Spiritualism, as I mean it here, demands talk about the inexpressible. Materialism, as I mean it here, limits talk to the more technically expressible. I get the concerns of both. The Materialist can’t do without the inexpressible. The Spiritualist needs admit the poverty of talk about his object. Both need to get to work. But the work is not who can talk better. The work is who can live well. The ancient philosophical schools (at least in our distant efforts to understand) understood the primacy of living well and the secondary nature of defending theoretical systems.
The differences between the Stoics and Epicureans are mostly in emphasis though they are often portrayed as representing choices and they thought of themselves in that way to some degree.
The Epicurean does not mind talking about pleasure and pain of the body as guide, but only under a rather silent presupposition that they can be managed by the management of desire. And who is the manager?
The Epicurean does not mind talking about the voice of the body, but only under a rather silent presupposition that there is someone else responding to the voice—sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, starving this desire and feeding that one. Who is the gardener of desire?
The Epicurean cuts to the chase with his Atomism (Materialism). There is a commitment to the reality of change and to its possibility. That there is no room for freedom is neither the point nor a worry. But that we can talk about growth and decay, coming together and dissolution, composition and decomposition, both require components and room to move. And so the Atomist posits atoms (parts) and the void (room to move).
The characterization of the materialism of the Epicureans as crass or insufficient to explain the phenomena of choosing or management or aiming is shown to be unwarranted by the difficulty any other has (the Spiritualist) in rigorous and verifiable characterization of anything else besides matter.
What we can speak of is choice, intention, act. But to speak of the chooser, the one who aims, or the agent is to go well beyond capacity. Sure materialism can feel lacking. It should. But so must the Spiritualist critic admit that his additions beyond the material lack. To the degree that rigor, verification, and tying down through conformity to reality matter, matter will matter. What is the matter? You see, even in the question what is asked for is a something, and that something must be delimited–else it is nothing. And, that which is delimited is the stuff that we can focus on. Does it have form? Of course. To the degree that the form itself can be focused on it will have to be converted into a matter of something else. But there is limit to this search for limitation. To ask about the unlimited—God, freedom, spirit, the everything—is to ask for what cannot be, properly speaking, communicated…the unlimited.
What to do? Embrace the tension. Matter and form, as Aristotle said so many years ago, are not to be found without each other down here. To the degree that we are interested in knowledge, determination, limitation, characterization, matter and form will be found. To look for that which lacks one or the other is to look for what is not discoverable. Does that mean it doesn’t exist? No. Does that mean it is to some degree inexpressible to the degree that we would measure expressibility by definiteness of meaning? Yes.
The late Stoics, in their ethical seriousness, and their commanding style, are not the opposites of the Epicureans. They are simply the counter-balance, the voice of that which the Epicurean is silent about. But even they, rarely talk about freedom or spirit. They will gesture at logos, deep reality. They will command the grasping of it with rational soul. But mostly what they will do is look in between spirit and deep reality, neither of which anyone can express much about that is not mystical, at what that embodied form (self, form+matter) must be about in order to bring about the unity of rational soul and deep reality.
Since the work and its difficulty is emphasized by the Stoic, and the work is the movement of matter and a struggle, the deriding of the body and its animal passions are predictable. And so it must be that an undeveloped man, a man lacking form, or whose form is not good (malformed), must be encouraged to take note of that which must be shaped (soul-center), that by which the shaping is accomplished (free choice), and the ignoring of the voice of the body that will be required to make progress. And so the Stoic, when he speaks in his commanding tone, is speaking to the initiate, the repentant, he who is-not but wants to be. For the change from the one to the other much work is required. And work, look closely at it, presupposes that which we can hardly speak about—free spirit.
The mistake of contemporary philosophy is to get caught up in the intellectual differences captured in metaphysical systems. That is an error permitted because of past recent success in control of matter and energy. It is an error of excess and boredom. It is work that is required—attention, focus, discipline, singularity of aim. And, all of that, given that it must be accomplished by the unspeakable (free spirit) in the material word, will show up as management, budgeting, and regulated activity. There are reasons to prefer the Stoics over the Epicureans. But what both ancient schools got right that so much contemporary philosophy has neglected is that the systematic presentation of reality is all for support of the work required for development. Both of them went for development. Become! The Epicureans have a way of noting what almost everyone agrees is at the end: the beatific vision (tranquility in union with deep reality). The Stoics have a way of calling you to the choice which is at the core of every tick of the seconds that moves you closer or further away. I can appreciate both and feel no obligation to choose between.