Sunday, 21 February 2016

Plotinus and the Stoics on Providence


Blavatsky occasionally hints at the connection between the eastern notion of karma and the western notion of providence, clearly favoring the pantheistic pagan concept over the theistic version. (1)
"Karma-Nemesis is the synonym of PROVIDENCE, minus design, goodness, and every other finite attribute and qualification, so unphilosophically attributed to the latter. An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach that nevertheless it guards the good and watches over them in this, as in future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer -- aye, even to his seventh rebirth"(Sd1 643).
The Greek term for ‘’fate’ is ‘’heimarmene’’, the term for providence is ‘’pronoia’’; and since providence was a major Neoplatonic doctrine, and a prominent theme in ancient philosophy in general, one can find works and fragments by such philosophers as Chrysippus, Nemesius of Ephesa, Apuleuis, Calcidius, Albinus, Pseudo-Plutarch, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Seneca, Epictetus, Cicero, Plotinus, Hierocles, Proclus, Synesius, and Boethius, I would therefore  like to go one step further and claim that karma and providence are equivalent terms. The quotes below show to illustrate this and also how both the Platonic and Stoic schools held similar views on this idea: 

    1. Troublesome situations play a role in the coordination of the whole.
      “And even these troubles are not altogether without usefulness for the co-ordination and completion  of the whole” (En. I, 5, 15).
      “For the present, I will say so much of the eventualities that you style harsh, unfortunate and detestable; in the first place, they benefit the individuals to whose lot they fall, and, in the second place , they benefit the whole body of mankind, for which the gods are more concerned than they are of individuals” (Seneca 3, 1, 15)
    2. Nothing that happens is bad for the good man; nothing that happens is good for the bad man.
       “As for people getting what they do not deserve, when the good get what is bad and the bad the opposite, it is correct to say that nothing is bad for the good man and nothing, correspondingly, good for the bad one; (En. 3, 2, 6, 5).”
      “’Why do many misfortunes fall to the lot of good men?’ It is not possible that any evil can befall a good man” (Seneca 2,  1, 12). “Yet why does god allow evil to happen to good men? But in fact he does not” (Seneca 6, 1, 26).
    3. Troubles serve to awaken us and help us understand the nature of virtue and vice.
      “For it makes men awake and wakes up the intelligence and understanding of those who are opposed to the ways of wickedness” (En. 3, 2, 5, 20).
      “Do not, I beseech you, dread the things which the immortal gods apply to our souls like goads; disaster is virtue’s opportunity”. (Seneca 4, 6, 20). 
    4. Why are good people sometimes disfavored and bad people sometimes favored?
      “But what if one considers the comparative distribution of evils to men of opposite character, that the good are poor and the wicked are rich, and the bad have more than their share of things which those who are human beings must have, and are masters, and peoples and cities belong to them?” (En. 3, 2, 7, 30).
      ‘’Yet why was god so unfair in distributing destinies as to allot good men poverty and wounds and painful death?’’ (Seneca 5, 9, 25)
    5. The earth is very small and unimportant compared to the vastness of the universe.
      “but men are in the middle and below, and above are heaven and the gods in it; but the earth is like a central point even in comparison with only one of the stars” (En. 3, 2, 8,5).
      “The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!” (Marcus Aurelius 4, 3).
    6. It is normal for things to happen according to physical laws, such as the stronger defeating the weaker.
      “Then again, it is ridiculous for people to do everything else in life according to their own ideas,  even if they are not doing it in the way which the gods like, and then be merely saved by the gods without even doing the things by means of which the gods command them to save themselves?” (En. 3, 2, 8, 40)
      “Somewhere or other we are going to have encounters with wild beasts, and with man, too – more dangerous than all those beasts. Floods will rob us of one thing, fire of another. These are conditions of our existence which we cannot change’’ (Seneca Epist. 107, 7, 226)
    7. The good life consists in being good; a bad life consists in being bad .
      “But it says that those who have become good shall have a good life, now, and laid up for them hereafter as well, and the wicked the opposite” (En.3, 2, 9, 10).
      “But to you I have given goods that are sure and abiding, goods which are better and greater the more one turns them about and scrutinizes them from every side. (Seneca 6, 5, 27)
    8. Adversity has benefits that are either evident are otherwise hidden.
      “No, it is necessary that these, too, should exist; and some of the benefits which come from them are obvious, and those which are not evident, many of them time discovers”(En. 3, 2, 9,35).
      “Of all these propositions the most difficult, apparently, is the first in the list, that the objects of our dread and horror are actually advantageous to the persons to whose lot they fall” (Seneca, 3, 2, 15) 
    9. Things occur in a chain of causation.
      “Given a first principle, it accomplishes what follows with the inclusion in the chain of causation of all principles there are; but men, too , are principles; at any rate, they are moved to noble actions by their own nature, and this is an independent principle” (En. 3, 2, 10, 15).
      “I know that all things proceed according to a law that is fixed and eternally valid. Fate directs us, and the first hour of our birth determines each man’s span. Cause is linked with cause, and a long chain of events governs all matters public and private” (Seneca 5, 7, 24-5). 
    10. Beauty and order in the natural world is a sign of providence
      “for example, the workmanship which produces wonders in rich variety in ordinary animals, and the beauty of appearance which extends to the fruits and even the leaves of plants, and their beauty of flower which comes so effortlessly, and their delicacy and variety, and that all this has not been  made once and come to an end but is always being made as the powers above move in different ways over this world” (En. 3, 2, 13, 20). 
      “that this orderliness is not a property of matter moving at random; and that fortuitous conglomerations cannot arrange their balance so skillfully that the earth, which is heaviest in weight, should abide unmoved and, as spectator, observe the rapid flight of the surrounding sky, how the seas are distilled into the valleys to soften the earth, how huge growths burgeon from tiny seeds” (Seneca 1, 2, 10-11)
    11. Play your role in life as actor in a play
      “But in the truer poetic creation, which men who have a poetic nature imitate in part, the soul acts, receiving the part which it acts from the poet creator; “  (En. 3, 2, 17, 35)
      “Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it“ (Epictetus, Manuel, 17 ).
    12. Death is like an actor exiting a play.
      “If, then, death is a changing of body, like changing of clothes on the stage, or, for some of us, a putting off of body, like in the theatre the final exit, in that performance, of an actor who will on later occasion come in again to play, what would there be that is terrible in a change of this kind of living beings into other?” (En. 3, 2, 15,20).
      “It is like the officer who engaged a comic actor dismissing him from the stage.’ But I have not played my five acts, only three.’ Completion is determined by that being who caused first your composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.” (Marcus Aurelius XII, 36) (Armstrong 90)
    13. Mishaps should be seen as a children’s game
      “But if anyone joins in their play and suffers their sort of sufferings, he must know that he has tumbled into a children’s game and put off the play-costume in which he was dressed” (En. 3, 2, 15,40).
      “Thus, when you are unable to convince any one, consider him as a child, and clap your hands with him; (Epictetus I, 29, 30-32)
    14.  The wrongdoer is punished by becoming wicked
      ‘’But those who do these things are punished, first by being wolves and ill-fated men;’’ (En. 3, 2, 4, 25)
      ‘’But he is the person hurt who suffers the most miserable and shameful evils; who, instead of a man, becomes a wolf or viper or a hornet’’ (Epictetus IV, 1, 127)

