a theory of the will as a distinct faculty of the soul. This is most obviously because neither Clement nor Alexander posits the existence of a will at all. But far from making these authors irrelevant to the development of free will, their insistence upon human freedom—of an indeterminist sort very different from that dealt with in the above studies— without any concern for inventing a new psychic faculty stands out in tremendous contrast to the ‘standard’ Augustinian theory at the center of so many histories of free will’s development. Recognizing this other type of free will formulated by Clement and Alexander long before Augustine should also prove fruitful for better understanding the subsequent diversions of the Greek and Latin intellectual traditions. In ancient terminology, the indeterminist freedom to do otherwise developed by Alexander and Clement would probably not be considered freedom at all because it is not defined by one’s pursuit of the good but by one’s being unpredetermined in one’s actions. This is a very different kind of freedom than the traditional Stoic view emphasized by Epictetus and adapted by Augustine, and this is probably why Clement and Alexander do not speak of it in terms of ë¼Ϳ¼Éţ¸ but as Ìġ ¸Ĥ̼ÆÇŧÊÀÇÅ, ‘authority over oneself.’ This kind of freedom from predetermination is perhaps more like the ‘ordinary’ non-philosophical meaning of the modern English term ‘freedom,’ which does not necessarily include an orientation toward the good but only specifies freedom from constraint. As such, this kind of freedom, in both Clement and Alexander, is only the potential for and not the fulfillment of one’s pursuit of the good. They each have language for virtue, rationality, and salvation, which they would consider the proper fulfillment of one’s freedom, and which Epictetus and Augustine would consider to be one’s real freedom. But for Alexander and Clement this freedom to do otherwise is not the end of moral progress but only the beginning. They developed it not as the telos to be pursued but as the guarantee for both the responsibility and the possibility of attaining the telos.



In this they again differ strikingly from the traditional Stoic and Augustinian view. Because humans are ¸Ĥ̼ÆÇŧÊÀÇÀ, all humans are explicitly capable of making moral progress. Both Clement and Alexander reject the Stoic implication, retained by Augustine, that exceedingly few humans can in principle attain the good. Instead, since humans possess an authority over themselves that is not bound by any predetermining factors, all humans are in principle ‘free’ to make choices that will result in moral progress or its opposite. This universal potential for moral progress certainly plays a major role in the theories of these two authors. That they share this concern with each other despite their very different scholastic affiliations is a good indication of its wider importance at the end of the second century, and of the fact that at least some Greek audiences saw this access limited within the traditional Stoic framework.


To return to the initial question of free will’s origin, it is evident that Epictetus and Augustine may each be seen as originators of free will—one pagan, one Christian—depending of course upon what kind of a free will one seeks the origin of. But wedged in between the two at the end of the second century, one finds the thought of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Clement of Alexandria— again one a pagan, and one a Christian—each developing a rather different indeterminist understanding of freedom and opposing it to traditional determinism. This kind of free will is just as important as Augustine’s for our understanding of subsequent theological and philosophical debates. The thought and writing of Clement was far more influential in the intellectual development of Greek-speaking Christians—through his catechetical influence on Alexandrian theology, biblical exegesis, Egyptian monasticism, etc.—than that of Augustine whom the Greeks read rarely. It is also important to recognize that neither Alexander nor Clement



called their theories ‘free will,’ any more than Epictetus did. 44 The starkly binary question of whether free will was in fact a product of Christian or non-Christian thought might fade from prominence through this comparison of Alexander and Clement. It seems, rather, that the questions and answers that led to the development of a notion of free will were rather shared in common by both Christian and non-Christian thinkers of the Roman era.

The phrase ‘libera voluntas,’ initiated by Lucretius in the first century BCE, was later made popular in Latin Christian discourse by Augustine. 44

CHAPTER TWO. THE HELLENISTIC BACKGROUND This book is generally about the development of a particular kind of ‘free will.’ But like any investigation of some particular stage in a concept’s development, selecting the right terms to use is a daunting task. Prior to the development of the concepts and terminology of ‘free will’—whether those put forward by Dihle and Frede, or those presented here—it is not possible to speak of the matter in those terms. Instead, other terms must be used to discuss the prior philosophical context. In this case, the prior context from which concepts of free will emerged was the competition among Hellenistic philosophical schools to frame the most coherent and compelling account of how one may attain the good life. This competition continued into the Roman and even Late Antique periods, and it is in the context of such competition that our present two authors, Alexander and Clement, articulated their own doctrines. Within this competition, the basic problem was to explain what a good life is, what a person can do to attain it, and how the study of philosophy can be of help in this pursuit. But just how much control one has over one’s own prospects in life is quite a daunting matter to settle. And so Hellenistic philosophers tended to define the goal of life in ways that would highlight its attainability by those choosing to study philosophy. Inevitably, a successful philosopher would need to harmonize some view of personal responsibility with a comprehensive account of the uncontrollable forces and changes that permeate the world. Thus the problem of reconciling determinism (whether fate or providence) and responsibility became central to philosophical polemics.




The Hellenistic legacy for post-Hellenistic philosophy contained basically two positions on providence, fate, or determinism in general: the atheistic indeterminism of the Epicureans, and the theistic determinism of the Stoics. 1 This is wonderfully ironic since Clement, Origen, and other Greek Christians would eventually champion an indeterminist view of human freedom in direct contradiction to the deep Stoic influences upon them, and without of course subscribing to the ‘atheism’ of Epicurus. This about-face regarding determinism within the Christian tradition is first explicitly evident with Clement and can be best appreciated by contrasting his position with that of his Alexandrian predecessor Philo by whom he was widely influenced in so many other areas. Alexander’s assertion of indeterminism is much less surprising since his Peripatetic tradition cannot be easily categorized alongside either Epicurean or Stoic views. Nonetheless, its publication within about a decade of Clement’s writings, together with its strong similarity to Clement’s in function and polemical purpose mark this period at This of course is a gross simplification, but will have to do for the sake of this general orientation. For more detailed studies, see Jeffrey S. Purinton, “Epicurus on ‘Free Volition’ and the Atomic Swerve,” Phronesis 44, no. 4 (1999); Tim O’Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); David J. Furley, Two Studies in the Greek Atomists: Study I, Indivisible Magnitudes; Study II, Aristotle and Epicurus on Voluntary Action (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967); A. A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); A. A. Long, “The Stoic Concept of Evil,” Philosophical Quarterly, (1967); Anthony A. Long, “Early Stoic Concept of Moral Choice,” in Images of Man in Ancient and Medieval Thought (Leuven: Leuven Univ Pr, 1976); Susanne Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Susanne Bobzien, “Did Epicurus Discover the Free Will Problem?,” in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Volume XIX (New York: Oxford Univ Pr, 2000); R. W. Sharples, “Soft Determinism and Freedom in Early Stoicism,” Phronesis: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy 31, (1986); Brad Inwood, “Stoic Determinism,” The Classical Review 50, no. 2 (2000); David Winston, “Freedom and Determinism in Philo of Alexandria,” Studia Philonica 3, (1976). 1



the end of the second century CE as quite significant for the history of indeterminism and therefore of free will as well. Here I think it will be helpful to outline some of the most important issues concerning determinism leading eventually to the views of Clement and Alexander. Foremost is the recognition that in Hellenistic and Post-Hellenistic philosophy, discussions of determinism were oriented squarely within those of ethics, such that both determinism and indeterminism served within their respective systems to ground the possibility of achieving happiness through the study and practice of philosophy. Thus, if we were to ask what the point is of talking about determinism and freedom, the answer would be to equip ourselves for the pursuit and attainment of happiness. Second is the connection between ethics and epistemology. For philosophers in this era, one’s progress toward happiness was directly tied to the accuracy of one’s thoughts. Thus, one’s success at attaining a happy life will depend primarily on one’s accurately understanding human responsibility, along with all the implications responsibility has for determinism and freedom. We can see, then, the importance of this question of determinism in ancient philosophy, that these arguments about determinism, freedom, and responsibility were primarily about how we can attain happiness, the agreed-upon (mutatis mutandis) goal of human life. Setting the stage for the later debates, the ancient Epicureans and Stoics both taught that attaining happiness is possible and that it depends upon the individual. More specifically, they both taught that one’s attaining happiness depends upon one’s having accurate knowledge of how the world works. And perhaps most importantly, each school advertised its own teachings as the superior path toward attaining the accurate knowledge that would enable an individual to find happiness. That is where these general similarities seem to end, however. Each school defined happiness very differently from the other, each thought that the world worked in a very different way, and thus each asserted a very different content of accurate knowledge and consequently a very different path toward happiness for its philosophical adherents. With the Stoic view that our happiness is dependent upon our knowing and identifying with the providential arrangement of the world, we can contrast its opposite, the Epicurean view that our happiness is dependent upon our knowing that there is absolutely no providential action or arrangement of the world. These two ap-



proaches to happiness agree more profoundly than they disagree: in both cases our happiness is dependent upon the accuracy of our knowledge; it just so happens that these two views present us with opposite claims about what the content of accurate knowledge is. To these polar views a third can be added in further paradoxical agreement: the Academic view that our happiness is dependent upon our knowing that we do not and cannot know accurately. As paradoxical as this threefold antithetical agreement might seem, in these three views we can see the Hellenistic spectrum of approaches to happiness. They each relate happiness to knowledge, but they each present a radically different claim about what it is that one’s knowledge is supposed to know. The role of knowledge here is key for understanding the Hellenistic and later the Roman discussions of determinism and human agency. In short, the Epicurean rejection of providence was attacked by Stoics for making comprehensive, accurate knowledge, and thus happiness, impossible. The Stoics insisted that the comprehensive and accurate knowledge required for attaining happiness could not allow for the possibility of uncaused motion in the world. And according to them, if all things are caused, then all things have been predetermined by (benevolent) fate. Consequently, the operation of fate is necessary for guaranteeing the possibility of accurate knowledge and therefore moral progress and happiness as well. This Stoic position eventually became very influential in the later Platonic ‘return’ to the Old (dogmatic) Academy during and after the first century BCE. Thus, for both Stoics and MiddlePlatonists, the dominant attitude toward determinism was positive. The world is controlled by a benevolent god whose control of all things guarantees that humans are capable of grasping the nature of the world and thereby living in harmony with it: universal determinism is an aide, not a hindrance, to human happiness. This tension between the Stoic and Epicurean accounts of human agency, knowledge, and happiness helps to explain why Hellenistic and subsequent philosophers were so motivated to harmonize the received notions of determinism, providence, fate, and human responsibility. Because the schools implicitly agreed that our attaining happiness must be up to us and must depend upon our having accurate knowledge, the nexus of issues relating to epistemology and human agency became closely intertwined with those of cosmology and general causality. Furthermore, for Hellen-



istic philosophers and their successors in the Roman period, discussions about determinism and responsibility, like all other segments of philosophy, were really concerned with explaining how happiness might be attained by the philosopher. Consequently, if a school could not sufficiently harmonize these accounts, it could easily be discredited as a viable program for attaining happiness. For example, it is on this criterion that Cicero (in De Finibus) guides his nephew through an evaluation of the philosophical options available in first-century Athens. 2 Clement and Alexander differ most sharply from Epictetus and Augustine in holding an indeterminist view of human responsibility, such that humans are ‘free to do otherwise’ in an indeterminist sense. This seems a novel position at the time, at least in its explication. Their view shares Epicurus’ concern to free humans from determinism, so that humans are primarily responsible for their own moral progress, but they share little else with the Epicurean view. The difference between Clement’s indeterminism and traditional Stoic determinism is so interesting because his general philosophical outlook is so strongly influenced by, via MiddlePlatonism and especially Philo, that same Stoic tradition. Thus much remains the same between Clement’s view of moral progress and that of Stoicism. Happiness depends upon virtue, and that upon accurate knowledge of and harmony with logos. And furthermore, this process all remains well within the scope of God’s benevolent providence, again as with Stoicism. So why was it necessary for Clement to work an about-face on the questions of responsibility and freedom, from the traditional determinist understanding of Philo and many earlier philosophers to this novel indeterminist understanding? And why was it at this same point in time that Alexander also published a clear articulation of his version of indeterminist freedom to do otherwise? Much of this book will simply be documenting and analyzing the positions of Clement and Alexander themselves, and exhaustive answers to these questions cannot yet be complete. But in order to at Marcus Tullius Cicero and H. Rackham, De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum, 2nd ed., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931). 2



least sketch the beginnings of answers to these questions, it will be necessary to consider some of the main concerns of the Hellenistic and Middle-Platonic discussions of fate and responsibility. This background material will help to contextualize the indeterminist novelty of Clement and Alexander, and also begin to explain why an indeterminist sense of freedom and responsibility became such an important point to defend for Alexander and among early Greek Christians. I will first touch very briefly on the ethical function of indeterminism and determinism in Epicureanism and Stoicism, as the Stoic position especially was so influential on all Post-Hellenistic traditions, including those of Alexander and Clement. In the next *two chapters, I will spend a little more time on some MiddlePlatonic developments that were crucial for the eventual positions of Clement and Alexander.

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT BELIEVE IN DETERMINISM: EPICURUS (341–270 BCE) At the beginning of the Hellenistic period, Epicurus made a clear case against determinism in both its theological (providence) and naturalistic (fate) forms. He did this in order to explicitly affirm the unique importance of one’s own agency in pursuing and attaining a good life. A brief look at Epicurus’ account of human agency, his understanding of happiness or the good life, and his insistence that if the world were predetermined then humans would be incapable of pursuing happiness will, therefore, help set the stage for the rest of this book. Alexander of Aphrodisias developed his own position in his treatise On Fate directly against the Stoic tradition which was in turn diametrically opposed to this Epicurean view. For Epicurus, the point of philosophy was to enable the philosopher to attain the good life. Epicurus’ philosophy rested on an empirical ‘common sense’ approach to the good: the good is pleasure because pleasure is what we instinctively desire and pursue. 3 A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, 2 vols. (Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 21A.2. (=Cicero, Fin. 1.29–32). Hereafter cited as L&S. 3



The point of life is therefore to maximize pleasure, and philosophy is useful only insofar as it facilitates this purpose. “Empty are the words of that philosopher who offers therapy for no human suffering. For just as there is no use in medical expertise if it does not give therapy for bodily diseases, so too there is no use in philosophy if it does not expel the suffering of the soul.” 4 Epicurus was aware that there is a great deal of distress among people regarding the attainment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain and he aimed his philosophy at alleviating this distress. Because he identified pleasure with the absence of distress, he taught that simply eliminating physical and mental distresses was the maximizing of pleasure. 5 For physical pleasure, the basic provision of bodily necessities was sufficient and further indulgence of the appetites would not lead to greater pleasure. Fortunately for Epicurus (and his circle), this minimal physical provision was not terribly difficult. “Whatever is natural is easily procured, and only the vain and worthless hard to win.” 6 For attaining mental pleasure, it is necessary to identify the main sources of distress and address them directly. Epicurus realized that the primary cause of mental distress for many people is their fear of not attaining pleasure due to the eternity of death and the punishment of the gods (heavenly bodies). The greatest anxiety of the human mind arises through the belief that the heavenly bodies are blessed and indestructible, and that at the same time they have volition and actions and causality inconsistent with this belief; and through expecting or apprehending some everlasting evil, either because of the myths, or because we are in dread of the mere insensibility of death, as if it had to do with us. 7


Sedley’s Translation, L&S 25C (Porphyry, To Marcella 31 = Usener

221). L&S 21A.6 (Cicero, Fin. 1.37–9). Hicks’ Translation: To Menoeceus, 130.9–10. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, trans., Robert Drew Hicks, 2 vols., The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925). 7 Hicks’ Translation: To Herodotus, 81.1–7. 5 6



There are two reasons for this anxiety. First is the idea that the gods have ‘volition, action, and causality’ and use this capacity to punish people in the afterlife according to the popular religious myths of Epicurus’ day. Second, on the opposite view of death as total insensibility, is the erroneous idea that insensibility itself counts as an evil. The power of this two-fold anxiety lies in the everlastingness of death which give the fears of divine punishment and insensibility an eternal duration. The expectation of such an “everlasting evil” would certainly be the worst possible fear and the source of an understandable magnitude of distress. In order to succeed at his stated goal for philosophy, the attainment of pleasure, Epicurus needed to successfully disarm these two chief anxieties about death. He does this by appealing to an understanding of natural science. Epicurus held a causal view of knowledge; the state of knowing causes happiness and the state of ignorance causes distress. By understanding how the world operates, the philosopher will be freed from distress and consequently attain pleasure. For this reason, natural science is important for disarming the irrational dread that distresses the ignorant. Epicurus wrote in his Letter to Herodotus that people are subjected to fears, …not by conviction, but by a certain irrational perversity… Hence we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions…and all the clear evidence available… For by studying them we shall rightly trace to its cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread, accounting for the celestial phenomena and for all other things which…cause the utmost alarm to the rest of mankind. 8

In this passage Epicurus is claiming that by studying the clear evidence of feelings and sense perceptions, the philosopher will be able to explain away both the fear of death as insensibility and the fear of divine punishment. It is clear from this that an understanding of the world is necessary for the attainment of happiness and that human happiness, therefore, depends upon the world’s intelligibility. Still, for Epicurus this intelligibility did not imply a universal cause, as will be discussed below. 8

Hicks’ Translation: To Herodotus, 81.7–82.10.



Epicurus did not advocate a merely casual knowledge of basic physics, but a life of intentional meditation. He insists throughout his letters that his readers should meditate on his teachings and take them to heart as instructions for attaining the good life. “Meditate therefore on these things…night and day… and never shall you be disturbed waking or asleep, but you shall live like a god among men.” 9 This insistence on repetition and rumination shows the integrative value of knowledge for attaining pleasure. The knower is empowered to attain pleasure through the act of integrating one’s knowledge of the real into one’s basic outlook on life enacted through one’s activities. We can see in this his view that the good, as pleasure, is an internal goal attained by one’s attention to one’s own habits of thought. As in the other Hellenistic schools discussed in subsequent sections, the attainment of the good is a fully internal possibility and does not depend on anything outside the human being. Epicurus disarms the two anxieties about death in his Letter to Menoeceus. First, the fear of death’s insensibility was easy for Epicurus to handle due to his identification of pleasure as the absence of pain. Since both pleasure and pain need an experiencing subject in order for them to exist, the onset of death as the annihilation of the subject guarantees the impossibility of pain and therefore the needlessness of fearing death. Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness… For life has no terror for those who thoroughly

To Menoeceus, 135.5–9. Cf. “We must then meditate on the things that make our happiness…The things which I used unceasingly to commend to you, these do and practice, considering them to be the first principles of the good life.” To Menoeceus, 122.9–123.2. “…But peace of mind is being delivered from all this, and having a constant memory of the general and most essential principles.” To Herodotus, 82.1–3. Bailey’s translations; Epicurus and Cyril Bailey, Epicurus, the Extant Remains (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926). 9


FATE, FREEDOM, AND HAPPINESS apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live. 10

Because there cannot be pain where there is no awareness, Epicurus argues that there is nothing to fear in death which is the absence of awareness. Furthermore, by meditating on this truth, the philosopher acts as his or her own agent in dissolving the fear that normally surrounds death. In this way, the Epicurean’s act of meditating on what is known is the cause of the Epicurean’s happiness, such that all anxiety can be dispensed with since the attainment of happiness is solely up to the Epicurean. Epicurus dismissed the second aspect of the fear of death through his cosmological rejection of divine agency or teleology. This rejection was motivated by Epicurus’ concern to alleviate the erroneous fear of divine punishment and results in his fundamental ethical conclusion that happiness does not come through chance, necessity or providence, but is solely up to us. There are three main strains of his argument against divine intervention or providence. 11 1) The infinitude and imperfection of the world shows that the world is in fact too big to be managed by a god. 2) The argument from design, so prominent in Plato, is simply a false analogy with And further, “Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.” Hicks’ translation; To Menoeceus, 124.7–125.10. 11 Due to the loss of so many of Epicurus’ texts, the reconstruction of his arguments against divine agency requires evidence from Lucretius and other later writers. David Sedley has categorized the arguments into five components, L&S, 63–4: a) It would be impossible for a god to control the world since there is in fact an infinite number of worlds. b) The imperishable and blessed nature of the gods is incompatible with the mundane stresses of caring for the world. c) The idea of creation begs too many further questions regarding time, means, and motivation to be a satisfactory explanation. d) Reading teleological design into animal limbs and organs has no empirical basis, but results from “a false analogy with artefacts.” e) The imperfection of the world and the existence of evil disproves providence. 10



human artifacts. Artifacts are fashioned to fulfill the preexisting intentions of the artificer, whereas natural body parts come about at random and only later come to fulfill certain functions through necessity and practice. There is, rather, no empirical basis for believing that the gods interact with our world. 12 3) The most important argument against divine agency—for Epicurus’ own goal of alleviating anxiety—is that the blessed and impassible nature of the gods is incompatible with any care about, and therefore intervention in, the world. That a god would care about the world would imply that the god were concerned about some loss or some threat, and therefore not really so blessed as divine nature requires. This inconsistency inherent in the idea of divine intervention would itself be enough to cause distress for people, since Epicurus believed that confusion causes distress. But what is much worse for the purpose of tranquility is the possibility of vengeful deities purposefully intervening in the world to cause human suffering. 13 When this error is combined with the mistaken belief that death is an everlasting state, the possibility of such an unending state of suffering presents itself as certainly the “chief anxiety” of human life. Epicurus dismissed the fear of divine punishment by pointing out the lack of evidence for divine creation and by asserting the contradiction between impassible divine nature and divine intervention. His rejection of divine intervention was important for alleviating human distress and helping humans achieve happiness. The disinterest of the gods, inherent in their blessed nature, was in fact of great use to Epicurus as the strongest repudiation of any possible divine judgment. In his view, the non-agency of God was necessary for ensuring human happiness. In addition to rejecting divine providence, Epicurus also wanted to free his students from the necessity of the naturalists. His argument against natural necessity shared the same ethical motivation that drove his refutation of divine intervention, the defense of happiness. Epicurus in On Nature shows evidence that there was L&S 23, 139–49. Lucretius, L&S 23D, 141. Such a claim was commonly asserted by the many popular religious myths and preserved even among some philosophers through Plato’s dialogues. 12 13



