Monday, November 24, 2014

First the Stoics...

Brigitte sent me a link to an article, titled “The rise of modern Stoicism” by Joe Gelonesi. It is part of The Philosopher’s Zone here. The subject has been in the air around here for a while now—ever since Brigitte bought Martha C. Nussbaum’s The Therapy of Desire back in the Spring of 2013 and then we both read and discussed it over a period of months, with particular focus on the Stoics. The book is subtitled Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics.

The strong impression I carried away from that experience, particularly from the study of late Roman Stoicism, is how the decaying Roman civilization embraced that philosophy, how widely it spread, and how it laid the foundation for the very smooth acceptance of Catholic Christianity in those realms. Christianity gave that rational, if also transcendental, philosophy a genuine life. The subject is worth pursuing as an antidote to the chaos that now seems to be spreading almost virally.

When things go too far, the answer is almost always already present. Thus, while selfie sticks rise into the air, the (call it) re-moralization of society is also taking place. Concerning that last phrase, it occured naturally: we both also read a book, around about the same time, titled The De-Moralization of Society, From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values, by Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Lifts the mood on a gloomy if warmer November day dark with a low pressure system and half-hearted rain.


  1. I always enjoy philosophy.
    As I was reading, it suddenly occurred to me that although we always refer to a certain Roman era as one of "decay", this has very little objective support from the contemporary history.
    We tend to look at it through the eyes of the Fathers of the Church and Gibbon, but at all times there was a mixture of good and bad, growth and decay, in Rome, just as in our own society.
    It may boil down to: "it ain't over 'til it's over!", and periods of growth and decline may be inseparably implicated the ones into the others.

    Since I had never thought about it this way before, the era of which you write now has become interesting and piques my curiosity with a desire to look again without too many preconceptions.

  2. Yes, Montag. Seems to me that phenomena like decay are only visible from a very distant perspective, never quite from the ground up. We see it much more clearly nowadays because the Media are bringing us endless examples -- virtually none of that is visible around the neighborhood here. Indeed, very often, we see the exact opposite.

  3. If you and Brigitte like Nussbaum, I suspect you'd also like Pierre Hadot's What Is Ancient Philosophy?, if you hadn't read it. It's a relatively easy read that gets into deep territory -- and Hadot is an expert on Stoic philosophy. I suspect you'd both like Hadot in general; he focuses on how ancient philosophers thought of philosophy not just as some abstract idea, but a way of life.

  4. Thanks for that, Brandon. It's on the list...


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