    (1) Although this  probably refers to more popular theological notions. Note that Wayne J. Hankey gives the following points of agreement between Iamblichus, Proclus, Boethius, Dionysius, and Thomas Aquinas regarding providence:


    1) theodicy, under the form of the question of evil because the existence of evil, especially injustice in the human realm, seems inconsistent with government by a good divine providence;
    2) criticism of the Epicureans and Stoics, primarily because of atheism or of determinism which excludes the freewill which all regard as necessary to the operation of providence in humans;
    3) criticism of Aristotle and the Peripatetics, because they do not extend providence to human individuals;
    4) the distinction between a higher providence, on the one hand, and fate, fortune, nature, or government, on the other;
    5) that fundamental to providence is its operating in each kind of being in a way adapted to each thing‘s mode and through its inherent teleology;
    6) that providence extends to individuals;
    7) that providence employs spiritual beings intermediary between the First and humans;
    8) that humans are in the middle between the sensible and the intellectual worlds and that this is crucial to how they stand to providence;
    9) that humans as rational souls have free choice;
    10) that providence operates in them by their acquisition of virtues or vices;
    11) that prayer requires human freedom and is essential to the operation of providence;
    12) that providence combines what happens outside human control (most things) with the free acts of intellectual and rational beings for the good of virtuous humans;
    13) that providence is a function either of the divine intellect and will, or of the gods as pro-noia, above mind;
    14) that, either as divine intellect or as divinity above intellect, providence is an eternal unchanging intuition uniting the generic and the individual;
    15) that the divine providential care for human individuals is ultimately its providing a summons and ways, natural and gracious, to deiformity.