already a group of philosophers that was dedicated to the idea of necessity, or at least there were arguments for explaining behavior on the basis of the physical necessity of circumstances. In his Letter to Menoeceus Epicurus calls these people naturalists and does not mention any features reminiscent of Stoicism; Cicero likewise indicates that Epicurus’ disagreement was with Democritus directly and not the Stoics. So it seems that before Zeno’s rise to prominence, Epicurus was having an argument with Democritean atomists independently of a Stoic rivalry. 14 This fact is significant because it shows that the recognition of a problem with reconciling determinism and responsibility was firmly set on its two pillars of epistemology and ethics by Epicurus before the rise to prominence of the Stoic School. This means that the problem of determinism and responsibility is not just a result of the Stoic idea of teleological fate, but comes from a deeper problem with reconciling the basic human drive to understand cause and effect with our instinctive desire for happiness. Regardless of one’s position on divine intelligence, what is knowable and what is desired must be made compatible with human responsibility. In this natural necessity, though it was not teleological like providence, Epicurus saw another threat to one’s inner tranquility. In rejecting this necessity, he affirmed that the good can only come about by our own agency. It makes sense for him to do this because if the good is what we desire, but it did not come about by our own agency, then we would be right to fear that it will not come about at all. And this would fail dismally at his purpose of consoling his readers. Epicurus writes that the wise man laughs at fate, “affirming rather that some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency.” 15 Of these three, necessity and chance are clearly rejected as avenues of the good. As for chance, Epicurus asserts rather baldly that “no good or evil is dispensed by chance to people so as to make life happy.” Furthermore, he points out that chance is by definition unreliable so that Professor Sedley calls him “arguably the first philosopher to recognize the philosophical centrality of what we know as the Free Will Question.” L&S, 107. 15 Hicks’ translation; To Menoeceus, 133.7–9. 14



even if some pleasure were to come about by chance, that would not be any means for consolation. “It is better, in short, that what is well judged in action should not owe its successful issue to the aid of chance.” 16 As for necessity, he ranks this even below divine intervention. Not only does necessity remove all responsibility from human action (and therefore also praise and blame 17), but it is even further from our control than the mythical aid of the gods. “It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the gods than to bow beneath destiny which the natural philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope that we may escape if we honor the gods, while the necessity of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties.” 18 The reason Epicurus gives that necessity is even worse (more destructive of tranquility) than providence is significant. If the good came about through divine agency we could still at least influence that process through religious acts, and therefore retain some hope of attaining our natural end, pleasure. But naturalistic necessity is absolutely unresponsive to our agency. This naturalistic idea that we can do absolutely nothing to effect our own happiness would certainly give rise to anxiety for any Hellenistic philosopher. And so, here we have an albeit implicit affirmation that the good must be attainable through one’s own actions, not by chance, nor by necessity, nor by providence. Epicurus developed a further dimension to his argument against necessity in his treatise On Nature. Here, he puts his finger on a very difficult paradox in the motivation of philosophical ethics: the understanding of necessary causal relations ends up undermining the understanding of one’s own moral reasoning. 19 While a successful pursuit of the good certainly requires an understanding of how the good comes about—a causal understanding of Hicks’ translation; To Menoeceus, 135.1–4. Hicks’ translation; To Menoeceus, 133.10–134.1. 18 Hicks’ translation; To Menoeceus, 134.1–4. 19 Though not formally equivalent, the overall effect of this argument is similar to the Idle Argument refuted by Chrysippus, as recorded by Cicero and Origen, and discussed in the next section. In short, both arguments conclude that human thought and action are rendered futile by the operation of necessary causes. 16 17



change—Epicurus points out here that those who first arrived at causal understandings immediately lost the self-awareness of their own agency. “The first men to give a satisfactory account of causes…turned a blind eye to themselves… in order to hold necessity and accident responsible for everything.” 20 Epicurus notices here that the discovery of the reasons why things happen immediately replaces one’s own agency with those explanatory reasons. If there is a reason why things happen, then that reason is responsible for my opinions and actions, and I am not. 21 This results in a contradiction because any argument for such necessity rests on the assumption that the interlocutors are themselves responsible for accepting or rejecting the argument. Epicurus argues that if there is no such responsibility for the interlocutors and the argument itself comes about by the necessity of circumstances, then no one would be able to understand their own actions in continuing such a pointless argument. “For if someone were to attribute to the very processes of rebuking and being rebuked the accidental necessity of whatever happens to be present… I’m afraid he can never in this way understand ” (3) In this way, it is the understanding of causes—initially pursued in order to facilitate the attainment of the good—that undermines our ability to understand our own actions and therefore leaves us distressed at the confusion and helpless in pursuing the good. Presumably, it is this contradiction that motivated Epicurus to seek an escape from the naturalist necessity of Democritus. So on the one hand, Epicurus held a causal epistemology: knowledge causes happiness in the knower, and confusion causes distress in the ignorant. Therefore, knowing how the world works is necessary for attaining happiness. On the other hand, Epicurus needed to maintain that the understanding of causality does not imply the agency of universal causes that would then be responsible for intentional management of the world. Such universal agency, in L&S 20C.13 = Epicurus, Nat., liber incertus, 34.31.7–15 (Arrighetti’s numbering). Graziano Arrighetti lists this as 31.30.7–15. Epicurus and Graziano Arrighetti, Opere (Torino: G. Einaudi, 1972). 21 This conclusion bears the most significant difference with the Stoic perspective on fate. See next section. 20



either a theistic or a naturalistic form, would give rise to anxiety by placing our attainment of the good into the hands of those agents and therefore would preclude the very happiness which knowledge is supposed to ensure. Epicurus’ rejection of universal agency shows that, in his ethical understanding, moral agency requires cosmic indeterminacy. The point of this indeterminacy, for Epicurus, was not to ensure the justice of praising and blaming (though he recognized they required this), but to protect human agents from anxiety about what the gods or fate might have in store for them. By eliminating this anxiety, human happiness could be preserved. For this reason it made perfect sense for Epicurus to reject the natural philosophers’ claim to a comprehensive understanding of determinate causality for the sake of affirming one’s own agency and thereby ensuring human tranquility. For Epicurus, understanding the world is knowing that there is no universal cause such as Fate or God. Understanding how things work is knowing that unintentional indeterminate atoms cause everything. Understanding how things work is therefore knowing that there is no such thing as fate. What was important for Epicurus in rejecting fate was not to justify culpability, something he would have been comparatively uninterested in, but to alleviate the all too common anxiety that one does not have control over attaining one’s own good. If fate took the form of divine providence, then we would be right to be anxious about divine wrath and vigilant in religious attempts to assuage it. If fate took the form of natural necessity, then we certainly cannot change anything and are likewise right to be anxious about the future. Epicurus refuted providence as discussed above; for refuting natural necessity, he used the logical contradiction discussed above (On Nature) and the physical argument that atoms swerve at indeterminate times and places. To refute necessity, Epicurus did not need to fully develop a systematic doctrine of Free Will, though he probably developed in his non-extant writings much more than we can currently reconstruct. All he really needed to do was to show that not everything was predetermined so that when people act, they are truly determining the effects of their actions. This basic assertion is enough to give people confidence that they can control their own happiness, which confidence seems to be the basic ingredient of tranquility. Epicurus’ physical argument to refute necessity was the doctrine of the swerve: at indeterminate times and places, atoms



swerve from their previous trajectories. 22 There are many varying reconstructions of the swerve’s function in Epicurus’ defense of Free Will. Here, I follow the general outline explained by Long (1974). 23 The indeterminacy of atoms was necessary for explaining world creation, as these swerves enable atoms to run into each other and form compounds, etc., but also useful for providing the logical space for human agency. 24 The swerves break the chain of necessary causes, thus establishing unpredetermined starting points from which human choice can operate. Epicureans were clear that swerves happen at random, that there is no agency or intentionality at all involved in causing these swerves. When swerves happen, the state of things at the present moment is unconnected to, or at least not fully dependent upon, the state of things at the previous moment. Therefore, at the moment of a swerve, there is an unpredetermined state of things that is devoid of all agency whatsoever. If a person acts in this moment, the action will be solely attributable to the person’s own agency. The person in this moment is ‘free’ from any preceding cause, since the swerve has ‘broken’ the chain of necessity, and of course from any competing agency such as that of providence. In this state of total responsibility, the attainment of the good is wholly dependent on one’s own agency, and one can rest assured that no competing agent will hinder the attainment of happiness. The physical doctrine of the swerve functioned as the guarantee for Epicurus’ ethical system. Because the world results at least partially from these indeterminate and unintentional swerves, there is no need for fearing the tyranny of the gods or, worse, the blind necessity of Democritus. By disproving divine agency and cosmic necessity, an accurate understanding of the world ‘frees’ the Epicurean from the greatest sources of fear and thus enables her or him to live in tranquility. Thus, Epicurean physical doctrine rejected Lucretius 2.216–50 = L&S 11H; Cicero Fat. 21–5 = L&S 20E. Long, 56–61. Cf. Furley. Sedley, L&S 107–112; cf. O’Keefe; and again A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 159 n. 7. 24 Lucretius 2.216–93; World-creation: L&S 11H.2; human agency: L&S 20E.2–3, 20F.1–2; cf. L&S, 52, 107–112. 22 23



causal determinism for the sake of enabling humans to pursue and attain the good life.

WHY YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN DETERMINISM: THE STOICS Compared to the Epicureans, the Stoics held just the opposite view, in favor of determinism, because they held a very different understanding of happiness itself. Because happiness is coterminous with virtue as defined by living in harmony with nature, and because this living in harmony with nature requires one to understand nature, happiness is dependent on one’s ability to understand nature. But nature cannot be understood if some things happen randomly. For nature to be intelligible, and thus for humans to have the possibility of living in harmony with nature, nature must be guided entirely by some rational (thus intelligible) Logos. This means that all things in the universe must be entirely determined in order for humans to have the possibility of understanding nature, living in harmony with it, and thus attaining happiness. Thus for Stoics, universal causal determinism was a necessary condition for the possibility of attaining happiness. This last point is quite surprising to many modern thinkers, yet important to understand, after the political liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the philosophical existentialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many modern people find this positive link between determinism and happiness counterintuitive since a prominent modern understanding of freedom is something akin to ‘the lack of restraints upon choices and abilities,’ and determinism is often understood as a restraint upon individual choices and abilities. But this is simply not how many ancient people thought, especially the Stoics and those influenced by them: Platonists, Jews, Christians, etc. Nonetheless, the Stoics could not have been more similar to Epicurus in orienting their physical doctrine towards their ethical program for attaining happiness, although their philosophical system would require just the opposite conclusion: causal determinism, not the indeterminate swerve, is the guarantee of human agency and therefore of the attainability of the good life. Just as the swerve safeguarded the attainability of happiness for Epicureans, so did the doctrine of fate for the Stoics. In this chapter we will see how the Stoics also taught that attaining happiness depended upon



the individual philosopher, and how their understanding of that human responsibility actually required a belief in providential fate. A number of philosophical influences contributed to Zeno’s founding of his school at the Stoa in Athens. 25 Chief among them was the reputation of Socrates as the paragon of excellent human living. What came to be Zeno’s Stoicism was oriented toward the end of attaining this excellence under the influence of the Cynic Crates whom he is said to have followed upon his arrival in Athens. Zeno was also influenced by the Cynic mistrust of social and religious conventions and of their efficacy towards excellence. The Cynic emphasis on the self-sufficiency of one’s own rationality was developed by Zeno into a prominent teaching of Stoic ethics. From his time as a student at the Platonic Academy, he seems to have received an emphasis on the world soul as an animate organizing force explaining the regularity of the cosmos. And like the Peripatetics, he was concerned to explain physical processes as well as the linguistic framework connecting our use of speech to such physical phenomena. Zeno differed perhaps most strikingly from Epicurus in his teleological view of the universe. Like Plato and Aristotle, Zeno thought the most fundamental level of explanation for the world was one of purpose; the unity of the world, guided by its divine soul, was certainly following an intentional path and developing toward some directed goal. As important as it was for Epicurus to deny intentionality in his infinite and unbounded universe for the sake of safeguarding human happiness, so important was it also for Zeno to affirm the all-encompassing providence of a singular, benevolent guiding force. Why did Zeno and his school arrive at such a view of providence and what role did this doctrine play in their philosophy? AnThis information is discussed in A. A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, 109. Biographical information on Zeno and his influence by the Cynic Crates is found in Diogenes Laertius, Lives vii. The Cynic Diogenes focused the real nature of man in rationality (SVF i:179,202) and with Antisthenes gave this “an ascetic twist” requiring only self-discipline for selffulfillment. (DL vi:24–70.) Eudaimonia unaffected by convention or chance: DL vii:71. 25



other significant influence on the Stoics was Heraclitus’ doctrine of logos. 26 Certain regularities in the physical world such as seasonal and astrological cycles were commonly evident to ancient philosophers. To Heraclitus, and the Stoics who further developed his views, these regularities in the natural world implied not only an organization in nature, but also a certain awe at the recognition of that order by the human mind. It seemed to follow that whatever it is that organizes the world must also be responsible for the faculty in humans that recognizes and understands that order, and reflects upon it in speech. It stands to reason that ‘logos,’ as the principle of language and understanding was also designated as the unifying principle of cosmic organization. In his doctrine of logos, Heraclitus implied a sense of harmony between the logos in nature and the logos in human language. 27 Since nature and the human mind are governed or empowered by this same logos, it follows that everything that happens in the world is relatable to the human intellect. From such a connection it should follow that the living of human life as organized by the logos of the human mind should agree with the natural processes of the cosmos as organized by the same logos in nature. If this is to be the case, then one’s guiding principles, one’s notions of good and bad, desired and feared, duty and pleasure, etc., all need to be brought into conformity with the logos that is evident in the processes of nature. The singleness of logos in organizing the world from both a cosmic and personal perspective undergirded a deep Stoic confidence in nature, such that it is reasonable (ORJLNňV) to accommodate one’s own mental life to what one perceives in the cosmic life of nature. From this confidence emerge three inseparable doctrines: 1) Everything happens as it should by the direction of logos; 28 2) Living in agreement with this determined reality constitutes the best human life and the goal of philosophy; 29 3) The means of living in

Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, 145. Ibid., 145–7. 28 E.g.: L&S 55L-M. 29 E.g.: L&S 63A-D. 26 27



this agreement with nature is our continual engagement of our own logical faculty. 30 Despite the vast difference between their providential and non-providential worldviews, the Stoics shared with the Epicureans the expectation that accurate knowledge of the world will produce happiness by eliminating the irrational thoughts and anxieties that cause distress. On the Stoic view that suffering comes from erroneous judgments, accurate education about what nature is and how it works is the way to eliminate suffering and become free through virtue. Because the Stoic sage is able to make accurate judgments and so pursue appropriate ends, she or he is free from the frustration of uncontrollable circumstances. Since Stoic happiness consists in the appropriateness of one’s pursuit and not the pursuit’s fulfillment, this sage is guaranteed to be happy. The recognition of and harmony with providential reality, in which virtue consists, preserve a confidence in the Stoic sage that saves him/her from anxiety and the distress of circumstance. The Stoics were harshly criticized by their philosophical rivals for their doctrine of logos as providential fate. Epicurus claimed that the concept of providence, and a fortiori fate, undermined the possibility of happiness by undermining the validity of human agency and consequently leaving humans in a state of fear incompatible with happiness. 31 Academics added to the Epicurean argument the general claim that the Stoic doctrine of logos was hopelessly naïve in supposing that humans can actually understand and govern themselves according to the inscrutable phenomena of the cosmos. 32 Peripatetics added to the Epicurean argument the claim that sublunar providential causality was logically and physically implausible. 33 All three schools agreed that the Stoic doctrine of fate E.g.: L&S 63E.4–5. To Menoeceus, 134.1–4. 32 L&S 68A,C,G,O; Cf. L&S 145. 33 For sources and commentary, see R. W. Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy, 200 Bc to Ad 200: An Introduction and Collection of Sources in Translation (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 206–10, 229–34. And R. W. Sharples, “Peripatetics on Fate and Providence,” in Greek and Roman Philosophy, 100 BC – 200 AD, ed. Richard 30 31



would also undermine the validity of praise and blame and so was ethically disastrous. But from the Stoic perspective, none of this was the case. In fact, they would argue that happiness is only possible through the operation of providential fate which is the operation of Logos. Understanding the Stoic identification of the good as virtue is key to their whole philosophical system. Like the other schools, the Stoics understood happiness (eudaimonia) as the goal of life. 34 Their uniqueness lay in how they conceived of happiness. In keeping with their cosmic teleology Stoics believed that Nature had intentionally fitted the functions and desires of each creature to its specific nature and place within the world. Because Nature is trustworthy and good at what it does, it turns out that the good for each creature is to live in accordance with nature: its own natural context within cosmic Nature. 35 For humans, then our interest and our good is found in living in harmony with our nature as rational beings. This rationality, our share in logos, gives us the special capacity to conform our lives not just to human nature specifically but to the rational nature, logos, governing the whole world. For this reason Stoics identified happiness with living in harmony with nature, understood specifically as the perfection of reason. 36 Human hapand Sharples Sorabji, R. W., Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2007), 595–605. 34 “They [the Stoics] say that being happy is the end, for the sake of which everything is done, but which is not itself done for the sake of anything. This consists in living in accordance with virtue, in living in agreement, or, what is the same, in living in accordance with nature…” Stobaeus, L&S 63A. 35 Diogenes, L&S 57A; Plutarch, L&S 57E; Marcus Aurelius, L&S 63K. 36 “What is best in man? Reason: with this he precedes the animals and follows the gods. Therefore perfect reason is man’s peculiar good, the rest he shares with animals and plants… What is the peculiar characteristic of a man? Reason—which when right and perfect makes the full sum of human happiness. Therefore if everything, when it has perfected its own good, is praiseworthy and has reached the end of its own nature, and man’s own good is reason, if he has perfected reason, he is praiseworthy



piness as the perfection of reason, or rational virtue is the conformity of human life to the divine life of Logos. 37 This divine virtuous life can be understood as conforming one’s own purposes to those of Nature. As rational beings, our motivations should be identical to those of ‘universal law,’ i.e.: Fate = Logos = Zeus himself. 38 From the Stoic perspective, there was nothing fatalistic or oppressive about the idea that the whole world is directed by a cosmic intentionality, even if every detail of the cosmos were specified by an incontrovertible fate; far from it. Rather, the identity of fate and providence with nature, logos, and God actually guaranteed the possibility of attaining happiness. We can get a sense of this immensely optimistic understanding of Logos as providential fate in Cicero’s dialogues on comparative ethics, De Finibus. If the Stoics are right and virtue is the only good, then the wise man will be assured of happiness regardless of circumstances. The existential payoff of Stoic virtue as living in harmony with nature is perfect happiness and freedom from all hindrance. As Cato explains, living in this state of conformity with divine nature which governs all things, the Stoic sage is extremely secure in his expectations about life and cannot be dismayed by any circumstance. 39 This internal security against external unpredictability enjoyed by the Stoic sage characterizes the chief ethical difference between the Stoics, Academics, and Peripatetics. Stoics affirmed virtue alone to be necessary and sufficient for happiness, while Peripatetic happiness also required favorable external circumstances as well as physical health. The Stoic limitation of happiness to virtue as the only good was understood by its proponents as the only way to guarantee the possibility of happiness. Since both external and inand has attained the end of his nature. This perfect reason is called virtue and it is identical to rectitude.” Seneca, L&S 63D. And Plutarch gives us the converse definition: “He [Chrysippus] maintains that vice is the essence of unhappiness, insisting in every book that he writes on ethics and physics that living viciously is identical to living unhappily.” Plutarch, L&S 63H. 37 Seneca, L&S 63F. 38 Diogenes, L&S 63C. 39 Cicero, Fin. 3.25–6.



ternal physical circumstances are fickle and beyond our control, they cannot be trusted to bring about the good. But if the Stoic view holds and the good is virtue alone as agreement with logos, the same logos that is responsible for bringing about all things, then the prospect for happiness through this rational virtue can seem a bit brighter. In another work, his fifth Tusculan Disputation, Cicero again provides us with a valuable summary of Stoic reasoning about virtue as the only good. The question in this disputation is again whether virtue alone is sufficient for happiness. Here Cicero favorably notes the confidence of a Stoic sage in the face of external unpredictability. “In my opinion, virtuous men are also supremely happy. For if a man is confident of the goods that he has, what does he lack for living happily?” 40 Cicero lifts up confidence in a secure and lasting good as a necessary component of happiness. It is certainly impossible to have such confidence in the externals required for Aristotelian happiness which are anything but secure. And if confidence in a secure good is necessary for happiness, the good must be completely separated from the unstable conventional goods of Aristotelian ethics. From the Stoic perspective, securing happiness in rational virtue is the only way to safeguard its possibility precisely because the providential fate orchestrated by logos is incontrovertible. The one who lives according to such incontrovertible providence will necessarily be happy. Another attractive quality of the Stoic doctrine of virtue as the sole good is that it gives the virtuous person total freedom. Cicero articulates the traditional Stoic idea that sages are perfectly free while the wicked and powerful tyrants are in fact slaves. 41 Because “…Or how can someone who lacks confidence be happy? Yet a man who adopts the threefold division of goods [Aristotelian] inevitably lacks confidence. For how will he be able to be confident of bodily strength or secure fortune? Yet no one can be happy without a good which is secure, stable and lasting… The man who would fear losing any of these things cannot be happy. We want the happy man to be safe, impregnable, fenced and fortified, so that he is not just largely unafraid, but completely.” Cicero, TD 5.40–1 = L&S 63L. 41 Cicero focuses on the tyrant Dionysius TD 5.20. 40



sages live in harmony with nature, which is governed by rational fate, they never do anything against their will and so will always be happy. 42 Cicero reasons that the wise man’s happiness can be enduring precisely because it is in his power and not dependent on anything else. If the wise man can achieve happiness through his own power, it certainly follows that he could never be enslaved to anything outside his own will. Cicero emphasizes the consistency of Stoic thought in his discussions of the good in De Finibus and Tusculan Disputations. Because happiness depends only on virtue which is defined as living in rational harmony with nature, happiness can be completely stable for the virtuous sage who is alone free. It also follows from these definitions that one’s own power, on which the sage’s happiness depends, is really the rationality given to humans by nature. In this sense the Stoic system succeeds in harmonizing the role of human agency in happiness with the universal agency of fate. The key to this compatibility is the definition of happiness as the having of virtue, which is living in harmony with nature, which is equated with fate. 43 What emerges from this sketch of Stoic thought on happiness is a view of the good life in which one’s own awareness and agency “It is a peculiar characteristic of the wise man that he does nothing which he could regret, nothing against his will, but does everything honourably, consistently, seriously, and rightly; that he anticipates nothing as if it were bound to happen, is shocked by nothing when it does happen under the impression that its happening is unexpected and strange… I cannot form an idea of anything happier than this. The conclusion of the Stoics is indeed easy; for since they are persuaded that the end of good is to live agreeably to nature, and to be consistent with that—as a wise man should do so, not only because it is his duty, but because it is in his power—it must, of course, follow that whoever has the chief good in his power has his happiness too. And thus the life of a wise man is always happy.” Cicero, TD 5.81–2; First section = L&S, 63M. Marcus Tullius Cicero and J. E. King, Tusculan Disputations, The Loeb Classical Library Latin Authors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950). 43 Fortunately this compatibility was challenged by Arcesilaus, which motivated Chrysippus to more clearly formulate the coherence of compatibilism; See Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy, 234–313. 42



completely coincide with the universal agency of God, Nature, Logos, Fate, such that by understanding how the world works, we can accept everything that comes along as the object of our own will and a contributor to our own happiness. It is just in seeing our own rational nature as a sympathetic part in the rational nature of the world’s whole, that we can have confidence that our place in the world has been properly ordered and that whatever happens will be appropriate for the ordered whole. Of course this rosy picture applies only to the sage, and there is no suggestion in Stoicism that all people are sages. In fact, the Stoics conceded that most people are indeed fools. Far from promising any kind of universal salvation, the Stoic position only claimed to be a coherent roadmap toward progress in happiness. Consequently, if one were interested in pursuing virtue and saw that the Stoic sage enjoys freedom and incorruptible happiness, one might be encouraged to try to become a sage by studying Stoicism (instead of some other less coherent or less promising philosophical school). The problem of understanding why it is that some people do and others do not pursue virtue is much more complicated and evolved over time. While it does not seem to be terribly vexing to early Stoics, it did grow in prominence in Academic and then Platonic and Peripatetic thought. The question why some people progress in virtue while others do not will play center stage in the ethical thought of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Clement of Alexandria. The central role of ethics in all of these questions cannot be overstated as these schools continued to see the good life as the goal towards which philosophical striving aims. For the next two authors discussed here, Philo and Plutarch, their understanding of good and evil must be considered as governing what kind of cosmology might be compatible with a coherent program for attaining the good life. This is all the more true as these Platonist authors rely on Platonic texts that formulate the telos in terms of likeness to God and emphasize God’s metaphysical transcendence beyond matter. The result of this Platonic development was that the concept of God as a transcendent cause must now be identifiable as the source of the good but not of evil. In this sense, the problem of theodicy came to further prominence in complicating the accounts of ethics and cosmology in the Middle-Platonic period. In the next two chapters, we will see very distinct strategies for maintaining



coherence between ethics and cosmology. When we come to Clement’s arguments against his rival gnostic Christians in chapter 9, we will see the conflict between these two ways of situating cosmology and ethics within a coherent practical program for attaining happiness.



