The following table offers an overview of the philosophical thought as applied to ethics that appears to be the tradition from which Paul's writings emerge. It is a collation of notes from Paul and the Stoics by Troels Engberg-Pedersen (2000). This is the first of several pages of notes that will hopefully offer an easily accessible outline of the argument that Paul's epistles were essentially a theological adaptation of Roman Stoicism from the early imperial era.

Aristotle's basic framework in ethical thought was a striving for the telos, the end/goal of human life, which is happiness (eudaimonia)

Paul in doing theology and ethics was likewise thinking about the general shape of the best form of human living.

Neil Godfrey:
20th December, 2006

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Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Stoics (from Zeno 335-263 BCE)


(Book 1, I, I 1094a1-3) Nicomachean Ethics: All things aim at some good, which can be called eudaimonia, happiness. Details follow --

Aristotle’s analysis here was taken over entirely by the Stoics

This good/eudaimonia is something “perfect” or “final” (teleion) – the most perfect thing (teleiotaton). It is also something self-sufficient (autarkes) – this when isolated alone makes life desirable and lacking nothing. Thus happiness (eudaimonia) appears to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end (telos) of action.

Stoics too

Eudaimonia is thus closely tied to action, thus to practical deliberation which precedes action. It stands for the abstract state of a person’s whole life in which all the individual objectives that a person may have for his acts have been reached. (Thus it is not an object or state to be reached through action; nor is it a feeling or state of mind.) It is an abstract state that constitutes the overall and all-comprehending point (telos) of all a person’s acts and subsumes any particular ends of acts under itself.

Thus it shows that Aristotle’s theme is thought about the best overall shape of human life and behaviour.

Stoics too

Paul was intensely engaged in thought about the best, indeed, the only right, overall shape of human life and behaviour (in this world.)

Concern of Aristotelian and Stoic ethics with eudaimonia and the telos meant both were strongly focused on reason, namely practical reason, reason as involved in practical deliberation. Eudaimonia brings in the idea of ordering ones life and seeing how the many particular ends of acts may be held together by reason in a single grasp of an individual’s happiness. It also brings in the idea of engaging in practical deliberation about particular decisions in the light of such a single grasp. Practical thought to do with upward grasping of individual ends with downward movement to particular decisions. …?? How to order one’s immediate ends and how one will decide in particular situations are decisions that will affect each other.

Stoics too

Paul also engaged above all in practical thought.

Eudaimonia is tied to the individual in its basic logic but not in its substantive set-up.

Thus eudaimonia makes life desirable for the individual whose life it is – tied to the individual’s life as a self-sufficient state; but in its substantive content, it is the good that consists of moral virtues and acts that reflect those virtues – First among these is Justice, Others include moderation, courage, magnanimity, and more. Thus it is not to be mistaken for what the individual thinks good for his short term satisfaction. Altruistic, though tie with the individual is maintained.

Aristotle included normal worldly goods needed to sustain life for the end, along with moral virtues and virtuous acts.

Stoics said nothing but moral virtue and virtuous acts for the end. This raises the question how a Stoic will relate to ordinary natural goods, and this question was at centre of Stoic ethics.

But like Aristotle the Stoics said it was one’s own, individual good that consists in morally virtuous acts (and nothing else), including genuinely altruistic ones. Thus like Aristotle Stoics did not accept a merely self-regarding form of eudaimoniasm (even further from this than Aristotle.)

Among the virtues of eudaimonia – the intellectual virtue, phronesis (moral insight)—this is the practical counterpart to the other theoretical intellectual virtue, sophia (science). This rational virtue, phronesis, by which one grasps the proper end of an action and ability to see what needs to be done for that, is of paramount importance, since this virtue articulates the actual content of the end, of eudaimonia.

Aristotelian phronesis is the good state of the kind of practical thought that was his theme.

Stoics did not differentiate phronesis from sophia, nor from moral virtue itself. Thus cognitive emphasis was very strong in Stoicism, and this has repercussions on their analysis of weakness of will. Everything hangs on coming to see the good, getting proper rational grasp of it. Then all passions will be blotted out. There will be no weakness of will. One will always and only act upon one’s (new) insight. Thus basic structure of Stoic ethics close to describing a case of conversion.

For Aristotle virtue was a state (hexis) of mind – it may not always be active but in appropriate circumstances in an ‘actualization’ or ‘activity’ (energeia) …. a moral virtue may be activated in a mental activity (energeia) … and such an activity may turn into an external act proper, a praxis.

Stoics too

Compare Paul Gal.5:6 – all that matters in Christ is faith that is active (energoumene) through love.

Aristotle was first to give an extended analysis of a phenomenon that belongs under the theory of virtue: that of weakness of will (akrasia). A full virtue is a state of desire and understanding (reason) that leaves no room for a divided mind. By definition a fully virtuous person will always do what is required. Comparing the self-controlled person with the fully virtuous person.

The enkrates sees what is to be done and wishes to do it, but has counterventing desires, but pulls against these.

The ho akrates is also divided but gives in.

Stoics took Aristotle’s theory here up in their account of the passions (pathe) which they understood as cases of weakness of will.

Compare Paul on Christ and the Law, Romans 7, etc.