Graduation Year




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Roger Ariew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Ariew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Garber, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Colin Heydt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Douglas Jesseph, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.


Descartes, Early Modern Philosophy, Neostoicism, Pascal, Spinoza, Stoicism


There are many misinterpretations that exist concerning the moral philosophy of Descartes, Pascal, and Spinoza that are due to a lack of proper awareness of Stoicism in the 17th century. My dissertation addresses that by highlighting understated Stoic themes in their texts, subsequently offering new clarity to their ethical theories. I argue that though Descartes’ first ethics mimics Montaigne’s neo-Stoicism, his later moral theory attempts to synthesize a variety of ancient, and seemingly contradictory, ethical traditions: Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Aristotelianism. Pascal embraces Stoicism differently, as the first of a “two-tiered” ethics: modeled after Augustine’s city of God and city of man, Stoicism is an alternative moral code when someone is ignorant of the good and true happiness. Finally, the secondary literature wants either to ignore Spinoza’s Stoicism or to make it unique and unadulterated; I argue that Spinoza is a Stoic, but no more so than the other early modernists. I emphasize the anti-Stoic themes in his work to show this, and to show that his true affinity for Stoicism lies in his Stoic physics, not his morals.

By tracing these Stoic influences on the moral philosophy of Pascal, Descartes, and Spinoza, I accomplish two goals. First, I rectify the misinterpretations of their individual thought, bringing a clearer understanding of these canonical early modern philosophers’ ethical projects. Secondly, since these three figures hold radically different metaphysical commitments, tracing each of their Stoic appropriations amid their intellectual diversity begins to form a picture, showing the role Stoicism played in shaping early modern ethics.

Included in

Philosophy Commons