The Platonic turn to dogmatism championed by Antiochus of Ascalon (125–68 BCE) substantially reshaped the contours of later Platonic thought on the question of determinism and responsibility. Unlike Arcesilaus and Carneades who sought to contradict all dogmatic assertions for the sake of avoiding unhappiness through inaccurate assent, Antiochus and later Platonists sought to recover the unwritten or esoteric teachings of Plato for the sake of constructing positive doctrines. 1 This phase of Platonism is thus deeply indebted to previous Stoic methodology, as its positive physics and cosmology are closely integrated to its ethical program. Some Platonists, like Philo, maintained a basically Stoic account of ethics to which they oriented their monistic cosmology with an emphatic celebration of cosmic determinism under the guise of divine providence, while others, like Plutarch, preferred the Peripatetic account of ethics and so developed a very different dualistic cosmology. These two directions in Middle-Platonism are essential for understanding Clement’s own polemic with his rival Christians at the end of the second century. I have devoted a chapter each to the writings of Philo and Plutarch before moving on to Alexander and Clement. My reason for discussing the former might be more obvious than that for the John M. Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. To A.D. 220, Rev. ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 1,10–11, 52–5, 62–9, 105– 6. 1




latter. Philo’s direct influence on Clement is clear and uncontroversial: Clement knew Philo’s work and referred to it repeatedly in general agreement. On the other hand, I make no claim that Clement knew of Plutarch’s writings or that Plutarch bore any direct influence on Clement’s thought. Nonetheless, Plutarch’s (and Pseudo Plutarch’s) writings on ethics, determinism and cosmology are tremendously insightful for understanding a direction in Middle-Platonism that is very different from that taken by Philo, but similar to some views held by Clement’s rivals Basilides and Valentinus. In his Sather Lectures on the history of free will, Michael Frede noticed the prominence of indeterminism in Origen, but noted that its point of origin was not in the Bible, since Origen’s treatment of biblical texts on this issue is primarily concerned with carefully (re)interpreting biblical passages that could otherwise be taken to support a deterministic significance. 2 His conclusion is reinforced by considering the stance on determinism held by the founder of biblical Platonism in Alexandria, Philo. Just as Antiochus of Ascalon had integrated many lines of the old philosophical teachings (the Old Academy) into a reconstituted and unified philosophical outlook, in his own way Philo interpreted these ancient teachings through the more ancient and more authoritative texts of the Hebrew Bible. The Philonic result was again a comprehensive and unified philosophy built upon Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and biblical foundations. Philo’s thoroughly Middle-Platonic interpretation of the Bible maintained the ethical framework of Stoicism in combination with the cosmological transcendence of biblical and Platonic theism. For Philo, the outline of philosophical moral progress and spiritual salvation remained very similar to the Stoic pattern. The height of human happiness and freedom was found solely in virtue, understood as both likeness to God and harmony with nature which is itself a reflection of God. As in Stoicism, human progress toward this end is only accomplished through the immanent operation of divine providence, most notably through the rational operation of the human mind which partakes of divine rationality. As 2

Frede, 103.



such, Philo is best seen as a compatibilist, much like Chrysippus, in terms of determinism and responsibility, since there is no indication of a concern for two-sided responsibility in his writings. As in the Stoic view, the whole world is determined by divine providence and we are truly responsible for the particular actions we perform within this orchestrated cosmos just because we are the ones who perform them. Philo then can be ruled out as a sufficient source for the later developments of two-sided responsibility and indeterminism. Nonetheless, Philo’s ethics and cosmology are not irrelevant for this study. As this chapter will indicate, Philo’s biblical Platonism was faced with a growing concern for theodicy, which was now more vulnerable than in the traditional Stoic model. Philo’s biblical and Platonic view of God as the transcendent cause of all good and no evil functioned very differently than the Stoic view which essentially restricted God’s cosmic management from moral valuation. Unlike Stoicism, Philo’s biblical Platonism explained human and cosmic evils through the created world’s inability to participate fully in God’s goodness, rather than through the direct and absolute determinism of providence. Perhaps there is implicit room here for the nascent indeterminism of chaotic matter’s imperfect imitation of rational order. Still, Philo had no need to develop an indeterminist position and maintained the thoroughly deterministic terminology of the Stoics in his treatment of human responsibility. In his turn, Clement could adopt much of Philo’s ethical terminology and framework, adding only the specification that it is up to particular human beings to determine the degree to which they will either participate in or deviate from divine rationality. But for this later Christian and Peripatetic insistence on indeterminist freedom, other contributing developments must be credited in chapter *5.

PHILO ON THE TELOS Philo’s vision of the goal of human life remained very similar to the Stoic conception. The Stoic telos was expressed in terms of nature and virtue. Stobaeus and Diogenes record it as living in harmony



with nature and according to virtue. 3 But this definition was not unique to the Stoics, as the basic idea of harmony with nature was credited even to Zeno’s teacher in the Academy Polemo. According to Cicero’s account of Antiochus, the old Academy had interpreted Polemo’s ‘according to nature’ along the lines of Aristotle who had affirmed that by nature humans need a certain amount of health, wealth, and society to truly flourish. 4 What really distinguished the Stoic view from this rival Peripatetic position was its affirmation that virtuous harmony was fully sufficient for happiness regardless of the external ‘indifferents’ advocated by Aristotle. 5 Philo agreed wholeheartedly with this Stoic position, against the Peripatetic alternative. 6 In this he seems to have followed his MidStobaeus 2.75.11–76,8 (L&S 63B) ascribes to Zeno, “Ìġ ĝÄÇÂǺǿĚÅÑË ½ýÅ. ÌÇıÌÇ »ЏšÊÌĖЏÁ¸¿ ïŸ ÂŦºÇÅ Á¸ĖÊŧÄÎÑÅÇÅ ½ýÅ,” and to Cleanthes, “ÌšÂÇËšÊÌĖÌġĝÄÇÂǺÇÍÄšÅÑË ÌĉÎŧʼÀ ½ýÅ.” DL 7.87 (L&S 63C) adds virtue to Zeno’s definition: “ÌšÂÇË ¼čȼ Ìġ ĝÄÇÂǺÇÍÄšÅÑË Ìĉ ÎŧʼÀ ½ýÅբ ĞÈ¼É šÊÌĖ Á¸ÌЏ ÒɼÌüÅ ½ýÅե Óº¼À ºÛÉ ÈÉġË Ì¸ŧ̾Š÷ÄÜË ÷ ÎŧÊÀË.” For Philo’s position: Plant. 49, Abr. 4–6, Praem. 11–13, Det. 7–9, and below. 4 Fin. 2.34, 5.16, 26–7; Cf. Varro in Augustine CD 19.3, Aristotle Met. 5.16 1021b12ff, NE 2.5 1106b8ff, and Dillon’s discussion, MiddlePlatonists, 70–5. 5 “Virtue is a consistent character, choiceworthy for its own sake and not from fear or hope or anything external. Happiness consists in virtue…” DL 7.89 (L&S 61A), “They regard virtue as choiceworthy for its own sake… and virtue is sufficient for happiness.” DL 7.127 (L&S 61I); “It necessarily follows that the happy life is in the power of the man who has the final good in his power. So the wise man’s life is always happy.” Cicero, TD 5.82 (L&S 63M); cf. Cicero’s extended discussion in De Finibus. 6 Plant. 49, Abr. 4–6, and Praem. 11–13 indicate Philo’s traditional Stoic understanding of the virtuous life as harmony with nature and his application of this ideal to the patriarchs. Dillon (Middle-Platonists, 146–7) observed in Philo’s account of Joseph’s visit to his brothers in Det. 7–9 that Philo fully agreed with the Stoic position, but on the basis of, Her. 285–92 and QG 3.16, Dillon suggests that Philo might have compromised on occasion with the Peripatetic position of Antiochus without seeing the two positions as fully incompatible. Such compromise seems unlikely to a 3



dle-Platonic predecessor in Alexandria, Eudorus, who opted for the Stoic interpretation instead of the Peripatetic direction taken by Antiochus. 7


Philo agreed with the Stoic understanding of the telos as ‘living in harmony with nature.’ But he also embraced the Platonic version of the telos taught by his Middle-Platonic predecessor Eudorus, which he quotes approvingly, “Likeness to God as far as possible, man as thoroughly aware of the philosophical significance of this point as was Philo. Consider Ebr. 200–2, where Philo acknowledges the incompatibility of the Stoic and Peripatetic positions and struggles with the temptation to simply suspend judgment on the question. Concerning QG 3.16, there is nothing un-Stoic about admitting the efficacy of preceding material causes. That our characters are predisposed toward or away from virtue by the preceding nexus of fate was not denied by Stoics, and apparently neither by Philo. Nevertheless, the recognition of preceding material causes need not imply an admission that external advantages constitute the good. We seem to have in Philo an incorporation even of Peripatetic ethical language into the underlying Stoic framework. In Dillon’s other passage Her. 285–92, it is not the outward prosperity at all that leads to peace, but Abraham’s own intellectual virtue that establishes him in the peaceful life even amidst his migration, wars, and famine. Philo contrasts the external prosperity of a long life to the internal blessedness of a virtuous life. While Her. 285–6 imply an agreement with Peripatetic external goods, 287–92 make it clear that Philo does not think that these externals are relevant to the good life, as he explicitly cites the lack of external peace in Abraham’s peaceful life. Philo’s clear agreement with the Stoic position is evident from Det. 7–9, where Joseph must be sent to Egypt to learn that “nothing is honourable but what is good… but all external goods… they believe to be only superfluities, and not true and real goods.” This is seen again in Sobr. 15: “…in comparison with the perfect man, who thinks nothing honorable but what is good.” In LA 3.168, Det. 136–7, and his defense of theodicy in Prov. 1&2, Philo expresses the same explicitly Stoic position. 7 Dillon, Middle-Platonists, 122, 145ff.



which is to become just and holy with wisdom.” 8 Philo did not see the virtuous life as culminating in harmony with nature only, but in likeness to God who is the cause of nature. Philo added to the Stoic and Platonic expressions of the telos his own mystical understanding which focused on the knowledge of God. [God] wished to lead the race of mankind, into a road from which they should not stray, that so by following nature it might find the best and end of all things, namely, the knowledge of the true and living God, who is the first and most perfect of all good things. 9

As he expressed it, “The limit of happiness is the presence of God, which completely fills the whole soul with his whole incorporeal and eternal light.” And again, “For the beginning and end of happiness is to be able to see God.” 10 For Philo, there was no significant difference between the expression of the telos in terms of harmony with nature and that in terms of likeness to God. Because nature is a created image of God’s mind, attaining harmony with nature is nothing but the likeness to and the seeing of God. This is a plausible interpretation of the Stoic understanding of harmony with nature. On the traditional Stoic side, harmony with nature is the consequence of one’s having an accurate understanding of the action of Logos in the world, which enables one to accurately give and withhold assent to appropriate impressions. It would be quite natural for someone with Philo’s understanding of the created world as an image of God’s mind to describe the accurate understanding of Logos in nature as Cf. Dillon’s discussion (Middle-Platonists, 122–3, 145) of the Á¸ÌÛ Ìġ »ÍŸÌŦÅ in Plato, Eudorus, and Philo. Philo (Fug. 63) quotes Plato’s Theaetetus 176a-b, “ĝÄÇţÑÊÀË ¿¼Ŋ Á¸ÌÛ Ìġ »ÍŸÌŦÅդ ĝÄÇţÑÊÀË »ò »ţÁ¸ÀÇÅ Á¸Ė ĞÊÀÇŠļÌÛÎÉÇÅŢʼÑË º¼ÅšÊ¿¸À.” To Plato’s meaning of Á¸ÌÛ Ìġ »ÍŸÌŦÅ, “as far as possible,” Eudorus (via Stobaeus 2.7.3f.3; cf. gave the added interpretation that this likeness was only possible by wisdom and virtue, i.e.: through intellect. 9 Philo, Dec. 81. 10 Philo, QG 4.4, QE 2.51; cf. Winston’s notes, Two Treatises of Philo, 164. 8



the presence or seeing of God: if Logos is the power of God operating in the world, then the understanding of Logos is the vision of God. Because Philo understood the activity of God in just the same way that the Stoics did—that God is the unique and universal cause of all that is—the end result of the traditional Stoic formulation of the telos and of Philo’s is the same: the total identification of oneself with the cause of all, which results in one’s enjoyment of inviolable blessedness. Toward the goal of this divine presence and vision, Philo describes the spiritual journey out of self to union with God. “Go forth, then, from the earthly matter that envelops you. Escape, man, from the abominable prison, your body, and from the pleasures and lusts that act as its jailers, with all your might and main.” 11 “Who then shall be the heir? …That which loosed from its bonds and liberated has come forth… and abandoned its own self … If then, my soul, a yearning comes upon you to inherit the divine goods, abandon [land-body, kinsfolk-senses, father’s house-speech, and] escape also your own self and stand aside from yourself… For it is the mind that is filled with the Deity and no longer in itself… that has the inheritance.” 12 “For how was it likely that the human mind being so tiny… should be able to contain such an immense magnitude of sky and universe, had it not been an inseparable portion of that divine and blessed soul? For nothing is severed or detached from the divine, but only extended.” 13 For Philo, the Stoic telos gained Platonic dimension of likeness to God and the added mystical aspect of seeing and being united to God, but the function of this Philonic telos remains coherently within the preceding Stoic framework of rational virtue. For Philo, because the world is a projection of God’s own rational activity, Stoic harmony with nature and Platonic likeness to God are both equivalent to seeing/knowing God. For when above all [Abraham] knew himself, then above all did he despair of himself, in order that he might arrive at a Mig. 7. Her. 68–70 13 Det. 89–90. 11 12


FATE, FREEDOM, AND HAPPINESS precise knowledge of the truly Existent. And this is how it is: He who has profoundly comprehended himself, profoundly despairs of himself, having perceived in advance the absolute nothingness of created being. And the man who has despaired of himself knows the Existent. 14

Philo’s mystical descriptions of the telos are not so different in content from the Stoic conception. According to Chrysippus, human virtue is exactly like God’s, “Zeus does not exceed Dion in virtue, and Zeus and Dion, given that they are wise, are benefited alike by each other whenever one encounters a movement of the other.” 15 Diogenes explains the human/divine similarity in Chrysippus’ thought in terms similar to Philo’s Det. 90 (above), “For our own natures are parts of the nature of the whole… [and, when virtuous, agree with] right reason… identical to Zeus.” 16 Furthermore, Seneca explains that the human experience of attaining the telos should be just like God’s, “What is a happy life? Peacefulness and constant tranquility… To put it in a nutshell for you, the wise man’s mind should be such as befits God.” 17 Thus the Stoic telos as harmony with nature was not at all a stranger to descriptions in divine terminology. It is likely that for Philo there was no real distinction between his own conception of the telos and the Stoic and Platonic conceptions as he understood them. It is not difficult to see how Philo could integrate both the Stoic and Platonic conceptions of the telos into his own Jewish piety. First, it would not a great stretch for Philo to understand the Platonic expression ‘Likeness to god’/‘ĝÄÇţÑÊÀË ¿¼Ŋ’ synonymously with the Stoic formulation ‘Living harmoniously with nature’/‘Ìġ ĝÄÇÂǺÇÍÄšÅÑË Ìĉ ÎŧʼÀ ½ýÅ,’ since the Stoics comfortably equated nature and God: “God, intelligence, fate and Zeus are all one, and many other names are applies to him;” and again, “For [Chrysippus] says that divine power resides in … the intellect of universal

Somn. 1.60; cf. Winston, n.320, Somn. 1.212; Sacr. 55; Mig. 134. Plutarch, Com. Not. 1076a = L&S 61J. 16 DL 7.78 = L&S 63C. 17 Letters 92.3 = L&S 63F. 14 15



nature. He says that god is the world itself.” 18 This is at least how Diogenes Laertius understood the Stoics: “Therefore living in agreement with nature comes to be the end, which is… engaging in no activity wont to be forbidden by… Zeus. … And the virtue of the happy man… is just this: always doing everything in concordance… with the will of [God.]” 19 If one were inclined to find agreement between the Stoic and Platonic traditions, as Philo and the other early Middle-Platonists certainly were, it would be quite sensible to conclude the following synthesis: If God is the rational agency behind nature, what else would living in harmony with nature be than attaining a likeness to God? In this vein both Philo and the Stoics saw the human telos fundamentally as a life in conformity with the cause of the world. In the mystical aspect of Philo’s ethics, we can see the real advantage of a deterministic ethical framework: the point of ethics is to attain the good, and if the good is the cause of the all, then one’s attainment of the good must be equivalent to one’s thorough identification, including all of one’s psychic activities and states, with that universal cause of all. For Philo, as with the Stoics, the telos is not simply a peaceful and happy life, but is also predicated upon the realization that one is, in one’s deepest self as a rational being, not distinct from the universal cause who determines every detail of the cosmos. Philo, of course, distinguished God from the world, while the Stoics mutually defined God with the world; but it is not clear that Philo’s divine transcendence significantly diverted his ethics from the Stoic precedent. This is because despite the metaphysical difference between Philo’s divine transcendence and Stoic monism, the two views agree on the idea of a single universal cause of reality. In fact, Philo’s transcendence can be understood in a way as monistic as the Stoic view is dualistic. Philo certainly maintained a distinction between God and the world. God is immaterial, etc.; the world is material, etc. There is no comparison between the two as God is clearly the pure cause, source, and agent, while the world is

18 19

DL 7.135 (L&S 46B); Cicero, ND 1.39 (L&S 54B). DL 7.88 (L&S 63C).



the impure effect and transient patient. 20 But beyond this simple distinction, it remains the case that God as the unique cause of the world is in fact the only real existent. On the one hand, this might serve to distinguish God from the world, and Philo certainly does speak like this at times, but on the other, the point of distinguishing God’s reality from the world’s transience is not at all to establish the two as separate beings. In fact, Philo’s point is quite the opposite: God is the true existent, and the world is only real insofar as it is in God. This is especially true in Philo’s treatment of human beings, whose rational and ethical fulfillment is only accomplished in mystical union with the uniquely existent God. From this perspective, the point of Philo’s divine transcendence is not at all to separate God from humanity, but paradoxically to show that humanity, qua rational being, is ‘only’ a part of God. Philonic transcendence has the specific task of calling humans to the conceptual distinction between divine reality and created nothingness, for the sake of identifying the human as ‘nothing’ but a divine participant. Philo’s metaphysical dualism is thus a soteriological monism. Likewise, the Stoic distinction between active pneuma and passive matter, as well as the doctrine of ekpyrosis, the periodic resolution of matter into divine fire wherein the whole universe is deified, show that even the Stoics had use for conceptual distinctions between God and the world, which could reasonably afford a Platonist like Philo ample material to appropriate into a transcendent monotheism that both preserves God’s distinction and calls humans to union. In any case, for both Philo and the Stoics, the telos of living according to the cause of the world whether God or nature, consisted of recognizing the active rationality of the world and identifying one’s own agency with that rational activity. Thus, the two are not meaningfully distinct. The Philonic and Stoic telos was the same: to fully identify oneself with the universal cause of all. The point of this comparison is to show that Philo’s conception of the human telos saw no distinction between the Stoic, Platonic, and Jewish ideas of conformity with nature and likeness to God. This is because, for all his emphasis on divine transcendence, Philo’s God retained essentially the same job description as the 20

Op. 7–9, 21–3; Her.160.



Stoic God: each was conceived as the unique and universal cause of all that is. In light of this similarity with the Stoic framework, Philo’s defense of determinism against Epicurean and Academic arguments makes perfect sense.

PHILO’S DEFENSE OF PROVIDENCE Philo dealt with the nature and problems of providence most exhaustively in the two volumes of his appropriately named treatise De Providentia. 21 From his argumentation in this work, it is evident that his main opponents were those who denied the very existence of providence on the basis of an improper understanding of good and evil. 22 Philo responds by arguing that the providential ordering of the world was necessary for the attainment of the telos (happiness) to be possible. This is because, as in orthodox Stoic thought, the telos is to live in harmony with the rationally coherent nature of the world. But if such a nature does not exist, if the world is incoherent and chaotic, then any life in harmony with such a nature would be attained only at random, i.e.: it would not be up to us as rational agents. Put more simply, if the goal of life is likeness to God, but there is no God, or to live in harmony with nature while Philo, “De Providentia 1&2,” in De Providentia ed. Mireille HadasLebel (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1973). 22 In the two volumes of De Providentia (1.6–36; 2.45–84) Philo rebuts three basic charges against providence, each of which can be traced back to the Epicurean denial of teleology. First is the assertion that the world is not ordered and therefore does not require the explanation of an intelligent designer. Second is the claim that providence is incompatible with the existence of evil. Third is the related claim that providence is incompatible with praise and blame. Philo’s responses to each of these Epicurean-inspired charges against providence follow in all essentials the previous Stoic arguments in defense of fate. First, an authentic (Stoic) consideration of the world’s orderliness requires one to concede that the world is inexplicable without an intelligent designer. Second, a proper (Stoic) understanding of good and evil reveals that there is no incompatibility between providence and evil. Third, a proper (Stoic) understanding of the activity of providence will show that human agency, and therefore praise and blame, are only possible within a providential world. 21



nature is not harmonious, then in either case the goal will be unattainable. Fortunately, Philo assures us that this is not the case; the telos certainly is attainable thanks to God’s existence and providential management of the world. Philo develops these general arguments in the first volume of On Providence. Before any arguments from the observation of the world—various forms of the cosmological argument—Philo begins the treatise with his own arguments from reason. Philo first declares that providence is rational, which evidently means for him that what is rational is also providential. Then, taking aim at those who deny providence, Philo argues that any argument against providence—insofar as it is an argument—must also be rational, and therefore providential. It is therefore only by means of providence that one may argue against providence. 23 Philo explains that any argument for the absence of providence is in fact founded on a preconception of the well-ordering activity of providence, and that it is only by comparison to such a preconception of providence that the absence of providence can be conceived. Thus any argument against providence is actually an argument against the absence of providence by recourse to the universal preconception of what providence should be. Therefore all arguments against providence are in fact proofs of the ubiquitous operation of providence as the universal grounding of our human ability to reason and communicate. 24 Philo continues on to argue that any rational conception of reality must be founded on the existence of an intelligible order in the world, without which order humans would be incapable of forming reasonable concepts, or developing any of the arts and sciences. 25 Fortunately, the laws of nature so evident in creation furnish us with just such a readily accessible rationality. 26 Thus the rational operation of providence provides order for the world and grounds the possibility for human life in agreement with that order.

Prov. 1.2. Prov. 1.3–4. 25 Prov. 1.31–2. 26 Prov. 1.33. 23 24



For Philo, the existence and rational operation of providence also grounds the validity of human freedom and responsibility. In Prov. 1.77–88, Philo confronts those who believe that the world is not governed by providence, but by the random motions of the stars. What is interesting here is that Philo sets up a contrast not between a predetermined and unpredetermined view of the world, but between a view of the world predetermined by rational providence and one predetermined by irrational fate. The view that Philo condemns is one that does not “admit that there is a providence that does everything” and “lets go the bit that providence has fastened to his teeth.” 27 Instead, this view ascribes all the acts of providence “to birth and chance, and maintains that nature itself throughout this whole universe is managed by the stars.” 28 The contrast between this view and Philo’s own is thus centered on the question of whether the world’s determining causes are rational (providential) or irrational (chance). The problem with the view that ascribes the conduct of the world to the stars, according to Philo, is that it invalidates human freedom and responsibility. Philo considers such ‘sophistries’ as this astral fatalism to be “deceptions artfully designed to mislead whoever wishes to deprive himself of personal freedom.” 29 Philo’s understanding of freedom and responsibility is succinctly explained in Deus 47–8. This passage locates these exclusively in the human mind’s capacity for deliberate choice. “For it is the mind alone that the Father who begat it deemed worthy of freedom… But man who is possessed of spontaneous and selfdetermined judgment and performs for the most part activities deliberately chosen is rightly blamed… and praised.” 30 Philo here connects the validity of praise and blame to humanity’s responsibility for deliberate choice which constitutes human freedom. The necessary foundation for this understanding is that humans are indeed capable of deliberate choice. As for beings who are incapable of such choice—e.g.: “the other living creatures in whose souls Prov. 1.77. Ibid. 29 Prov. 1.78. 30 Deus 47–8. 27 28



the mind, the element earmarked for liberty, has no place”—Philo concludes that praise and blame are invalid since those beings are subjected “as slaves to a master.” 31 Now, Philo has argued in Prov. 1.2–4 and 31–3 that without providence, human rationality is impossible. But here we see that without such rationality, human freedom and responsibility will also be impossible. Therefore, Philo concludes in Prov. 1.77–8 that if providence is denied, human freedom and responsibility are also denied. The surest solution, then, to the challenge of a fatalist predetermination of human agency is not to affirm indeterminacy, but rather to affirm the rationality of providence which controls all things heavenly and human alike. 32 With this understanding of freedom and responsibility, Philo uses the traditional argument from praise and blame to invalidate astral fatalism. He argues that “if everything is dispensed at birth, then laws, piety, justice, and the verdicts of judges should be abrogated, since man’s will is not free when he does what has been predestined for him. For when the power of self-conduct is denied and every act is attributed to powers of nativity, there will be no glory in virtue, no besetment of sin… everything being done involuntarily.” 33 This is an argument that had been used by Academics against Stoic Fate, and by Epicurus against both theistic and Democritean views of predetermination. What is distinctive about Philo’s use of it is that, unlike its previous uses, he applies it solely to an astrological view of fate as irrational. Thus, Philo’s response to the denial of responsibility that results from an irrational view of fate is not to affirm an indeterminate cosmos—like Epicurus—or to deny rational fate—like Carneades—but rather to insist—like Chrysippus—that the world’s determination is guided by rational providence. “Now, the so-called zodiacal circle itself is derived from Providence, as we implied in the preceding discussions. Providence awes by means of these stars; these created beings do her biddings.” 34

Deus 47. Prov. 1.88. 33 Prov. 1.82. 34 Prov. 1.88. 31 32



Philo elsewhere affirms that the supra- and sub-lunar worlds are causally connected and that the human mind is an instrument of providence’s own agency, so he is certainly not arguing against determinism or for an indeterminist requirement for human freedom. 35 Rather, his defense of human freedom against astral fatalism is simply to insist on the rationality of the causes that connect both the supra- and sublunar worlds to the intentional divine mind in charge of all. This is an effective argument for Philo since the human mind is an extension of the divine mind. 36 The rationality of the human mind is the same rationality by which providence manages the world and which therefore constitutes the human telos of likeness to God and harmony with nature. With this connection affirmed between the human mind and the divine mind, the best defense both of human agency and of the possibility of attaining the human telos is to defend the rationality of providence, thus reciprocally guaranteeing the rationality and therefore the freedom of human agents. This understanding of freedom is the same as that noted in Epictetus by Michael Frede (above, Introduction). For Philo, to be free is to be a mind functioning in harmony with God who is the mind in which the universe exists. 37 For Epictetus, to be free is to exercise ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË with complete accuracy, restricting our concern solely to what is up to us, and thus to be in total conformity to the divine plan for the cosmos. 38 For neither of these authors would an indeterminist conception of freedom be at all beneficial, since they identified the good not with any modern notion of self-expression or self-realization, but with virtue, understood as total conformity to God’s management of the world. For such a view of the good,

Cosmic sympathy: Op. 117; Mig. 178–81, Her. 97–9, Abr. 70, Somn. 1.161, cf. Winston’s notes on 113–4. Mind an instrument of providence, Cher. 127–8; Fug. 46. Cf. Winston, “Freedom and Determinism in Philo of Alexandria,” 57. 36 Op. 146; LA 1.39–41; Cher 116–8. 37 Winston, “Freedom and Determinism in Philo of Alexandria,” 48–51, 53–4, 56–7. 38 Ench. 1, 14, 19–20; Disc. 4.1.131. 35



indeterminism in itself as the lack of divine predetermination could only be seen as an evil, the lack of conformity to the divine will. 39 However, in another area of Philo’s thought we do see something like a beginning point for a useful concept of indeterminism, although in his own writings this will in no way serve as an idea of freedom for him. Part of Philo’s defense of providence was concerned with defending specifically the goodness of providence. This was certainly a logical necessity for Philo since the definition of the good was itself connected to the activity of providence, and so the two notions needed to correspond in order to avoid a contradiction. Thus, Philo found himself wrestling with the problem of theodicy in order to defend his understandings of the good and of providence. It is within his discussion of theodicy that we find a subtle yet significant departure from the Stoic understanding of ethics and determinism. Philo’s solution to this problem might have opened up a category of cosmology that is not under the direct management of God, and thus might have served later Platonist thinkers as a beginning point for thinking about an indeterminate or unstable feature of human psychology.

PHILO AND CHRYSIPPUS ON THEODICY Because Philo thought that we attain the good by living in harmony with nature, attaining to mystical union with God, and both of these by essentially trusting in God’s providence, 40 it was important to him to defend the goodness of this providence. If it turned out that providence were not in fact good, indeed not always good, then Philo’s conception of the telos as living in harmony with nature as the expression of providence would collapse. Consequently, throughout his writings Philo shows awareness of several arguments against providence and takes pains to refute them. Simplified, these arguments against providence all follow a similar formu“For to be the slave of God is man’s highest boast, more precious not only than liberty, but than wealth and office and all that mortal kind embraces.” Cher. 105, Winston’s translation; cf. Somn. 1.149, 2.37, 251; Sob. 62; Fug. 117; Virt. 188; Praem. 123; QE 2.51; Plant. 49. 40 LA 3.228–9; Her. 90–3; Praem. 28–30; Somn. 1.119. 39



la: if there is evil, there is not providence; but there is evil, therefore there is not providence. This argument holds if one concedes, as Philo did, this twofold understanding of providence: that providence 1) causes all and 2) causes only good. 41 It would have been difficult for Philo to escape this understanding of providence because letting either part of the definition go would undermine the salvific foundation that providence was supposed to guarantee: the entire world is governed by the divine mind as expressed in an intelligible nature that enables us to rationally pursue the good. Abandoning (1) would betray to the whims of chance the dependability of nature that is supposed to lead us to the good—i.e.: it cannot be trusted that providence is always in control; abandoning (2) would nullify the very goodness to which we are supposed to be led by the rationality of providence—i.e.: if providence cannot be trusted to work for our good, but might rather work for our ill, then a misplaced trust in such a malevolent providence would actually doom instead of save us. The detractors of providence therefore have only the seemingly easy task of showing the mere existence of evil. For if there is evil in the world, then either providence caused it, which violates (2), or providence did not cause it which violates (1). And if such providence violates its own definition, then it certainly does not exist. Therefore, for Philo, the only sufficient answer was to deny the existence of evil. 42 The arguments against providence recorded in Philo’s writings claim the existence of three types of evil—1) physical, 2) moral, and 3) divine—any of which would effectively deny the existence of providence and undermine Philo’s framework for salvation. By ‘physical evil’ (1) I mean the assertion that painful phenomena such as disease and disasters are evil, are caused by providence, and therefore contradict the proposition that providence is good. 43 By ‘moral evil’ (2) I mean the assertion that the existence of human Conf. 180: “God is the cause only of what is good, but is absolutely the cause of no evil whatsoever.” Cf. Agr. 129. 42 For different reasons, Philo’s Stoic predecessors denied the existence of evil among externals, which are merely indifferent. DL 7.101–3 (L&S 58A); cf. Epictetus Ench. 1. 43 Prov. 1.37–76. 41



vice is evil, is caused by providence, and therefore contradicts the proposition that providence is good. 44 These two assertions of evil each imply the evil agency of providence in causing them to exist, but they also include the further assertion of divine evil (3) on the basis of unjust divine judgment. This divine evil is asserted as either (3a) prosperity and poverty misaligned for the wicked and the righteous respectively, 45 or (3b) the inaccurate attribution of agency to humans for actions which they did not initiate—i.e.: invalid praise and blame for human actions which are in actuality predetermined. 46 Therefore, by (3) I mean the assertion that providence judges unjustly and therefore contradicts its own definition as the just cosmic orchestrator. 47 Prov. 1.77–88. Prov. 1.59–66; 2.3–44, 85–112; cf. Praem. 32–4. 46 Prov. 1.89–92. 47 These arguments as discussed in Philo were not new to the history of philosophy. They remain those of the Hellenistic schools that opposed the Stoics on this paramount issue. The existence of physical evil (1) was one Epicurean argument against divine creation (L&S 13D.3, F.6–7). Under this umbrella fit all manner of phenomena not ordered toward the benefit of humans: illness, natural disasters, dangerous animals, and even the random distribution of stars and continents (Philo, Prov. 1.37–76; 2.59–83). As Philo’s opponents claimed, the lack of order in these phenomena argues against the activity of an ordering agent such as providence. Furthermore, Epicurus argued (3a), the poverty of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked are excusable only if random, for if intentional, they would certainly indicate providential injustice. (Cicero, L&S 13G.5; cf. Plutarch in the next section.) The existence of moral evil as the attribution of human vice to divine agency (2) was asserted by Academics against Chrysippus’ compatibilism between fate and human responsibility. Academics claimed that Chrysippus’ doctrine made fate and not humans responsible for human action, including vice (Gellius, NA 7.2.4–5; cf. Bobzien, Determinism, 242–5). The injustice (3b) of finding humans laudable or culpable for actions that are really caused by fate was also raised by Academics against Stoic confidence in providential fate. (Gellius, NA 7.2.5; Cicero, Fat. 40; cf. Bobzien, Determinism, 242–5. Plutarch’s similar attack is discussed in the next section.) 44 45



Philo refutes the existence of each of these types of evil in his two works on providence. He considers the assertion of physical evil in De Providentia 1.37–76: physical diseases, natural disasters, and death all seem to imply the absence of any benevolent design in the world. In his dialogue on Providence, Philo’s interlocutor Alexander, who represents a generic position against providence more than any specific Hellenistic school, 48 focuses on the problem of retribution: not just that physical nuisances exist, but that providential rewards and punishments are meted out at random and do not correspond to rewarding the good and punishing the bad. This moves from the accusation of physical evil (1) to that of divine evil (3a): providence itself is unjust because it does not justly repay good to the good and evil to the evil. Philo’s primary justification of the apparent evils in nature is founded upon the Stoic insistence that virtue is the sole good. Philo’s justification of these supposed evils thus did not differ significantly from the Stoic position. With this definition of the good, against those schools that would deny both providence and virtue’s sufficiency for happiness, Philo proceeds to interpret supposed physical evil as actual providential benefit. Since the externals of health and wealth are not good, but indifferent, all the various misfortunes that befall the righteous and the wicked alike are also indifferent. 49 These do not constitute any existent evil (1), nor do they therefore imply any injustice on the part of providence (3a). 50 In fact, the poverty, disasters, and illnesses that appear to be evils are often orchestrated by providence for the healing of a person’s soul, 51 or for warning someone against committing further sins. 52 In all of this Philo is clear that God providentially orders all physical events toward the benefit of his creation, 53 which benefit is essentially the development of virtue. 54 Thus, on the basis of a proper understanding of virtue as the sole Prov. 2.3–44. See Hadas-Lebel, 59–67. Prov. 1.61–4, 69. 50 Prov. 2.12–14. 51 Prov. 1.57–8. 52 Prov. 1.54–5. 53 Prov. 2.29–33. 54 Prov. 1.69, 2.16–23. 48




good, Philo explains that the supposed existence of physical evil and divine injustice are actually evidence rather of divine beneficence. So much for physical evil (1). Like the Stoics, Philo valued physical nuisances and sufferings as mere indifferents rather than evils. But how did Philo deny the existence of moral evil (2) and thereby justify the activity of providence and the validity of praise and blame (3b)? Philo refuted the assertion that moral evil (human vice) is an effect of God (2) and its consequence that divine praise and blame for virtue and vice are unjust (3b). These assertions are recorded among the accounts of previous Hellenistic arguments regarding fate and human responsibility. Epicurus had claimed that the physically deterministic universe of Democritus invalidated praise and blame by making all human actions predetermined. 55 The Academics then, following Arcesilaus, developed this argument into a biting criticism of Zeno’s account of a determined universe. Reconstructed from Chrysippus’ response to it, this argument amounts to: ‘If Fate/God causes all, then humans cause nothing; therefore attributing responsibility to humans (praise and blame) is invalid.’ 56 Philo often follows Chrysippus’ responses to these challenged, although he adds his own ideas as well. 57 L&S 20C = Epicurus, Nat., liber incertus, 34.26–30 (31.26–30). Above, Gellius and Cicero; Cf. Bobzien, Determinism, 242–313. In making this argument, Carneades (Cic. Fat. 31) was claiming that if the Stoic doctrine of fate were accepted, all agency and responsibility would remain in the hands of fate, and therefore nothing would be up to us, an equally important tenet of Stoic doctrine. Thus the Stoics would be shown to be inconsistent. 57 Chrysippus’ first response had been to distinguish between principal and preceding causes so that while fate furnishes the preceding causes of human action through various phantasiai which impinge upon us, humans are themselves the principal causes of and therefore responsible for their own actions through their giving or withholding assent to the various phantasiai. (Cicero, De Fato 41.) A hostile reading of Chrysippean theodicy is preserved in Aulus Gellius NA 7.1–2 and Plutarch, Sto. Rep. 30–36. A full account of Chrysippus’ position is not appropriate here, but see Long, “The Stoic Concept of Evil,” 329–43. 55 56



Philo insisted that God causes all things and acts through human beings, “For we are the instruments, wielded in varying degrees of force, through which each particular form of action is produced.” 58 This clearly echoes the Stoic position that, “The movements of our minds are nothing more than instruments for carrying out determined decisions since it is necessary that they be performed through us by the agency of fate.” 59 As Winston notes, “The theme of man’s nothingness and utter passivity runs through much of Philo’s works.” 60 Philo compares humans to puppets controlled by the divine puppeteer. 61 Similarly, humans are the soil in which God does the planting and enables the growing of virtue. 62 Furthermore, God is the lender, and humans mere borrowers of all psychic capacities. 63 And most explicitly, “For to act is the property of God, something which may not be ascribed to created beings, whereas it is the property of creation to suffer.” 64 Philo certainly ascribed to God some type of causal responsibility for human character and action. Just how he consistently maintained this will occupy the following pages. Like Chrysippus’ justification of natural evil recorded by Gellius in NA 7.1, Philo also justified the existence of various types of evil in view of the overall good accomplished through God’s provCher. 128. Calcidius Ad Timaeum 161 (SVF 2.943); cf. Winston’s discussion in “Freedom and Determinism in Philo of Alexandria.” 60 Winston, “Freedom and Determinism in Philo of Alexandria,” 56. Cf. Philo, LA 3.75–6; LA 3.85–88; Cher 79–82; Cher 116–8. 61 Fug. 46, Op. 117, Cher. 127–8, Abr. 73; cf. Plato, Laws 644d. For other instances of ‘żÍÉÇÊȸÊ̚ђ in an ethical context, see Simplicius, In Phys. 9.313–314, Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.2, 3.16, 6.16, 7.3, 10.38, 12.19; and Clement, Str. 2.3.11 below. 62 LA 1.48–9, Cher. 43–7, Her. 120–2. 63 Cher. 116–8. 64 Cher. 77; cf. LA 2.31–2, and the fragment of LA 4: “…he ascribes the powers and causes of all things to God, leaving no work for a created being but showing it to be inactive and passive.” Fragments of Philo Judaeus, ed. James Rendel Harris, (Cambridge: University Press, 1886) in Winston, “Freedom and Determinism,” 54. 58 59



idential management. In all likelihood, Philo followed Chrysippus’ own work in explaining that “Quakes, pestilences, thunderbolts, etc. … are not primary works of nature but consequent to her necessary works, and attendant on the primary.” 65 Although these supposed evils are not primary intentions of providence, they are nonetheless always providentially ordered to the greater good, as in the similar case of all the venomous animals. The harmfulness of these species seems an evil to humans, but Philo maintains that they “were prepared by God for the punishment of the errant just as generals and rulers have their whips and swords.” 66 Thus they are in fact useful tools for God’s maintenance of cosmic order. So far these examples all refer to non-human ‘natural evils,’ but this reasoning also holds for at least one example of human vice, which is tyranny. In explaining that God “sets up tyrants like public executioners over the cities he sees swelling with violence… in order that they may finally come to a halt and abate,” 67 Philo echoes Chrysippus’ reasoning in suggesting that God instigates the beginnings of wars in order to manage the overpopulation of humanity. 68 Both authors consider it reasonable that God should make use of human vice for the well-ordering of the world as a whole. That vice a human evil does not preclude God’s ability to use it for his own good plans. But Philo cautions against too hearty an acceptance of this divine use of vice. In describing the life “wholly occupied by joy,” Philo explains that joy comes when one recognizes that everything that happens in the universe, even those painful experiences we are tempted to call evils, “is guided and governed in a manner calculated to ensure its safety [of the world as a whole].” Therefore we must give thanks for “all things which are done in the world without

Prov. 2.102 [53–55]; cf. Gellius, NA 7.1. It is unnecessary to claim that Philo had Chrysippus’ own writings directly in front of him as the latter’s positions were well known and accessible through handbooks and later teachers. 66 Prov. 2.104 [59–61]. 67 Prov. 2.31–2 [37–41]. 68 Plutarch, Sto. Rep. 32. 65



intentional wickedness.” 69 In this passage, Philo specifies “intentional wickedness,” or vice, as not being among the good things used by God for the ordering of the whole. Philo describes God in several passages as the direct cause of the good only, without ever being the cause of any evil. He writes, There are some persons who look upon piety as consisting in the affirmation that all things have been made by God, both what is good and the contrary, to whom we would say that one portion of your opinion is praiseworthy, but the other portion blamable. For it was not proper to confuse and mingle everything together, nor to declare God the cause of everything without distinction, but to make a difference, and to pronounce him the cause only of those things which are good. 70

Philo repeats this conviction in his commentaries on Genesis, “… because the deity himself is never the cause of evil,” and on the confusion of tongues, “…that God is the cause only of what is good, but is absolutely the cause of no evil whatsoever.” 71 But despite this distinction, we have seen that Philo also insists that God is the cause of everything, including human character and action. 72 Philo thus might remain vulnerable to the accusation of self-contradiction employed by the detractors of providence: is it not inconsistent for Philo to claim that providence is both the cause of everything and at the same time never the cause of evil? In Philo’s view, God, as the highest good, furnishes existence to the world through his goodness. It is then the world’s participation in God’s own goodness that constitutes the being of the world. Philo articulates his theory of cosmogony in dialogue with the Timaeus, and interprets the abyss of Genesis in dialogue with the preexistent matter of Timaeus. The point is that God’s provision of existence to the world is the organization of this primordial chaos. The key is that this primordial chaos does not exist before its “…ÓÅ¼Í ÌýË îÁÇÍÊţÇÍ Á¸Áţ¸Ë.” Praem. 32–4; emphasis mine. Agr.129; Cf. Det. 122; Sacr. 106; Fug. 70, 79–81; Op. 75; Plant. 53; LA 3.73; Mut. 30. 71 QG 1.68, Conf. 180. 72 E.g.: Deus 29–30; cf. above, nn. 58–64. 69 70



organization by God. Thus, there is no preexistent matter in Philo because the existence of a being is its being organized by God. Without this organization, which is a participation in the goodness of God, there are no existents. Thus, goodness and order constitute the being of beings, and conversely, evil and chaos as nonparticipants in God cannot be conceived as existing.

GOOD AS BEING In Philo’s Platonic metaphysics, all that is, qua being, is good; therefore in fact both prongs of his definition of providence are united: providence causes all that is, and since all that is is good, providence therefore causes only the good. If this metaphysics holds, then the detractors of providence are left with no species of existent evil by which to accuse providence of inconsistency. Thus argument (2) against providence fails along with its dependent (3b). To understand Philo’s theodicy, we have to first understand how the terms ‘good and evil’ function in his cosmology as well as in is ethics. Although Philo was heavily influenced by Stoic thought throughout his ethics, his primary philosophical sources were Platonic texts, and especially the Timaeus. Like the Stoics, Philo understood ‘the good’ in ethics as solely applying to moral virtue as the uniquely sufficient means of attaining ‘the end of goods.’ But following his Platonic influences, Philo employed ‘the good’ in an ontological sense as well. Thus, ‘the good’ understood as virtue is connected to ‘the good’ understood as the first cause of existence itself, the one God. 73 Philo states this clearly, “God is the name of goodness, the cause of all things.” 74 Philo thus employs ‘the good’ in both an ethical and an ontological sense. He explains that the reason for creation was “that the father and creator was good,” and that this father wanted to share his goodness on the world which “was of itself destitute of arrangement, of quality, of animation, of distinctive character, and full of all disorder and confusion.” 75 Ethically, the good is virtue; ontologically it is the order that is caused Op. 21; Prov. 1.6–8,12, 20–22; 2.55; LA 3.73. LA 3.73. 75 Op. 21, 22; Cf Plato, Tim. 29e-30b; 53b. 73 74



by the first active cause of creation. Understood systematically, the good (divine first cause of order) effects the good (human virtue as a well-ordered soul) which leads humans through the good (a life ordered in harmony with nature) to the good (a life perfectly ordered by divine knowledge). The implication of this system is that all order in creation is valued as ‘good’ and credited to the activity of God as the first cause, while all disorder in creation is valued as ‘evil’ and logically precluded from attribution to God as the cause of order. Consequently, God is logically safeguarded as “the cause, not of all things, but only of good things and good men.” 76 Philo followed the Timaeus in thinking that God fashioned the sensible world out of a material substrate and an intelligible paradigm. 77 But Philo insisted that both of these were created by God, because if not created, they would be seen as co-principles of creation, and in turn would imply that God had need of assistance in creating the world, an impious impossibility. 78 Arguing against an interpretation of Timaeus that would make God a mere assembler, Philo insists that God not only assembles the preexisting components, but truly creates both the intelligible paradigm and the material substrate by his act of thinking. 79 It is this divine act of thinking that orders and therefore “furnishes the principle of existence” 80 to the sensible world. Thus, goodness, order, and existence are overQG. 1.100; similarly, Conf. 180: “God is the cause only of what is good, but is absolutely the cause of no evil whatsoever.” 77 Op. 16–7, 29, etc.; Prov. 1.20s. Cf. Winston, Philo, 7–13, HadasLebel, 68–70. 78 Prov. 1.6–8. 79 Prov. 1.6–8. Philo admitted the conceptual, but not the actual, existence of prime matter since matter must be informed in order to exist. In this way, matter could not have preexisted the creative thinking of God which furnishes the existence of matter at the same time as it does the existence of the intelligible paradigm. Thus, for Philo, matter is not a tool used by God, but is the medium of God’s own thinking. Because there was no preexistent matter, there was also no time before God’s thoughtful creation. Thus he held an eternal creation, without preexistent matter. See discussion in Winston, 7–21. 80 Prov. 1.7. 76



lapping concepts in Philo’s understanding of divine cosmogony. The “truly existent” is God, which is the “name of goodness” which “causes all things” by “invest[ing] with order, quality, animation, resemblance, identity, arrangement, harmony, and everything which belongs to the more excellent idea.” 81 Conversely, Philo understands evil to be that which lacks order and therefore existence. 82 Generally speaking, this category includes everything that is not God, since God is the only true existent and the cause of all other dependent beings. This is an ontological valence for the term evil, which applies in view of the nothingness of creation and its total dependence upon God. But more specifically, the moral valence of evil is predicated of those rational beings who are disordered away from participation in God’s rationality. Philo says that God alone truly exists, that everything else exists only contingently, partaking merely of opinion. 83 Philo also insists that God created the world solely by his own power, without the need of any assistance. 84 Furthermore, there are two creations in Philo’s cosmogony, though their conceptual distinction need not imply a chronological delay. 85 Through the first, God creates the intelligible forms and the primordial matter. 86 Through the second, God creates the sensible world. Similarly, there remain after crea“Truly existent,” Somn. 1.60, Det. 160; “name of goodness…” LA 3.73; “invests with order…” Op. 22. 82 Evil: Fug. 70, 79–81; Mut 30–2; Plant. 53; Sacr. 106; Det. 122; vice: Agr. 128–9; Op. 149; Cont. 178; QG 1.68, 1.89. 83 Det. 160. 84 Prov. 1.6–8; cf. passages on the creation of humans, below: Op. 72–5; Fug. 68–72; Conf. 168–83; Mut. 30–32. 85 QG 19. 86 Prov. 2.55–8: Philo insists that such primordial matter, like the void, is not a co-principle of creation alongside God; rather these two conceptual necessities are not even real existents as they only come into being when prime matter becomes substance by being informed, and void becomes space by being filled with body. Thus is it only by a certain inaccuracy that one may say that God ‘made’ matter and void, since more properly these two concepts do not exist and therefore were never ‘made,’ even by God. 81



tion two realms of beings: the intelligible and the sensible. While God creates the intelligible world directly, the sensible world is generated rather indirectly through the activity of the intelligible forms and the passivity of matter. 87 Thus Philo distinguishes between the four causes at work in the world. God is the agent by which the world is made, God’s Logos containing the forms is the instrument through which, matter is the patient out of which the world is formed, and God’s manifestation to the world is the goal for which all of this has come about. 88 God and his intelligible instruments are the active causes of the world, while matter is the passive recipient of God’s organization. 89 But matter cannot perfectly receive the order of God’s organization; rather it only receives the portion of which it is able. 90 Therefore, while the intelligible world remains perfectly ordered as a direct creation of God and conveys this order from the heavens as far as the moon, the sensible world beneath the moon, as an indirect creation 91 sullied by the limitations of matter, remains full of disorder and confusion. 92 Thus, the body is an evil and dead thing that the soul [which is animated by intellect] must carry around. 93 Similarly, Philo declares that God is “the maker of all good and holy things, as, on the other hand, corruptible creation is of what is evil and profane.” 94 Now, this distinction between God as the source of good and matter as source of evil should be not interpreted as a dualism between competing active causes of being. Rather, the distinction is between activity and passivity. The active intelligible forms, as God’s instruments, are the cause of being whose effectiveness is only limited by the relative capacity of passive matter to receive being. 95 Thus, it is not creation which is the Spec. 1.328. Prov. 1.23. 89 Prov. 1.7. 90 Op.23; cf. Winston, Two Treatises, 8. 91 Spec. 1.328. 92 Prov. 2.68, Op.168, Ios. 145, Spec. 1.88–9, QG 4.8, 168, QE 2.91. 93 LA 3.69–71. 94 Plant. 53. 95 Op. 23. 87 88



cause of evil, but the passivity of matter which somehow lags behind the ordering activity of God’s intelligible instruments. The wisdom of the wise is attributed to the direct agency of the cause, while the wickedness of the wicked is attributed to the passivity of matter. 96 For this reason, Philo completes his declaration of God’s goodness, in the above quotation, with the supplication: “Reign thou … over the suppliant soul; not leaving it for a single moment without a governor. For an uninterrupted service under [the doctrines of wisdom] is not only better than freedom, but even than the most extensive dominion.” 97 Because God is the cause of order to the inherently disordered and passive material substrate, Philo declares that the life of service to the wise divine commands is the highest human good. And so, Philo’s agreement with the Timaeus that the cause of the world’s existence is God’s goodness comes full circle here, as God gives goodness to the soul by ordering it in service to wisdom. Now, if this is how Philo understands the causality of creation—that God causes order through his intelligible instruments upon the passive recipient matter, and yet matter somehow imperfectly receives this order due to its own limitation—then we might make better sense of Philo’s paradox that while God is the sole creator of the whole world, nevertheless “God is the cause only of what is good, but is absolutely the cause of no evil whatsoever.” 98 For evil, which originates in the inability of matter to receive the creative ordering of God, must be, like primordial matter and the Epicurean void, reduced to the hypothetical realm of concept as non-real. 99 Evil is of course conceivable in daily moral judgments concerning the perceived behaviors of the wicked, but since the ordering of matter is what causes non-real prime matter to be a real something, 100 evil as the mere privation of order in the material realm, cannot be said to be anything real at all. For this reason, “God is the cause, not of all things, but only of good things and QG 4.160. Plant. 53 and similarly Cher. 2.107. 98 Conf. 180. 99 Above, Prov. 1.23, 2.55–8. 100 Prov. 1.7. 96 97



good men, and of those men and things which are in accordance with virtue; for as he is free from all wickedness, so likewise he cannot be the cause of it.” 101 And again, ‘the soul of the wicked man he did not make.’ 102 It would be unreasonable, in light of his strict monotheistic piety, to suppose that Philo considered it possible that the wicked actually originated from some other source than God. There is no evidence in his writings of any dualistic anti-God responsible for the creation of evil beings. Rather, the most plausible interpretation of these passages is that Philo understood the wickedness of the wicked not to be attributable to God who as the primary active cause could never be considered responsible for the lack of causation in passive and sluggish matter. 103 The terms ‘good and evil’ then, in addition to their previous ethical significance, are given a certain ontological significance in light of their relative participation in the order of being. Taking a closer look at this last passage (Mut. 30–2), it is apparent that this ontological distinction figures prominently in Philo’s explanation for the origin of human vice, and in this, he differs subtly but substantially from the previous Stoic explanation. As discussed above, While Chrysippus was also concerned to defend the goodness of providence, he did not attempt to divert responsibility away from fate. Instead, he explained the existence of vice in humans by recourse to ‘certain inexorable necessities’ which are caused as secondary consequences of providence’s primary intentions. 104 In this explanation, the goodness of providence is located in providence’s primary intention which is principally the order of the whole, including what human virtue there is. The fact that this well-ordering requires a certain amount of human vice is not allowed to detract from the overall goodness of providence. Philo explains the origin of human vice quite differently in several passages which give interpretations of Gen. 1:26. QG 1.100. Mut. 30. 103 This conception of matter’s sluggishness is not shared by Plutarch who then requires a fully developed rivalry between Osiris and Typhon to account for the existence of good and evil. 104 “…per sequellas quasdam necessarias.” Gellius, NA 7.1.9. 101 102



Before analyzing Philo’s interpretation of this passage more closely, it will be helpful to briefly consider the weight he placed on this passage for the sake of his larger defense of providence. Philo needed to deny the existence of evil in order for his two-pronged confidence in providence—as both the cause of the good and the cause of the all—to safely uphold the human possibility of attaining the telos. (If the human telos is to live according to nature—which is the providential activity of God—and so in likeness to God, then this providence must both be and therefore be good. A malevolent divine providence would have no meaning on Philo’s premise of total divine goodness.) This presents a paradox for Philo to escape. On the one hand, Philo repeatedly insists that God is never the cause of any evil. On the other, Philo equally affirms that God controls the dispositions of human souls. If human moral evil exists, then God must both cause it—as something that exists—and not cause it—as something that is evil. For Philo, however, evil—as the lack of order 105—is only a privation and does not exist. Philo’s solution was thus to deny the existence of evil by defining it as a privation of the good. Because vice as a privation has no being, it also requires no cause. Thus Philo can say that God does not cause vice without violating the first prong of his definition of providence: if providence causes all that is, and vice is not, then there is no contradiction is saying that providence does not cause vice. God can then be affirmed as the cause of all human good and yet no human evil. This ontological distinction underlies his account of the creation of humans in Genesis 1:26. God, the unique truly existent, could not have been the sole creator of humanity, for then humanity would not have the opposite potentials for good and for evil. Philo’s reasoning for ascribing humanity’s creation to multiple agents is to distance the origin of humanity from the source of being itself, and thereby to account for the human capacity for moral evil.

Above, nn. 81–2: (Evil: Fug. 70, 79–81; Mut 30–2; Plant. 53; Sacr. 106; Det. 122; vice: Agr. 128–9; Op. 149; Cont. 178; QG 1.68, 1.89). 105



PHILO ON CREATION OF MAN Chrysippus’ strategy for defending the goodness of providence would not serve Philo well, since the latter insisted that God “is absolutely the cause of no evil whatsoever.” 106 Thus in addition to affirming that God can and does direct human vice toward the good of the whole, 107 Philo must also show how God is not responsible in any way for vice. He makes this point in four separate passages that interpret the plural “Let us make man in our image” found in Gen. 1:26. 108 Philo takes the basic framework for his interpretation from Plato’s account of the creation of humans in Timaeus 41a–42d and 69c. There, Plato explains that God began the creation of humans by making their souls, but delegated the rest of their creation to the younger gods. Following this general idea of divine delegation, Philo adds a significant point of his own. In the Timaeus, the purpose of delegation was to fulfill the variety of beings necessary for completing the universe. This God could not do alone, since whatever God made directly would remain immortal. Thus, the lesser gods were required to ensure man’s mortality. 109 But Philo’s purpose for the delegation of humanity’s creation focuses on the problem of divine culpability, which is covered differently in Plato’s account. 110 Philo’s interpretation of the plural in Gen. 1:26 is primarily concerned to render God all credit for human virtue, but no blame Above, Conf. 180. Prov. 2.31–2 [37–41] (Above, n. 67). 108 Op. 72–5; Fug. 68–72; Conf. 168–83; Mut. 30–32. 109 “There remain still three kinds of mortal beings that have not yet been begotten; and as long as they have not come to be, the heaven will be incomplete. But if these creatures came to be and came to share in life by my hand, they would rival the gods. It is you, then, who must turn yourselves to the task of fashioning these living things, as your nature allows. This will assure their mortality, and this whole universe will really be a completed whole.” Tim. 41b–c. 110 Plato’s demiurge and lesser gods do absolve themselves of responsibility for human sin by instructing the human souls before their incarnation (Tim. 42d). But this is not the purpose that Plato ascribes to the delegation of human creation at Tim. 41c. 106 107



for human vice. God delegates the creation of humanity “in order that God, the governor of all things, might have all the blameless intentions and actions of man, when he does right attributed to him; and that his other assistants might bear the imputation of his contrary actions” and “in order that the successes of the intellect may be attributed to him alone, but the errors of the being thus created, to his subordinate power.” 111 Why did Philo think that this was a good explanation? Why did he think that such delegation would absolve God from responsibility? Some assumptions shared with Plato: 1) God wanted a complete universe which includes the existence of mortals capable of voluntary choice between virtue and vice. 112 2) Whatever God makes directly is incorruptible and free from all vice, but whatever subordinates make is corruptible and subject to vice. 113 Therefore, Philo must have reasoned that if humans are created jointly both by God and the divine subordinates, then all virtue will be attributed to God and all vice to the subordinates. Thus, Philo could affirm both that there is only one creator of the world, God who needs no assistants, 114 and that this one creator did not in fact make the souls of the wicked, 115 but is “the creator only of those men who are virtuous and wise.” 116 According to the passages cited from Op., Fug, and Conf., all humans souls are in fact made by God and the subordinates together, but from the Mut. passage, there emerges the idea that the goodness of the virtuous is attributed to God, while the deficiency of the vicious is attributed the corresponding deficiency of the divine subordinates. This corresponds to the idea in Op. 21–3, LA 3.73 and Plant. 53 that one’s goodness itself is one’s being ordered by the good organizing activity of God. If God’s creative activity is essentially the ordering of the good, then it would follow that Op. 75; Conf. 179. Tim. 41b, 42b; Conf. 179, Fug. 70. 113 Tim. 41c; Prov. 2.68, Op.168, Ios. 145, Spec. 1.88–9, QG 4.8, 168, QE 2.91. 114 Conf. 170, 175. 115 Mut. 30. 116 Mut. 32. 111 112



whatever is good in creatures is attributable to God, while anything disordered in creatures could only be attributed to a causal distance from God. This causal distance is furnished by two features of Philo’s account of creation. First, all creation is only imperfectly capable of receiving the creative action of God. 117 And consequently, as in the Timaeus, the indirect creation of humanity by the imperfect divine subordinates can only result in a further diminution of order within the human soul. One’s vice is therefore not attributable to the first cause of creation, but only to oneself as having imperfectly received the order bestowed by the creator. “For the storehouses of wickedness are in us ourselves.” 118 It is along these lines that Philo must have meant the statements in Mut. 30–32 that God is the cause only of the good souls, but not of the bad ones. For Philo, then, creaturely vice is still ordered towards the good of the whole by the creator who remains in control of everything, but it is not a necessary consequence of that ordering activity of providence, as Chrysippus would have it. Rather, the origin of vice is in the limited ability of creation to receive the fullness of the creator’s goodness. Consequently, for Philo, vice only exists as a lack of participation in God’s ordering activity which constitutes the good. All moral good is the effect of God’s direct action in creation, but as the privation of order, all vice originates in the inability of creation to fully receive that ordering activity of God. Thus, God cannot be considered in any way the cause of that which fails to receive his activity. This results in Philo’s pious confidence that our moral failures are solely our own fault, whereas all moral success is equivalent to the activity of God within us.

CONCLUSION Fundamentally, then, what does this distinction between Philo and his Stoic predecessor mean for their respective understandings of the goodness of providence? For Chrysippus it is clear that God causes every particular, that the world is immediately obedient to God’s ordering, and that every detail including particular human 117 118

Op. 23. Fug. 79.



benefit and detriment is the direct result of God’s activity; but also that none of this constitutes either good or evil. Chrysippus’ understanding would only grant the moral values of good and evil to particular actions and judgments when considered in subjective relation to their agents. Thus, what might be a vicious action on my part is at the same time a step toward the virtuous harmonization of the cosmos on God’s part, while the predisposing characteristics of a soul themselves remain indifferent whether they contribute to the soul’s health or disease. For Philo, on the other hand, it is equally clear that God causes only the good, that creation’s capacity for divine reception is limited, and that the world therefore is not immediately obedient to God’s ordering. Our benefit is the direct effect of God, but our detriment is inexplicable as a disordered deficiency. What is significant for Philo’s defense of providence is that the various types of detriment affecting humans—diseases of soul and body, disasters, even divine punishments—are not ‘justifiable’ acts of God, but rather not acts of God at all. Of fundamental significance is the implication that while God is the agent of all that is good, God is not the principle of differentiation between someone’s turning out to be good or turning out to be evil. 119 Because God has no part in evil, all God’s activities and predeterminations are directed for the good of creation, while it is creation itself that somehow fails to participate fully in this beneficent divine activity. The significance of this can be grasped in contrast to Chrysippus, for whom God absolutely is the principle of differentiation and specific predeterminer of every detail. In Chrysippus’ view, God is only spared culpability for evil because moral valuation applies only subjectively to particulars, not to the cosmic management of God. Nonetheless, it remains the case that Chry-

…although this sense could be mistakenly construed from certain passages. Beginnings and Ends belong to God (Her. 120–2); God has created some souls faulty and others excellent (LA 3.75–6); God knows the nature of his handiwork while yet in the womb (LA 3.85–88); Man is God’s instrument (Cher. 127–8); God pulls the Strings of the Puppet Senses (Fug. 46). 119



sippus’ God does determine whether or not any particular will turn out virtuous or vicious. Philo’s conception seems formulated to invalidate just such a conclusion. While every virtuous act and person can justly be attributed to God who is the agent of all goods, the determination of whether or not someone in particular will be virtuous remains up to that person. No doubt, the two philosophers’ conceptions of God were quite different, with Philo’s transcendent view of God allowing for a gulf between creator and creature. Thus it is our creaturely limitation that determines the degree to which we can participate in God’s ordering activity. 120 Nevertheless, if a human comes to be virtuous, this is entirely an act of God who is the order by which virtue is virtuous, and not of the human who remains a passive recipient of the ordering activity of the creator. 121 Therefore, while God is the cause of all that is good, which is all that is, the principle of differentiation between the degrees of relative goodness attained/enjoyed by particular existents is not God, the cause of all, but matter, the imperfect recipient of the Cause’s agency. Since we originate from matter’s particular limitation by the indirect agency of the delegated creative powers, we– not God –are responsible for our own vice. Philo thereby invalidated the claim by the detractors of providence that providence is responsible for the existence of moral evil (2). If God is then not responsible for causing moral evil, God will be perfectly just in punishing moral evil (3b). But even regarding punishment, Philo insists that God cannot be directly responsible for anything with even the appearance of evil. Although divine punishments are in fact beneficial for creation and therefore do not count as evil in the first place, God is only directly responsible for principal blessings and delegates all corrective punishments to his subordinates. On this account, God himself is in no way responsible for the existence of moral evil (2), nor subject even to the appearance of injustice in punishing moral evil (3b). Philo’s concern to uphold theodicy was later shared thoroughly by Clement and other Christian writers. But with this approach, 120 121

Above, n. 90 (Op.23; cf. Winston, Two Treatises, 8). LA 1.48–52, LA 2.31–4, Cher. 77–8.



Philo was able to safeguard theodicy and correspondingly affirm human responsibility for evil without incorporating Aristotle’s twosided terminology into his substantially Stoic-inspired ethical framework. While one may or may not infer an indeterminist function for Philo’s account of the material world’s participation in divine rationality, it is significant that Philo does not require that human responsibility rest upon a two-sided freedom to do otherwise. In his view, it was sufficient for humans to be deemed responsible for what they do in fact do, not for what they could have otherwise done. The later concern to ground a two-sided view of responsibility in an indeterminist freedom to do otherwise, developed in Clement and Alexander, finds little precedence in the biblical Platonism of Philo.

CHAPTER FOUR. A DUALISTIC THEODICY: THE MIDDLEPLATONISM OF PLUTARCH OF CHAERONEA (46–120 CE) The biblical Platonism of Philo was not unique in its concern with theodicy. A quite different trajectory of Middle-Platonic thought, as seen in the writings of Plutarch (and ps. Plutarch), shows evidence of a heightened concern for theodicy among non-biblical Platonists as well. Here, Plutarch’s views are unexpectedly enlightening of Clement’s polemical concern to articulate an indeterminist view of human freedom against his rival gnostics. It seems that on this point Clement was not in particular dialogue with Philo, but was specifically rejecting a view of divine and human agency shared by Plutarch’s school and the followers of Basilides and Valentinus. 1 I will outline Plutarch’s system in this chapter and follow up in chapter nine with significant similarities in Clement’s rivals. There I will argue that a major motivation for Clement’s writings on responsiPlutarch was roughly contemporary with the development and composition of many Gnostic texts. It is not necessary for my argument to assume that his thought was directly responsible for Gnostic developments. Rather, his writings are a sensible place to start for constructing a plausible explanation of how Gnostic texts could be situated within the ethical discourse of the time. Furthermore, it is probable that some educated Christians would have read Plutarch or authors like him with the antagonistic cosmology of Paul’s epistles in mind. This connection and its soteriological consequences are worked out in Nicola Denzey Lewis, Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Under Pitiless Skies, Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies (Boston: Brill, 2003). 1




bility and moral progress was to correct the model of human agency implied by the dualistic cosmology presented here and shared by those rivals. Plutarch approached theodicy very differently than Philo and Chrysippus because he fundamentally disagreed with the Stoic (and Philonic-Clementine) conception of good and evil. Operating with Plutarch’s preference of the Peripatetic definitions of good and evil over those of the Stoics, this Platonic school required a great deal of cosmological speculation in order to account for the origins of good and evil and to make sense of human moral progress. Ps. Plutarch posited the existence of a malevolent god in opposition to the source of goodness and order; and some gnostic authors seem to have gone so far as to identify this malevolent deity with the biblical creator of the material world. 2 The cosmological speculation of this branch of Middle-Platonic thought deeply challenged the Philonic-Clementine claim of historical continuity from biblical revelation to Greek philosophy. Deeming the god of Moses an evil demon would certainly make it difficult to then claim that all Greek philosophical truth in fact flows from that most ancient Hebrew prophet. 3 These themes in Plutarch’s school will be more fully developed throughout this chapter, and their loose correspondence with gnostic literature in chapter nine. Again, I am not claiming direct and exact influence or correspondence between the historical Plutarch, Basilides, and Valentinus. But it does seem plausible that the general similarities in ethics and cosmology found in Plutarchan and ‘gnostic’ literature might suggest historical contact, influence, and crossover between authors and readers of these groups. In any case, reading Clement’s polemic with his rivals in light of the contemporary philosophical developments in Plutarch’s Middle-Platonism is quite helpful for fleshing out the significance of the many issues at play. For related developments in Middle-Platonist thought, see John Dillon’s chapter on “The Platonic Underworld” in John M. Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. To A.D. 220 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977), 384–96. 3 Clement’s adoption from Philo of this view of historical revelation, and its opposition to the gnostic view is more fully discussed in chapter nine below. 2



This branch of Middle-Platonism is also significant for understanding the context and motivation for the new articulation of indeterminist freedom in Clement and Alexander. The benevolent and malevolent spirits posited by Ps. Plutarch and Clement’s rivals were supposed to bear responsibility for the moral characters of particular human beings, but the latter authors each embraced a two-sided sense of responsibility developed within the Peripatetic tradition that directly rejected such fixed starting points for human character development. For Clement’s part, like other early Christian authors, he did not deny the moral influence of various spirits, but their ability to preemptively determine a person’s fate. In order to make this distinction, however, Clement needed to emphasize the personal responsibility each person has for determining which of these spiritual forces will exert influence over his or her own life. Thus, it seems likely that the development of such a starkly dualistic cosmology with its strongly deterministic ethical implications played a very large role in motivating Clement’s articulation of his position on indeterminist free will. While not directly addressing Plutarch (or Ps. Plutarch), Clement directly engaged his Christian rivals whom he understood to hold views very similar to those discussed here.

PLUTARCH’S VIEW OF GOOD AND EVIL Plutarch’s dualistic cosmology was a direct outgrowth of his understanding of good and evil. To recap, the Stoics had applied the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ subjectively: only actions and their subjects qualify as good or evil; the objects of actions and objects themselves do not count as good or evil. 4 For Plutarch, however, these terms signified objective realities in the external world and therefore were explainable as the objective effects of divine causes. In fact, a recurring theme in his criticism of the Stoic understanding of For example, Epictetus’ statement, “As a mark is not set up for the purpose of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.” Enchiridion 27. George Long’s Translation. Epictetus, Enchiridion, trans., George Long, Great Books in Philosophy (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1991). 4



good and evil was that such a position would preclude God’s being the bestower of goods to humans. I will discuss this argument more fully below, but an abbreviated version of Plutarch’s critique runs something like this. 5 Since good and evil are not predicable of things in the world (but only actions and their subjects), then when God bestows ‘good’ things upon people, these things aren’t really good, and therefore God is not really a giver of good. This line of reasoning led Plutarch to articulate a thorough-going problem of evil against the Stoic position. Plutarch’s development of this problem of evil and his corresponding defense of theodicy have little to do with the Stoics’ own thinking on these issues, but they do reveal to us that the issue of theodicy was a significant factor in Plutarch’s own Middle-Platonic reasoning. This aspect of Plutarch’s thought also illuminates an important development in the philosophical discourse regarding fate and providence. Plutarch’s understanding of good and evil as external, objective realities and his concern to causally distance God from evil help us to understand his subordination of material fate to rational providence and his dualistic concept of good and evil as the byproducts of the cosmic battle between the rational and irrational components of the World Soul (anthropomorphized as the mythical Osiris and Typho respectively). Plutarch argued that the Stoic conception of good and evil stands in stark contrast to common sense, and worse, it reduces to a vacuous notion bereft of all content. Plutarch asks whether it is at all sensible to consider those who call all natural things indifferent to be capable themselves of living in agreement with nature. 6 This is such a threatening question to ask of the Stoics because they were well-known to have defined the good as the very ‘agreement

This is found principally in Plutarch’s De communibus notitiis adversus Stoicos and De Stoicorum repugnantiis. Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals, ed. William Watson Goodwin, trans., William Watson Goodwin, 5 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1878); Plutarch, Moralia, ed. George Bernardakis, 6 vols. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1895). 6 De Comm. 1060c. 5



with nature’ under question. 7 If it turned out that they were not in agreement with nature in affirming the same agreement with nature to be the good, their position would surely be undermined, for their very definition of the good would be an instance of evil since it failed itself to be in agreement with nature. And this is exactly what Plutarch goes on to argue in this passage. As he describes the Stoic position, they hold that while nature orients us toward advantageous and useful things like health, beauty, and strength, none of these is worthy of choice; and likewise, though nature restrains us from such things as weakness and pain, these are not to be avoided. Thus, nature orients us towards things that are not good and restrains us from things that are not bad. And furthermore, the force with which nature drives us toward naturally advantageous things and away from their opposites is sufficient that when we do not possess the things according to nature and are forced to endure their opposites, we curse and end our very lives. In Plutarch’s characterization of the Stoic position, he thus sets up a clear opposition between the commonly observable guidance of nature toward external goods and away from external evils and the Stoic insistence that these externals such as health and wealth are rather indifferent. Nevertheless, underlying this supposedly clear opposition between the guidance of nature and the Stoic doctrine of the good is the Stoics’ own definition of the good as living in agreement with nature. Plutarch states succinctly: “I also call absurd that saying [of theirs] that nature itself is indifferent, but that agreement with nature is the highest good.” 8 Plutarch’s point is that if nature orients us toward some advantageous thing such as health, then one’s agreement with nature must obviously agree that this advantageous thing is clearly good. If this were not the case, if it is not true that the things towards which nature drives us are themselves good, then nature would not be merely indifferent as the Stoics claim, but rather “stupid and mentally ill.” 9 How then could the highest good be one’s agreement with such a woefully The good is virtue alone; virtue is “living harmoniously with nature: ½ýÅ ĝÄÇÂǺÇÍÄšÅÑË ÌĉÎŧʼÀ.” 8 Comm. 1060d. 9 “ÒÅŦ¾ÌÇË Á¸ĖÒÈŦȾÁÌÇË,” Comm. 1060e. 7



misguided nature? If we were to agree with this incompetent nature, we would find ourselves seeking that which is not good and fleeing that which is not evil. 10 Plutarch’s accusation of Stoic absurdity is bolstered by his simple linguistic observation: “Natural things are required for living naturally.” 11 Plutarch paints the Stoics in irrational disregard of this fact. Rather than truly agreeing with the guidance of nature and following its clear dictates regarding external goods and evils, the Stoics stubbornly retain the phrase ‘agreement with nature’ as the highest good while insisting that everything according to nature is in fact indifferent. 12 Plutarch’s conclusion here is that the Stoics are self-contradictory and absurd. 13 In this passage of De Comm., Plutarch takes a clear stand on the side of the Peripatetic ethical tradition. Against the Stoics’ selfcontradictions, the bodily and external advantages towards which nature orients us must be acknowledged as truly good. Plutarch presents this difference with the Stoics as one over which types of things should be deemed truly good. If the difference were so simple his criticisms would hold against the Stoics, but alas they do not. The complete failure of Plutarch’s attack on the Stoic position reveals just how wide the gap was between the ethical categories in which Plutarch and his opponents were operating. Unfortunately for the logical success of Plutarch’s composition—however successful its rhetoric may have been—the difference in the naming of goods was not a difference simply of which things are good; instead it was a much deeper disagreement over the ontological meaning of goodness itself. This categorical difference is illuminated by Plutarch’s arguments in Comm. 26–7. Here, Plutarch exemplifies the classic criticism of Stoic ethics from a Platonic perspective. Plutarch claims that the Stoic view reduces to disallowing the existence of any good Comm. 1061b-d. Comm. 1060e6–7. 12 Comm. 1060e8–9. 13 Cf. StoRep, 11 where lawful actions are claimed to be both good and indifferent, and 12 where appropriate concern is claimed to be both good and indifferent. 10 11



at all. 14 His basic argument proceeds from the assumption that the value of choice is derived from the value of the objects chosen. Therefore, when the Stoics deny the goodness of the natural objects of choice and insist that the good is located exclusively in choice itself, they consequently take away both the goodness of the natural objects and necessarily the goodness of the choosing thereof. This is significant for showing that the Platonic view expects an object as the content of the good and the source of moral value, while the Stoic view clearly bars any object from qualifying as good. Plutarch is fairly accurate at the beginning of his description of the Stoic view. “For if these primary things of nature are not good, but [the good is] the well-reasoned choice and taking of them…” But he completes this conditional in a way totally opposed to the Stoic conclusion. “… and [if the good is] each one doing everything of himself on account of attaining the primary things of nature, [then] toward this [end] it is necessary for all of our deeds to have reference to the attaining of the primary things of nature.” 15 His aim in this passage is to prove against the Stoics that the primary things of nature must be included as constituents of the good. Even if the good is a choice, nonetheless this choice must be a choice of something—and something good—for it to qualify as a good choice. Plutarch continues on to show the absurdity of the Stoic insistence that the good can subsist in choice without reference to the objects of choice. He reports that the Stoics… …really think that the end is not the aiming at and pursuing the attainment of those things, but that to which they must be referred—the choice of these things and not the things themselves—For the end is the wisely choosing and taking of them, but the end is not the things themselves nor the attainment of them. 16

Plutarch ridicules this position as being completely inverted. Instead of referring choice to its object, the Stoics refer the objects of “ÌüÅ ÒȸºÑºüŠ̼šÑ˼ĊË Ìġľ»òÅ.” Comm. 1072c. Comm. 1071a. 16 Comm. 1071a–b. 14 15



choice to the choice itself, “as those trying to jump over their own shadows.” 17 Plutarch characterizes the Stoic position as equivalent to someone who thinks not that medicines are for the sake of health, but that health is for the sake of choosing the right medicines. More succinctly, Plutarch describes it as the declaration “that the seeking is the end of the attaining, not that the attaining is the end of the seeking.” Plutarch concludes that the ‘right-reasoning’ claimed as the Stoic end is completely lost if it is a reasoning “for the sake of attaining that the attaining of which is neither noble nor blessed.” 18 Plutarch recapitulates these rhetorical arguments in a more analytical framework at 1072c. There is another way to see what is no longer a logical maneuver of theirs, but rather an escape from reason and the reduction of the end to nothing. They make the essence of the good one’s well-reasoned choice of things according to nature. [A1] But a choice is not well-reasoned unless directed towards some end. [A2,B1] What is this end? Nothing else than reasoning well in one’s choices of things according to nature. [B2] Immediately then, all meaning for the good is abandoned. [E] Reasoning well (the end) subsists in choices (the means) and comes about from a habit of reasoning well (the end). [C1,C2] We can’t know what this habit (the means) is though, without reference to the end, nor the end without reference to the means. [D1,D2] Thus we know neither. [E] (Therefore, without knowing the means to the end, we will never attain the end. [B1, E→F])

We can reconstruct this passage’s argument more formally. Plutarch opens with two premises and an initial conclusion. A1 The (Stoic) end is well-reasoned choice. [A2 Choice is only a means to an end.] B1 Well-reasoned choice is impossible without knowledge of the end. 17 18

Comm. 1071c. Comm. 1071e.



B2: (In this case) the end is the means to the end. From this conclusion follows Plutarch’s paradox: C1 We must know what the end is in order to know what the means is. C2 We must know what the means is in order to know what the end is. D1 We cannot know what the end is without knowing what the means is. D2 We cannot know what the means is without knowing what the end is. E We will never know what well-reasoned choice is—as either means (E1) or end (E2). But this paradox is disastrous because it implies the futility of the whole ethical enterprise: B1 Well-reasoned choice is impossible without knowledge of the end. E1 Knowledge of the end (means) is impossible. E2 Well-reasoned choice (end) is impossible. F Therefore performing the means and attaining the end are both impossible. It seems to me that A2 is the point that the Stoics would deny, since they are explicit about choice being the end itself (A1). This would imply at least two senses to the act of well-reasoned choice. (Choice is the act, well-reasoned is the adjective.) Is the wellreasoned-ness of choice the selection of the proper objects of choice, or the properly performed act of selecting objects of choice? If the former, Plutarch’s A2 holds because if the propriety of choice resides in the objects of choice, then choice has no value apart from its objects. Thus ‘good’ choice exists in ‘good’ objects of choice. But if the latter, A2 does not hold. If the propriety of choice resides in the act of choosing, then, regardless of the objects of choice, the act may be performed well or badly. In this case, the value of the act does not reside in the objects of the act, but in its manner of performance. Thus the performance of the act may remain a valid end and not fall under A2’s limitation.



But what does this distinction mean? The Stoic account of moral progress discusses this distinction through the terms kathekonta and katorthomata. Doing the right things (kathekonta) is very nice, but technically indifferent. Even a vicious fool can act appropriately in many situations. This is because the objective aspect of choice is indifferent. Whether I choose to eat this or that, stand here or there, talk to him or her, is all indifferent insofar as each of the selected objects is indifferent. A sinister assassin might for instance choose to perform all the appropriate actions only for the sake of accomplishing the crime without getting caught. Or a corrupt politician might perform all appropriate actions only for the sake of self-aggrandizement or some other base motive. In any case, the selection of appropriate actions is no guarantee of the good, since even they can be performed for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, only a sage can perform katorthomata. To an external observer, katorthomata remain completely indistinguishable from kathekonta. The two kinds of action may have exactly the same objects, but their manner of performance is entirely different. This is because while kathekonta are appropriate actions, katorthomata are only those kathekonta performed for the right reasons. Thus, the objects which kathekonta or katorthomata choose remain as indifferent as any object in the Stoic system; rather the subjective aspect of choice bears all moral value in distinguishing katorthomata from kathekonta. This subjective aspect to katorthomata is one’s performing the act of choosing with proper reference to the actual good, which is not the object of choice, but the manner of choosing: Thus katorthomata are distinguished from kathekonta precisely because they are performed for the sake of the good—performing katorthomata. Plutarch is right that this results in logical circularity. But this is the classic Academic misunderstanding of Stoic ethics: the good consists solely of subjective actions: choosing, assenting, doing (ëÁÂǺü, ÂýÐÀË, Ìġ ÈÇÀ¼ėÅ); not the attainment (Ìġ ÌͺϊżÀÅ) of any object. This difference between subjective and objective valuation is painfully missed by Plutarch’s criticism. 19 Plutarch does not conThe Stoics embraced this reflexive nature of the good as act. In this they bear an ironic similarity to Aristotle. The Stoic sage is identical to 19



cede a difference between the moral value of choosing and pursuing a thing and the moral indifference of the attainment of that thing. This is because he thinks that the value of the choosing comes from the value of the thing chosen (A2). The Stoic view of good and evil is so infuriating to Plutarch precisely because it is a category that does not apply to objects at all. Plutarch is right, therefore, in claiming that the Stoic view collapses in on itself in disallowing the appellation of any object as good. But far from invalidating the Stoic position, this rather is the whole point of the Stoic position: good and evil are subjective predicates that apply only to actions. As virulently as Plutarch might argue his conclusion that the Stoic position is absurd for not allowing good and evil objects, a Stoic would simply agree with him: ‘You are correct, Plutarch; we do think that it is absurd to call any object good or evil.’

PROBLEMS OF THEODICY The significance of this categorical difference should be further explored. Because of his logical location of the good among objects of choice and not the act of choice, Plutarch is faced with the problem of evil objective existents which threatens the notion of a good objective God. Plutarch’s concern to defend theodicy from the existence of evil is a clear motivation for his rejection both of Stoic ethics and metaphysics. To establish Plutarch’s own position on this matter, I will further consider his discussion of God and the good in StoRep.

God in virtue, and what is this virtue? The act of performing katorthomata: reasoning properly about the proper object of reasoning; i.e.: thinking the right thoughts about the right things. But what are the right thoughts and the right things? Thoughts about katorthomata, viz.: concerning oneself with one’s own ÈÉǸţɼÊÀË. In this way, the Stoic sage’s performance of a katorthoma might take on some characteristics of Aristotle’s God: a purely active self-thinking thought with no reference to any passive object. Thus the sage who performs this kind of act is also a purely actualized self-thinking intellect, entirely absorbed in the act of thinking about the good. Consequently, the Stoic sage is indistinguishable from God who is the reason of which and towards which the sage’s thoughts consist.



In StoRep. 30–37, Plutarch presents three arguments on the basis of theodicy against the Stoic doctrine of good and evil. The first argument goes right to the heart of the Stoic position. If external objects are indifferent as the Stoics claim, then it is impossible for God, who bestows them, to be considered good. 20 According to the Stoics these externals are used for either good or ill by their recipients, depending only on whether the recipients are virtuous or vicious; therefore it is the virtue or vice of the objects’ users that constitute the good, not the objects themselves. But Plutarch shows that if this view holds, then when God gives anything to the wicked, he only enables their vice, since nothing is of benefit except virtue alone. 21 Conversely, to the virtuous who are already good and therefore stand in need of nothing, God cannot give anything but indifferent trifles. From this, Plutarch claims it follows that if God gives anything to humans except virtue, he does so foolishly (which is clearly absurd!), since nothing but virtue is of any benefit. This sets up Plutarch’s second argument against Stoic coherence. If the gods can give virtue but do not, they are not good; equally, if the gods cannot make men good, they are not good. 22 But Plutarch points out that even the Stoics admit that the vast majority of humans are vicious fools, and that vice is the very essence of misery and admits of no degrees: misery is absolute. Thus, because only virtue is good and almost all humans are vicious, humanity is in a condition so terrible it could not be made worse even if the gods wanted to punish us further. Thus when stoics claim that the gods provide the best possible world for us, it turns out to be the worst possible world: another instance of Stoic ethical incoherence. Plutarch’s third argument plays off of Chrysippus’ attempt to defend theodicy from this charge of moral evil. As discussed above, Chrysippus justified the existence of vice as a tool used by God for the management of the world as a whole. Thus, Plutarch here cites Chrysippus’ defense of the ‘usefulness of vice.’ This leads StoRep. 30–1 1048b8–d6. StoRep. 31 1048d9–10. 22 StoRep. 31 1048d6–1049a2. 20 21



quickly to two contradictions, however. First, if God is responsible for everything including vice—on the Stoic doctrine of Fate—and also somehow uses this vice for the good management of the world, then according to Chrysippus (says Plutarch), vice is both evil and good. 23 The second contradiction makes God an agent of evil in either of two ways: 1) God made vice which is simply evil; or 2) God made vice which is a good thing for the world, but nevertheless God punishes it as though it were an evil. God thus either punishes a good, or makes an evil; either way God is evil—as long as one believes the Stoic equation of good and evil solely with virtue and vice. 24 To this argument, Plutarch adds the complication that if vice really is useful for God’s management of the world, and philosophy strives to eliminate vice, then philosophy is actually in opposition to the providence of God and is itself an agent of evil in trying to eliminate vice—another absurd conclusion to the Stoic doctrine of good and evil. 25 Plutarch’s conclusion in this section of the work is that the Stoic equation of good and evil with virtue and vice leads to several ethical absurdities that make both God and philosophy agents of evil. In each of these arguments, however, Plutarch’s intended contradictions come about only if one conceives of good and evil as objects. This works for Plutarch because that is how he thinks of good and evil, but from the Stoic view of good and evil as actions, each of Plutarch’s arguments fails to produce the desired contradiction. First, Plutarch claims it is a contradiction for God to give indifferents to people since doing so would be foolish (and God is not foolish). But why does Plutarch think that giving indifferents is foolish? Because it does not accomplish God’s purpose of benefitting humanity. Indifferents are of no benefit to the fool, who is benefitted by nothing, and are of no particular use to the sage, who already stands in need of nothing. Plutarch assumes that God is supposed to benefit humans; goods are things that benefit; therefore God is supposed to give goods. But if good is virtue alone, StoRep. 34 1050c3–6. StoRep. 35 1051a5–11. 25 StoRep. 36 1051b5–8. 23 24



then all God could give in order to benefit humans is virtue. Because indifferents are not beneficial, and God’s purpose is to benefit, God is foolish to give indifferents. Plutarch’s point is that as long as the Stoic identification of externals as indifferent holds, God will remain foolish—a clear contradiction. In this argument Plutarch implies his alternative view: if the objects given by God are themselves good, then God is both good and rational in fulfilling his purpose of benefitting humanity by giving beneficial goods to humans. This conclusion does not follow from the Stoic understanding of the goodness of virtue, in this case God’s orchestrating action. The Stoic view refers moral value to the benefit an action confers upon its subject, not its object. Thus, God’s goodness is derived from his benefitting himself through his own virtuous action in harmonizing the world. This is analogous to the same valuation that obtains for human action. Human vice and virtue refer to the benefit or detriment that human actions have on their subjects, not on their objects. Consequently, God is a virtuous God not because he confers benefit on any particular piece of the cosmos—as object—but because he confers benefit on himself—as cosmic subject—in orchestrating the cosmos. Second, Plutarch speaks of virtue as an object to be given. The gods are morally evaluated as the givers or withholders of this morally valuable object. The goodness of the gods depends upon their ability to make humans good in the way that one would fashion an artifact into some objective form, ‘good.’ Plutarch’s intended contradiction then results from the following premises, 1) the gods are good; 2) ‘moral value is derived from the quality of one’s object;’ and 3) the gods’ objects are evil. He therefore concludes: the gods who are good are evil—another Stoic contradiction. But this conclusion does not follow from the Stoic view of good and evil as the properties of actions, independent of their effects. Thus a Stoic premise 2) would read, ‘moral value is derived from the quality of one’s action.’ Stoics could then comfortably conclude that the gods who always act rightly in managing the world are good, regardless of the moral value of actions taken by particular creatures. The first contradiction of Plutarch’s third argument is that the Stoics teach that vice is both evil and good. This conclusion is based on applying the second premise of the last paragraph to in-



struments as well as agents. Thus, ‘the moral value of an instrument is derived from the object it effects.’ Consequently, if God uses vice towards a good effect, vice ends up being good. Again, while this conclusion holds for Plutarch, it does not follow from the Stoic understanding of good and evil as properties of actions, not objects. But this is a subtle difference. Although Plutarch begins this series of arguments by citing the Stoic doctrine that whatever can be used for either good or evil is itself indifferent, he quickly moves to invalidate this position instead of considering what implications the Stoics might find in it. It follows from this doctrine that human vice, as an instrument ‘in God’s hands,’ remains indifferent even as God’s use of it is supremely virtuous. (This is analogous to the good or evil use a human may make of an indifferent such as health or wealth.) At the same time, however, the human performance of vice is truly recognized as the essence of both evil and misery. As contradictory as it might be in Plutarch’s view, the difference between these opposite evaluations is for the Stoics no contradiction at all, but rather the logical conclusion from their premise that moral value is derived from the subjective act, not the objective effect. Thus virtue and vice, as human actions, are uniquely valued as good or evil, while the same virtue and vice, as divine instruments, remain indifferent objects even when the use of them by God may be qualified as good. The second contradiction of Plutarch’s third argument is that God, who is good, is an agent of evil—either because he makes vice which is evil, or because he makes it a good thing and then punishes it. But this contradiction—in both forms—also depends on the premise that moral value derives from objects, not actions. First, Plutarch suggests that God might be evil because he makes vice which is evil. But again, from the Stoic perspective, vice is evil because it is an act performed wrongly, not because it is an object of intrinsic negative value. Thus, it is quite absurd to suggest that God could make vice at all since vice is not a ‘thing,’ but an act, and God always acts correctly. Second, Plutarch suggests that God might be evil because he punishes vice which is in fact a good. This is again impossible from the Stoic perspective because even when God orchestrates the human performance of vice toward the overarching harmony of the world, it remains an indifferent instrument in his hands, while yet no less evil as an act performed by human subjects. Thus the possibility of vice being considered ‘a good,’ so



painstakingly crafted by Plutarch, is entirely dependent on his unStoic doctrine that virtue and vice are morally valuable as objects, not acts. Therefore, by the Stoic position that good and evil apply to acts only, both of Plutarch’s reasons for concluding that God is an agent of evil are made impossible. What remains clear, however, is this very difference between the derivations of moral value according to the views of Plutarch and of the Stoics. Now, because objects are the bearers of moral value in Plutarch’s philosophy, the causes of good and evil objects need to be carefully distinguished. Plutarch takes up this distinction in his exegesis of the myth of Isis and Osiris and in his explanation of the moon’s appearance.

PLUTARCH’S COSMOLOGICAL SOLUTION TO THEODICY In his dialogue, De Facie quae in Orbe Lunae Apparet, Plutarch addresses several physical and cosmological controversies relating to the relative positions of the earth and the heavenly bodies. Plutarch explains that providence is necessary to explain where these physical objects are positioned. The objects’ physical necessity alone would have placed them somewhere else, so a cause beyond physical necessity is required to explain their location. 26 But more deeply and generally, rational causes are responsible for the form and motion of the material world. 27 For nothing occurs without a cause, and like causes produce like effects. 28 In his exegesis of Egyptian myth, De Iside et Osiride, Plutarch interprets Osiris and Typho as the causes responsible for good and evil things respectively. This interpretation is an etiology directed against Stoic monism. The diverse good and evil of the world cannot be explained by one and the same cause. Therefore the world must be a composite effect of multiple causes, not of a single all-

Fac. 12–3. Fac. 15. 28 Fac. 19. 26 27



encompassing logos as the Stoics teach. 29 As Plutarch understands his Platonic cosmology, nous (Hermes) forms matter (Isis) into cosmos (Horus) through soul. But in soul there is a rational (good) and an irrational (evil) power, symbolized as Osiris and Typho respectively. 30 The soul’s two powers war against each other in forming matter into cosmos. But this cosmic battle is not without rational orchestration. Hermes/Nous has designed the universe in such a way that matter should not remain completely formless, but become cosmos. 31 To this end, Plutarch specifies that Osiris and Typho are not of equal power, but that Osiris is predominant and that Typho’s activity is restricted to the sublunar world. 32 Though not clear on this point, Plutarch implies that Typho’s restriction to the sublunar world is a result of Hermes’ design of the universe. For, before Hermes’ had completed his design, Typho was not thus restricted and so the first world (elder Horus) remained formless and a mere shadow of the world to come (our present world). 33 Matter is not the source of evil, but the passive receptacle. Good and evil are the two opposed powers of the soul as it operates upon matter to generate good and evil effects. Thus Osiris is the ‘reason in the soul’ why some material objects and processes are organized and good, while Typho is the ‘reason in the soul’ why others are chaotic and evil. 34 All the while, Hermes is the pure reason, the providential nous, that coordinates these distinct psychic causes operating upon matter. 35 Hermes is not the cause of the world, nor the cause of soul’s opposed powers, nor the cause of matter. Hermes is the coordinator of the soul’s powers, the reason why they work in proportion to each other as they do. Thus, Plutarch’s explanation of the cosmos does not reduce to any single “For if nothing can come without a cause, and if a good thing cannot afford a cause of evil, Nature then must certainly have a peculiar source and origin of evil as well as of good.” Isis 45; cf. 48. 30 Isis 49, 56, 64. 31 Isis 49, 55. 32 Isis 45. 33 Isis 54. 34 Isis 49. 35 Isis 54. 29



cause. Nous designed the basic rules governing the soul’s action, but does not cause any particular feature of the cosmos. The various particulars of the cosmos all come about by definite causes which are themselves traceable to the conflict between Osiris and Typho, order and chaos, but there is no single cause of why all the world’s particulars are the particular way that they are. 36 Plutarch’s etiology of human character arrives at the same conclusion in De Fac. Human character is the product of definite causes, but there is no single agent responsible for the particulars of any specific character’s production. In this work, Plutarch explains that the sun provides our nous, the moon our soul, and the earth our body. 37 Likewise, at our two deaths (of the body and of the soul), the earth, moon and sun receive back our constituent parts. 38 All of this is quite natural and according to fate. The soul’s relation to nous determines the soul’s rationality and is the source of its virtue and vice; the soul’s relation to the body determines its passions and is the source of its pleasures and pains. 39 The two gods, Demeter and Persephone, operate in the earth and moon respectively: Demeter separates body from soul, and Persephone soul from nous, before the three fates, Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis reconfigure humans for their next life. 40 The activities of these deities within the sun, moon, and earth could imply that the whole of one’s life is determined by the heavens’ arrangement at one’s birth. Others, indeed, inferred from this type of schema that the arrangement of the sun, moon and earth at the moment of birth would determine one’s moral character and physical health. 41 Such a conclusion comports with Plutarch’s affirmation that like causes result in like effects, 42 and with the pseudo-Plutarchan De Fato

Isis 45. Fac. 28 943a11–12. 38 Fac. 30. 39 Fac. 26. 943a7–10. 40 Fac. 28 943b6–9; 30 945c1–15. 41 ExcTheo. 69, 71. 42 Fac. 19. 36 37



which explains the operation of a clearly determinate, albeit hypothetical, fate. 43 These processes of human composition and decomposition in Fac accord with the myth of Isis and Osiris. There, the physical universe is Horus and is managed by Nature or World Soul. But within Nature are the opposed forces of Osiris and Typho. Fortunately for humans, in Plutarch’s doctrine Typho has been banished to the sublunar world. Thus the operation of fate above the moon is directed solely by Osiris who causes good. But Typho is free to effect chaos and destruction below the moon. Consequently, the human intellect is safe from Typho’s control since it is produced in the sun. Our soul is also properly aligned to our nous by the moon, but the generation of our bodies and our soul’s relation to them, however, may well be influenced by the destructive action of Typho. Thus if we are born with infirm bodies, or passionate souls, we can blame these on Typho and not on ‘God,’ either Hermes or Osiris. But the limitation of Typho beneath the moon means that we can trust our intellect to be safely aligned toward the good. We can trust the nous to show us how to work on aligning our soul properly both to nous and body. In Plutarch’s cosmology, Hermes/Nous operates through soul to form matter into objects and then to move them appropriately. All generation and motion are attributable to these noetic and psychic agents which are distinct from the material effects that they cause. But while these agents are strictly speaking causes, no individual agent bears sole responsibility for the particular qualities of its effects. The effects receive their generation or general existence from rational causes, but their particular qualities are derived from

In this pseudonymous treatise, fate is described as a law governing hypothetical cause–effect relations (569d3–f9) and is thus not the effect of a unitary cosmic agent as in the Stoic model (572f6–573b4). Everlasting recurrence down to minutiae is nonetheless affirmed along Stoic lines (569a12–c8). Cf. George Boys-Stones, “Middle-Platonists on Fate and Human Autonomy,” in Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC – 200 AD Vol. II, ed. Sorabji and Sharples (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2007), 431–47. 43



the instability of matter caused by the unstable power in soul. 44 Thus it is the case that the world in general and every existent in particular is always the product of multiple causes, never of a single omnicompetent cause such as the Stoic Logos. The formation of matter is accomplished, at the very least, by two psychic powers: one rational and one irrational. 45 Nous gives to the rational part of soul the goal toward which to operate, but nous cannot direct the opposed part of the soul which is inherently irrational. However, nous has somehow moderated the relative power of soul’s irrational power so that Osiris will generally, but not in every case, overcome Typho. Thus, below the moon, the world generally tends toward order, while disorder remains present throughout. The importance of this distinction between causes comes from Plutarch’s framework for moral value which predicates good and evil of material objects. According to Plutarch’s ethics, the physical object caused by nous’s direction of soul upon matter bear good and evil value in proportion to their being caused by the good and evil powers of soul. Because these effects bear moral value and thus project that value upon their causes, the causes must be carefully distinguished.

PROVIDENCE AND FATE Another point of interest here is that while the generation of each component of human character is assigned to a particular agent— sun, moon, or earth—no single celestial agent is assigned the arrangement of human character as a whole. Rather, each part of the human is produced in a separate location by a separate agent. The moon is said to mix the nous and soul, and this mixture is added to the body within the earth. 46 The resultant human character is thus the product of fate: not the Stoic type of fate as a single agent, as the coordinated action of a unified logos or world soul, but fate as the circumstantial consequence of each celestial cause being what it was at the moment of human composition. In this case, the fate Isis 49. Isis 45. 46 Fac. 945c1–5. 44 45



that determines human character is certainly affected by Typho, since the creation of human bodies and presumably their relation to human souls is under his sphere of influence. (And perhaps the generation of human souls as well: It is not clear if Typho is at work in the moon or only beneath it.) Along with the separation of the three celestial causes in Fac, Plutarch’s separation of the two psychic powers in Isis makes the same point that the world’s diverse objects, as well as the world itself, is not caused by a single agent. Rather, all effects are produced by the circumstantial arrangement of multiple agents. This is an important component of Plutarch’s Platonic rejection of Stoic monism. Plutarch intended this separation of causes to preserve God from implication in evil, but another consequence of it is that fate is no longer identical with providence. The fated alignment of celestial bodies is governed by providence, but is not itself providence. While Fate might be a tool used by providence to bring about the overall harmony of the world, it is not interested in causing the good for any particular individual.

CONCLUSION What does this distinction of causes accomplish and not accomplish? Plutarch certainly opposed the Stoic model of fate, along with the other facets of Stoic philosophy, but Plutarch was not at all a libertarian. His polemic against the Stoics rejects the particulars of their view of fate, but also shows his own acceptance of fate as an explanatory tool. Though Plutarch’s polemic seems at first to call for it, there is not yet in his writings any articulation of a human capacity for un-predetermined choice. On closer consideration, Plutarch’s arguments against Stoic fate are not concerned with human choice as determined or undetermined, but with the intelligibility of God as the cause of all good and no evil. Thus, Plutarch’s argument against Stoic fate is motivated primarily against Stoicism’s cosmology and ethics, but not against determinism per se. Plutarch’s writings are concerned to establish two Platonic distinctions which he sees dangerously lacking in the Stoics’ monistic cosmos. The first is between nous, soul, and matter as the causes of the world’s being, and the second is between the good and evil causes that operate within soul to generate good and evil effects. Neither of these concerns is directly related to defending the idea of human freedom against Stoic fatalism, but rather to defending



the agency of God as distinct from his mundane effects and also to defending the goodness of God as cause of all good and no evil— each of these distinctions are against what Plutarch perceived as the conflation of cause and effect in Stoic monism. Towards achieving these distinctions, we can judge Plutarch’s thought to have been successful, while it is certainly no fault of his not to have defended an idea of human freedom which he apparently did not hold. Plutarch’s defense of theodicy is noticeably different from that of Philo. Philo distinguished providence from fate, but left providence omnipotent over the world so that fate still perfectly obeyed providence. Instead, Plutarch distinguished providence and fate in such a way that providence does not remain the cause of everything; and instead, fate causes much on its own, with no particular guarantee of its particular beneficence or agreement with the will of providence. This is a major difference that leaves open the possibility of a moral qualitative gap between the beneficent intentions of providence and those of fate. Now, Philo (and the Stoics) might be accused of leaving humans as the slaves or ‘puppets’ of providence and thus not allowing for human agency or freedom—of course these accusations would be absurd from their own perspectives since providence is always motivated toward the best possible world. But Plutarch does nothing to solve this problem of determinism; he only specifies that the responsibility for determining all things does not come down to a single agent. Thus, while it is true that Plutarch’s system does not make humans the puppets of God or providence, it certainly does leave them as the puppets of fate—but unlike Philonic and Stoic fate, Plutarch’s is a fate not coordinated by providence and thus not motivated toward any particular goodness as a whole. What would this system mean to its adherents concerning the prospects of human moral progress towards the attainment of happiness? Most clearly, Plutarch’s causal distinction separates the highest God (nous/Hermes) from direct responsibility for any particulars, so that the chaotic mix of good and evil in the material world cannot be blamed on him. It also preserves a distinction between cause and effect regarding basic physical processes and a physical explanation for the location of celestial bodies. While it does separate God from evil by introducing multiple other causes, it does not change the deterministic nature of cause and effect. Hermes may not be related by necessity to any particular effects, but all particu-



lar effects are related by necessity to some particular combination of the definite causes Osiris, Typho, and Isis. Thus, this solution removes necessity from divine activity, but does not remove necessity from the natural world (the world formed by the World Soul). Within the human soul, then, the nous remains an unconstrained agent oriented toward the good, but its effectiveness in operating within the soul is wholly subject to the necessity engendered by the soul’s composition in accordance with fate. Thus, each human is perhaps free in the nous, but enslaved to fate in soul and body. At the same time, Plutarch’s positioning of Typho among the sublunar physical processes locates the cause of evil precisely within the domain of fatal necessity. Typho is not capable of causing evil in nous or in the physical world above the moon. But within the domain of fate, the objective material world that comes about by necessary consequences, Typho is allowed to work evil against the agent of nous, Osiris. This arrangement effectively lines up the cause of evil with the necessity of fate. It would be reasonable to conclude that students of Plutarch might tend to equate fate with evil in contradistinction to the identity between nous, providence and the good. Thus evil fate is operative within the natural world, while providential nous alone remains an agent of good above and beyond the reach of the inherently divided (partially evil) world soul. In Plutarch’s cosmology, a moral distinction emerges between fate—of a moral nature mixed with Typho—and Providence— purely good and untainted by Typho. In the same way, a distinction between freedom and necessity is established between the human’s free nous, and the soul and body predetermined by fatal necessity. Plutarch’s own position may or may not have been this stark, but as some of his readers were also reading the Christian writings of Paul which indicate a clear opposition between God and the powers of this world, it is easy to see how they could incorporate the cosmic enmity of Paul into the cosmic dualism of Plutarch. 47 In such a synthesis, a soteriology of escape from the evil world of nature into the good world of nous, such as that found in Christian gnostic texts, would make a lot of sense.


See Lewis, Cosmology and Fate.



The function of such a view in Clement’s understanding of his rival gnostics will be considered below in chapter nine, as much of Clement’s writing on salvation and human responsibility is motivated directly against the cosmic dualism presented in this chapter. It is thus quite likely that this dualistic trajectory in MiddlePlatonism can be at least partially credited for pushing Clement to articulate his own indeterminist view of human freedom and moral progress. The incompatibility between Clement’s indeterminist view and the dualistic determinism presented here is striking. Because Plutarch embraced a very different understanding of good and evil from that of the Stoics, Philo, and Clement, his cosmology and theodicy were correspondingly different as well. While his cosmology preserves theodicy by distancing the source of good from all evil effects, we can see that this strategy did not include any particular reworking of the nature of human responsibility. Responsibility remains one-sided, without the need for alternative possibilities to ground it. Humans are responsible for what they do regardless of whether they could have done otherwise. In fact, it is plausible that humans do not enjoy such freedom to do otherwise in this system, since their characters are fixed by celestial formations obtaining well before any personal choices could have been made. This is simply not a problem, however, for a one-sided view of responsibility, as can be seen throughout the Stoic model. In the following chapters, we will see how the two-sided view of responsibility developed within the Peripatetic and Middle-Platonic traditions, and how significant this development was for both Alexander and Clement in their reactions against previous determinist and compatibilist views of human freedom.

CHAPTER FIVE. ALEXANDER’S PRECEDENTS Alexander of Aphrodisias differs greatly from the traditional Stoic model described above, and he has been criticized for some of the most significant of these differences. But these differences are of the greatest importance for understanding the history of free will since they led to a very different way of dealing with responsibility and a correspondingly different view of psychological freedom. Furthermore, while Alexander’s theory was certainly new in its full articulation, he does seem to have built it upon preceding developments in Aristotelian scholarship. We should not, therefore, consider him entirely idiosyncratic in his approach to responsibility and freedom, especially as certain similarities with Clement are recognized in the next chapter. However novel or successful Alexander’s theory is to be deemed, just how its details should be understood is another contentious problem. Alexander unquestionably stands out for his bold attacks against fatal determinism and his corresponding assertion of an indeterminist version of freedom. But disagreement remains as to just what this freedom might have meant and how it was really supposed to have functioned in Alexander’s own view. My aim in this section, then, is to answer some criticisms of Alexander’s theory by contextualizing its origin and explicating its function and purpose. Most significantly, Alexander rejected the universal determinism at the foundation of Stoic ethics and physics. He also rejected the Stoic account of responsibility that accompanied this determinism. His rejection of these Stoic positions is eminently sensible given the many disagreements between his own Peripatetic tradition and the Stoics. While the Stoics’ views of responsibility and determinism upheld their aspirations to attain virtue and happiness, these views were antithetical to Alexander’s own understanding of moral progress toward the attainment of happiness. But before we 107



get to their relevance for moral progress, let’s consider in more detail Alexander’s rejections of Stoic responsibility and determinism.

ALEXANDER ON RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM Alexander’s rejection of Stoic determinism is comparatively straightforward. The Aristotelian cosmos is drastically different the Stoic one and does not admit of providential concern for sublunary minutiae. Furthermore, while Aristotelian physics recognizes the world’s general orderliness, what happens according to nature admits of exceptions. But Alexander’s treatise On Fate is not primarily an argument over physics; it is explicitly ethical. 1 Alexander’s purpose in refuting Stoic (and Platonic) determinism, with its physical commitments, was to ensure the possibility of moral progress which would be ruled out in his view by the traditional Stoic view of responsibility. So here too, Alexander would resurrect Aristotle’s account of responsibility to save the world from Stoic error. It is thus his view of responsibility that really drives his argument forward. However, by following an earlier approach to Aristotelian scholarship that integrated various Aristotelian passages on responsibility, causality, and logic, Alexander went beyond any particular extant work to maintain a position on responsibility even more restrictive that Aristotle’s own. Some careful distinctions between Alexander’s novel position and the authoritative one of Aristotle have already been clarified by Suzanne Bobzien, and I will gratefully borrow her terminology here. 2 First off, three concepts of freedom should be distinguished: freedom from constraint, unpredetermined freedom, and indeterminist freedom. “Freedom from constraint” is the most general, most agreed upon, and probably oldest (at least within the Greek tradition) way of thinking about ‘free’, ‘voluntary’, or ‘responsible’ action. “Freedom from constraint” simply means that the agent was not constrained by external force in the doing of an action. For This is made clear in the work’s dedication, as discussed below. Bobzien, “The Inadvertent Conception and Late Birth of the FreeWill Problem,” 133–4. Hereafter, simply “Free-Will Problem.” 1 2



example, when an older sibling takes a younger sibling’s hand and hits the younger sibling with it, the younger sibling is not acting in freedom from constraint. This concept of freedom takes no consideration of internal factors such as one’s beliefs or character traits, or of cosmological factors such as fate, providence, or other largescale influences. Simply, one is free to act if one is not physically constrained from acting. Bobzien correctly observes that this concept of freedom is general enough to apply to all the philosophical schools. Because it does not consider internal or cosmic causal factors, it remained neutral ground in the philosophical arguments. However, because of its generality, modern readers may inaccurately insert their own specific concepts of freedom into the instances of this concept among ancient sources. “Unpredetermined freedom” fits within “freedom from constraint” and adds the idea that an agent’s action is not predetermined by causes that are prior to the agent’s acting. This view of freedom holds that despite being prior to my action, previous circumstances—the facts that I am hungry and that a tasty meal has been served before me—are not causes of my action. Instead, I and not those circumstances cause my action—I ate because I decided to eat, not because of my previous hunger and the previous setting of the meal. Beyond “freedom from constraint,” this view of freedom places responsibility on the agents’ role as ‘decision makers’ when agents act. Thus a person of a certain character, though also hungry, might not have eaten the meal whereas I did. The role of character is more prominent in this view of freedom because character is the cause of agents’ decisions for particular actions in each given situation. Thus while this view would not admit that my free action could ever be caused by previous circumstances, it would affirm that as long as my character is the same, I will always act in the same way in the same situation. In this view, because I—not the situation—am the cause of my action, I am not predetermined; however, because the same person will always act the same way in the same situation this view is distinct from an ‘indeterminist’ view of freedom. “Indeterminist freedom” assumes “unpredetermined freedom” and adds the idea that the same person with the same character and opinions can act differently even in the same situation. Thus, “indeterminist freedom” means that not only is an agent’s activity not determined by previous external circumstances, but it is



also not determined by internal causal factors such as one’s character or opinions. In this view of freedom, agents are somehow separable or distinct from their own internal factors—character, opinions, etc.—in causing their actions. “Indeterminist freedom” is thus called “freedom to do otherwise” since in the same situations and with the same characters, the same agents are free to do otherwise than they in fact do. Within “indeterminist freedom” are two further specifications that may or may not be added by certain thinkers. The first is “freedom of decision,” the second is “freedom of the will.” These are each attempts at explaining how agents might be separable from their characters in causing their own actions. “Freedom of decision” postulates that in a given circumstance, the agent is capable of deciding between alternative courses of action, and that this decision is not predetermined by internal factors. “Freedom of the will” further postulates the existence of a separate faculty—”the will”—that is responsible for the decision between alternatives and is unaffected by internal or external causal factors. All of these views, though clearly distinct from each other, are candidates for a general idea of “free will” since they each respect a certain amount of autonomy and therefore responsibility for the agent. However, modern discussions of free will often assume one of the versions of indeterminist freedom as a requirement for free will. This is not a necessary assumption since “unpredetermined freedom” does preserve the agent’s role in willing, deciding, and acting. “Freedom of the will” within “indeterminist freedom,” seems to be the most specific version of free will, although it is hardly the only possible conception of it. This view, “freedom of the will,” held sway for a long time especially within Western Christianity and Western philosophy. Understanding its historical origins and development is therefore an important question and has appropriately motivated much recent scholarship. Two further distinctions should be made, following Bobzien’s insights, toward better understanding the ancient progression of this topic. First, responsibility, the voluntary, and “what is up to us” are related but distinct ideas. Second, they may each be derived from either of two distinct underlying concepts. These terms should be delineated here. The ancient Greek discussion of ‘responsibility’ centered on the problem of identifying who is and is not to be praised, blamed, rewarded or punished for certain activi-



ties. Since the purpose of praise and blame is to encourage some and discourage other activities, praise and blame need to be directed at the correct cause of the relevant activities. 3 The idea I mean to convey by ‘responsibility’ is then this sense of identifying an agent as the cause of an activity. The ‘voluntary’ and the ‘up to us’ are terms defined by Aristotle and used with largely overlapping significance. Aristotle connected the idea of responsibility to his definition of the voluntary. For him, voluntary agents are the causes of their own activities. 4 This concept of the voluntary built on the category of “freedom from constraint” (above) and adds the requirement that an agent who is thus not constrained by external force also is not ignorant of the details of the situation. 5 Consequently, all agents who know the specifics of what they are doing and are not being externally forced to act are voluntary agents and therefore responsible for their actions. 6 Conceptually distinct from the voluntary, the predicate ‘up to us’ was applied by Aristotle to those actions which we can both do and not do. 7 These are actions that come about as the result of deliberation and choice, which are only available to rationSusanne Bobzien, “Choice and Moral Responsibility in Nichomachean Ethics III 1–5,” in The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Ronald M. Polansky (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 3–4. 4 NE 1109b31–1110a3; 1110a15–17. 5 Aristotle’s inclusion of ignorance in his definition “õ»ÀЏÓºÅÇÀ¸Å,” does not extend to ignorance of generalities or ignorance of the good. 1110b29–33; cf. Bobzien, “Choice and Moral Responsibility,” 6. 6 Examples of those ignorant of the specifics are those who mistake an ally for an enemy, or a bottle of poison for a bottle of medicine, etc. Aristotle, NE 3.1 1111a8–15. Aristotle, “Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachea,” in Scriptorum classicorum bibliotheca Oxoniensis, ed. Ingram Bywater (Oxford: Clarendon, 1920). 7 I will translate the phrase “ëÎЏ÷ÄėÅ” as “up to us.” By using this rather literal translation, I hope to neither add nor detract meaning, but to allow the contextual function of the phrase to speak for itself. For this reason, I will also leave the phrase untranslated when dealing with it as a technical term. 3



al animals, therefore only to adult humans. 8 Those acts that are up to us must also be voluntary, since we are neither forced to do them nor ignorant about them; but not all acts that are voluntary follow from deliberate choice, and so not all are up to us. 9 While this was Aristotle’s distinction, it evidently did not hold for all ancient authors. Bobzien observed two distinct concepts that may underlie ancient notions of responsibility and “what is up to us.” 10 The “twosided” concept attributes responsibility or considers something to be up to us if, when we did the action, we also could have not done the action or have acted otherwise. The “one-sided” concept does not require the possibility of having done otherwise for attributing responsibility or considering something to be up to us. Simply that we did something (voluntarily), whether or not we could have done otherwise, is enough according to the “one-sided” concept. Unlike the “one-sided” concept, a notable requirement for the “twosided” concept is the possibility of unrealized alternatives—if going right and left are both up to me, one of them will and one will not happen; conversely, if it was not possible for me to go right, I am not responsible for going left or it was not really up to me to go left. But this division is further complicated by the fact mentioned above that an ancient author may connect responsibility primarily to what is voluntary or to what is up to us, and each of these may be conceived as either one- or two-sided. 11 NE 1111b8–10, 30–31, 1112a15–18. Aristotle explained that the actions consequent on choice are up to us (previous note). Alexander inferred from this the distinction between deliberate actions that are up to us and those non-deliberate actions that are merely voluntary. Fate 14 183.26–30. 10 Concerning responsibility, Bobzien distinguishes between two theories: MR1 (Moral Responsibility) based on autonomy and MR2 based on freedom to do otherwise. She uses the terms “one-sided causative” and “two-sided potestative” to distinguish between concepts of the ëÎૃ ÷ÄėÅ. Bobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 135. 11 For example, Aristotle’s definition of the voluntary (NE 3.1 1109b29) is one-sided, while his understanding of what is up to us (NE 3.1 1110a17–18) is two-sided. 8 9



As Bobzien has pointed out, many passages in the ancient sources that discuss either freedom or responsibility are fairly ambiguous as to which concept of freedom or responsibility is intended. 12 Paying close attention to the relationships among these concepts can help researchers trace developments in the ancient accounts of freedom and responsibility.

ARISTOTLE’S AMBIGUITY ON DETERMINISM Aristotle did not develop any doctrine on free will, determinism or indeterminism. How his lack of addressing these issues should be interpreted has been the topic of some disagreement. Last century, Sir David Ross assumed that the absence of clarification implies an original intuition of indeterminism or of free will, while Frede and others have more recently claimed that this absence directly reflects Aristotle’s thought on the matter. 13 What does seem clear is that Aristotle was not concerned with the subsequent debates over fate that Epicureans, Academics, and eventually Peripatetics carried on against the Stoics. In the absence of that concern, it is understandable that Aristotle did not clarify his position on ‘freedom’ or ‘deBobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 136–7. W. D. Ross, Aristotle (London: Methuen & Co., 1923), 201. Frede disagreed with Ross’ assumption that the notion of free will is a common notion and thus must have been simply overlooked by Aristotle. Instead, he approved (Frede, 2–4) of Ryle’s criticism of free will and of his observation that Aristotle had not held such a notion. Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London, New York: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1949). That Aristotle did not hold such a notion is agreed upon also by Dihle (4, 19), Bobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 137, Sharples, Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate, 4–7, and Andreғ Jean Voelke, L’idee De Volonte Dans Le Stoicisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973). Kenny, Broadie, and Kahn have each considered certain non-modern volitional components in Aristotle’s thought; cf. Long (Frede, 183 n.8). Kahn; Anthony Kenny, Aristotle’s Theory of the Will (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); Sarah Broadie, Ethics with Aristotle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Interestingly, Cicero listed Aristotle among the determinists Democritus, Heraclitus, and Empedocles in his dialogue On Fate, but did not specify his reasons for doing so. Cicero, De Fato, 39. 12 13



terminism’ in terms that would only become meaningful in later generations. Because clearly indeterminist formulations appear only relatively late in the sources, we should not project such a concept further back than the sources allow. 14 Aristotle held neither a determinist, nor an indeterminist, but an unpredeterminist view of human action. 15 Again, the difference between the unpredeterminist and indeterminist freedom is essentially whether identical agents in identical circumstances will perform identical actions or are free to do otherwise. Aristotle’s view of unpredetermined human action presupposes a concept of freedom from constraint which is evident in Aristotle’s definition of the voluntary and a fortiori of what is up to us. 16 Thus, he cannot be deemed strictly a determinist because this view rules out determination by causes external or prior to the agent. If someone were forced to act by these other causes, then this action would be categorized as involuntary and thus be considered pitiable rather than punishable. 17 Nevertheless, this view does not rule out determination by factors internal to the agent, such as one’s character and opinions. While Aristotle describes what is up to us in a clearly two-sided way—“both to do and not do”—and thus implies that there are some actions that are un-pre-determined and so not necessary, 18 this seems to be a generic definition applying in principle and not necessarily to specific events. This is because he also indicates that these actions are in fact determined by the individual agent’s process of deliberation. Thus, if one has certain opinions and a certain character, one will be determined by these factors to act in a certain way. 19 While it does indicate that two different peoBobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 137. Bobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 144. 16 NE 3.1 1109b29; NE 3.1 1110a10–11; NE 3.5 1113b4–9. 17 NE 1111a1–2. 18 On the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ: “ëÈЏ ¸ĤÌŊ Á¸Ė Ìġ ÈÉŠÌ̼ÀÅ Á¸Ė ÄŢ.” NE 3.1 1110a17–18 and “ëÅ ÇđË ºÛÉ ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ Ìġ ÈÉŠÌ̼ÀÅ, Á¸Ė Ìġ Äü ÈÉŠÌ̼ÀÅ, Á¸Ė ëÅ ÇđË Ìġ ÄŢ, Á¸Ė Ìġ Ÿţ.” NE 3.5 1113b7–8; on not being predetermined: EE 1223a1–9. 19 Choice is determined by deliberation: “¹ÇͼÍÌġÅ »ò Á¸Ė ÈÉǸÀɼÌġÅ Ìġ¸ĤÌŦ, ÈÂüÅ ÒÎÑÉÀÊÄšÅÇÅ ô»¾ ÌġÈÉǸÀɼÌŦÅ: ÌġºÛÉ ëÁ ÌýË 14 15



ple in the same situation might act quite differently, the twosidedness of what is up to us does not on its own indicate that the same person in the same situation could do otherwise. 20 Aristotle’s account of the voluntary and even his generic twosided definition of the ëÎૃ ÷ÄėÅ remained largely compatible with the later Stoic tradition. For example, Epictetus specifically limits our responsibility to those acts we actually have control over, what is “our own,” i.e.: the above “freedom from constraint.” Furthermore, a Stoic sage in possession of freedom, however so rare, is also not predetermined by any external factors: the above “unpredetermined freedom.” 21 And even though every detail of our lives may be governed by providential fate in their specific outcomes, it is with no dishonesty that it remains up to us to get out of bed and go to work, since in principle, people in similar situations could refuse to do so. Thus it is quite provocative when Alexander claims Aristotelian authority for his thorough rejection of Stoic responsibility. Alexander’s innovation beyond Aristotle’s extant works must be appreciated and, if criticized, understood in their context as the continuation of a vibrant philosophical tradition. In short, Alexander presses a two-sided view of responsibility against his determinist opponents’ one-sided view in two ways. First, he changes the requirements for responsibility away from Aristotle’s one-sided account of the voluntary to the two-sided definition of the ëÎૃ ÷ÄėÅ. Second, he clarifies that the category of ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ can only apply to specifically two-sided instances of deliberating and choosing, not to merely generic capacities. 22 The first is ¹ÇÍÂýË ÁÉÀ¿òÅ ÈÉǸÀɼÌŦÅ ëÊÌÀÅ.” NE 1113a2–4. Once we acquire a certain type of character, our options for conducting ourselves become constricted: (NE 1114a20–3) 20 This is not to claim that Aristotle categorically denied such freedom, which really was beside his point. In his ethics, he was concerned to explain how people are responsible for certain activities, not to explain the breadth of possible actions that are open to people. See Bobzien, “Choice and Moral Responsibility,” 2–4. 21 E.g.: Epictetus, Enchiridion 1.1–3. 22 Fate 12, 16–7, 20, 36; Q–10. Cf. Bobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 137–42. Further discussed below.



clearly different from Aristotle’s extant texts; the second is a clarification of what remains ambiguous in Aristotle’s texts. With this new understanding of responsibility, Alexander repeatedly attacks the determinist position for undermining responsibility and, through it, the very possibility of making moral progress through philosophy. For the history of free will, Alexander especially stands out here in his two-sidedness. Because responsibility specifically applies to choices and actions with two-sided potential, we must in fact possess such potential in our actions, choices, and ultimately in our capacity for deliberation itself. Otherwise, we certainly would have to abandon any sense of moral responsibility. But such two-sided potential requires an indeterminist view of nature, one in which either of two opposites is actually realizable in many concrete situations. More particularly, it requires an indeterminist view of human nature which avails us of choosing between good and bad options independently of prior influences such as education and character training. The advantage to philosophers favoring this view is that humans are not bogged down by bad habits and lack of training, but the sinister implication is that we also are not aided by these positive, rational influences either. As Frede described it, Alexander’s theory frees humans from the internal control of our desires and beliefs in the same way that the Stoic view frees humans from the control of external factors. 23 If such freedom from reason is an accurate inference, it will be hard to argue that such freedom is a benefit. Frede has in fact strongly criticized Alexander for championing the role of irrationality in human decision making and for thereby holding up a view of freedom characterized by human weakness rather than rationality and virtue. Some points of Bobzien’s interpretation agree with Frede’s. If we can act against our prior habits of character and education since there are no preceding causes that determine our decisions or behavior, it might be difficult or impossible to retain any rational understanding of human action. Such an indeterminist view simply breaks the connection between cause and effect, character and action, so that ‘free’ human 23

Frede, 97–8.



behavior is in fact random, inexplicable, and chaotic. While humans may in fact behave in this way, this ideal of freedom hardly compares favorably to that invulnerable virtue of the traditional Stoic account. But it is not clear that this is the best reading of Alexander’s position. Richard Sorabji has recently offered a rehabilitation of Alexander’s view, answering certain criticisms of his position. Essentially, Sorabji argues that Alexander retains a role for causality while eschewing necessity from human decision making. 24 What seems to be at issue is whether Alexander’s indeterminist understanding of human decision making can retain any place for rationality. If freedom is predicated on the absence or ineffectiveness of prior intelligible causes, it can only be seen as irrational and therefore a weakness. R.W. Sharples has even elaborated this implication on the basis of Mantissa 22, traditionally associated with Alexander’s work. But Sharples further notes that several details in this text indicate that it is not the work of Alexander at all, but is rather inconsistent with his authentic writings and likely not indicative of his position. 25 On the other hand, if Alexander’s version of freedom is to have any merit, it must remain intelligible and also offer humans some reliable path to strengthening their own capacity for rational conduct. But such intelligibility and reliability certainly require an intact chain of cause and effect, something Alexander’s theory undermines in Frede’s reading and upholds according to Sorabji. As I hope to show below, the criticisms against Alexander’s position stem from an incomplete understanding of his theory. The unintelligible implications drawn by Frede and hinted at by Bobzien are rather exaggerations of his view. This is because the indeterminism Alexander affirmed does not extend to all human choices and actions equally, but should be understood to apply most specifically to a very narrow domain indeed, the hallmark of human “What is being denied here is necessitation, not causation.” Sorabji, “A Neglected Strategy of the Aristotelian Alexander on Necessity and Responsibility,” 240–56, quoting 244. 25 R. W. Sharples, “Responsibility, Chance and Not-Being,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 22, no. 1 (1975): 37–64. Cf. Frede, 97. 24



psychology according to Alexander: deliberation. By better understanding the special status of deliberation in Alexander’s theory as the quintessential residence of indeterminist freedom, the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ, we can see how far traditional intelligibility and causality remain intact in his view of human freedom. Frede recognized that Alexander’s position on indeterminist freedom was significantly motivated by his two-sided view of responsibility. 26 From a generally Stoic perspective, Frede then pointed out several problems with such a two-sided view. Chiefly that on such a view, any merit for positive choices and actions is invalidated without some equally negative potential residing within the agent. Thus merit for rational virtue is dependent on an irrational potential in order to be valid. Here again, human responsibility and merit turn out to be grounded in the irrational rather than the rational. 27 Of course, this criticism is only from the Stoic perspective, given voice here by Frede. However, as mentioned above and fleshed out below, Alexander was not alone in holding a two-sided view of responsibility. Already, hints of this view are found in Aristotle’s definition of the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ, (though not in his view of responsibility, still resting on a squarely one-sided definition of the voluntary). Later commentators, prior to Alexander, had also been working on integrating Aristotle’s texts on responsibility, logic, and physics towards a full account of human action from the PeripatetFrede, 98. Frede, 100–1. Identifying the correct foundations of responsibility and merit is certainly beyond the scope of this book. Sorabji does respond to Frede from Alexander’s perspective. A good act does not become praiseworthy solely because of the agent’s ability to do bad; it is praiseworthy because it is inherently good. However, we generally do not praise agents for necessary accomplishments. If it were impossible for someone to fail at doing good, we might rather feel awe than praise. Sorabji, “Neglected Strategy,” 254. To this I would add that it is the function of praise and blame to encourage and discourage good and bad actions in others. If moral failure were impossible for Socrates, there would be no point in praising him, since regular people with common characters would be incapable of imitating anyone for whom vice was impossible. 26 27



ic perspective with a clearly two-sided significance. It seems then that Alexander was not unique in his two-sided interpretation of Aristotle’s texts, and as such, from a historical perspective at least, we should take his interpretation quite seriously. A closer look at some of the significant milestones on this path illuminated by Bobzien is appropriate here.

PERIPATETIC DEVELOPMENTS Prior to Alexander, Aspasius and the author of The Anonymous Commentary combined Aristotle’s discussion of what is up to us in NE 3.1–5 with the concepts of fate and necessity. 28 First, Aspasius contrasted the necessary which cannot be otherwise with the ëÎЏ ÷ÄėÅ which is chosen through deliberation. That he contrasted necessity with the objects of deliberation shows that he thought Aristotle’s ethical discussion of deliberation and choice was applicable to the physical and logical questions of fate and necessity. Aspasius concluded that “everything is not necessitated or fated” from Aristotle’s doctrine that we deliberate “about things that can be done.” 29 In this he reasoned from Aristotle’s ethics to make conclusions about the later physical debate about fate. Second, the anonymous author included fate as a cause that comes about through human beings, thus connecting the physical debate about fate to the ethical doctrine of Aristotle. The anonymous author subordinated fate to nature so that it is “neither inevitable nor necessary.” 30 This comports with Aspasius since if it were necessary, it would neither be a matter for deliberation nor something that comes through us. 31 The anonymous author concludes that we deliberate about what can be done this way or otherwise. 32 See Bobzien, “Free-Will Problem,” 145–6. Aspasius, On Aristotle’s Ethics 74.10–15; 76.11–16 = Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy, 200 BC to AD 200: An Introduction and Collection of Sources in Translation, 23c–d. I retain Sharples’ translation. 30 Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy, 23b. 31 Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy, 23d. 32 “ÒÂÂÛ ‫׏‬¹ÇͼÍŦļ¿¸> ȼÉĖ ÌÇŧÌÑÅ Ø Á¸Ė ÓÂÂÑË Á¸Ė ÇĪÌÑË ëÅ»šÏ¼Ì¸À ÈɸϿýŸÀ” Anonymous Commentary on Aristotle’s NE, 149.30–1. In this context, however, the anonymous author is more concerned with 28 29



The reasoning seems to go something like, ‘If the necessary is what cannot be otherwise, and what we deliberate about is not necessary, then what we deliberate about can be otherwise.’ Here, the objects of our deliberation are not only conceived as our own activities but also as external events which may come to exist or not. To this point the passage also draws from Aristotle’s claim that agents controls the existence or non-existence of their actions. 33 That passage might have indicated to the commentators Aristotle’s license for applying ethics to physics. Third, in the anonymous commentary we have, beyond Aristotle’s expression “both to do and not do,” the expression “which can be done both this way and otherwise.” 34 This again indicates a connection between physics and ethics since what we are responsible for is what we deliberate about, and this is identified as what is contingently done in various ways. Aspasius seems to have argued this way in another passage. He added to Aristotle’s conditions for responsibility the preferring of one alternative possibility to another. 35 Commenting on Aristotle’s ambiguous class of ‘coerced actions’ from NE 3.1, Aspasius concludes that they are objects of choice and the agent is responsible for them because the agent has preferred them to their alternatives. 36 In this passage, Aspasius is not concerned about Aristotle’s distinction between unjust actions and unjust agents which he makes at NE 1135b16–17. He also conflates this distinction when he claims that Aristotle bases the voluntary in “what has been deliberated beforehand.” 37 While Arisdistinguishing the uncertain from the certain than the contingent from the necessary. 33 Aristotle, EE 1223a. 34 Aristotle’s “Á¸ĖÌġÈÉŠÌ̼ÀÅ Á¸ĖÄŢ,” at NE 3.1 1110a17–18 and NE 3.5 1113b7–8, compared to the anonymous commentator’s “Ø Á¸Ė ÓÂÂÑË Á¸Ė ÇĪÌÑË ëÅ»šÏ¼Ì¸À ÈɸϿýŸÀ.” Cf. Aristotle, NE 1115a1–2 “ÒÂÂЏĝÌÀ ëÎЏ÷ÄėÅ öÅ ÇĩÌÑË õÄüÇĩÌÑ ÏÉŢʸʿ¸À, [not ÈÉŠÌ̼ÀÅ].” 35 This is Sharples’ point (Peripatetic Philosophy, 230), citing Alberti 1999, 115–6, 134. 36 Aspasius, On Aristotle’s Ethics 61.5–16 = Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy 23e. 37 Aspasius, 70.28–71.2 = Sharples, Peripatetic Philosophy, 23g.



totle based responsibility on a one-sided concept of the voluntary in NE 3.1 and preserved an additional category of responsibility for those who had deliberated at NE 1135b16–7, Aspasius seems to have been more interested in the latter two-sided concept based in what is neither fated nor necessary. Here the ethical conclusion is located among the questions of physics and logic, with the result that one is only fully responsible when one has deliberated about what is capable of being done otherwise.

MIDDLE-PLATONIC DEVELOPMENTS Several Middle-Platonic authors further combined Aristotle’s ethical ideas from NE 3.1–5 to his discussions of contingency in De Interpretatione. Ps. Plutarch, Nemesius, and Calcidius preserve a three-fold division of the contingent into what is for the most part, in equal parts, and for the lesser part. 38 The category of what comes about “in equal parts” is an addition to Aristotle’s discussion, but was commonly preserved in these commentaries on contingency. The anonymous innovator of this category, whom Bobzien has dubbed the “Aristotle Scholar,” seems to have combined the expression “ĝÈÇÌ¼ÉЏ ìÌÍϼŔ of Int. 9 18b7–9, about which we deliberate, 39 with Aristotle’s observation that we do not deliberate about the necessary, 40 to conclude that the “ĝÈÇÌ¼ÉЏ ìÌÍϼŔ must not be part of the necessary and therefore a part of the contingent. Since “