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Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics edited by Brad Inwood (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) This unique volume offers an odyssey through the ideas of the Stoics in three particular ways: first, through the historical trajectory of the school itself and its influence; second, through the recovery of the history of Stoic thought; third, through the ongoing confrontation with Stoicism, showing how it refines philosophical traditions, challenges the imagination, and ultimately defines the kind of life one chooses to lead. A distinguished roster of specialists have written an authoritative guide to the entire philosophical tradition. The first two chapters chart the history of the school in the ancient world, and are followed by chapters on the core themes of the Stoic system: epistemology, logic, natural philosophy, theology, determinism, and metaphysics. There are two chapters on what might be thought of as the heart and soul of the Stoics system: ethics.

This Companion is intended as a resource for readers of various kinds as they approach Stoicism along any of these paths, whether they do so for the first time or after considerable prior experience. The authors contributing to this volume are all masters of their fields, but they are as different in their intellectual and literary styles as were the Stoics themselves. I hope that the variety of talents and approaches brought together in this Companion will serve the reader well.

Throughout the Companion, the reader will find a wide variety of philosophical approaches, from the reflective explorations of ethics by Malcolm Schofield to the magisterial exposition of logic by Susanne Bobzien. Authors have been encouraged to write in the manner that best suits their topic, and the result is as varied as the paths taken by the Stoic tradition itself. Similarly, no attempt has been made to impose a unified set of philosophical or historical presuppositions on the authors, as is apparent in the differing assessments of Aristotle's influence on early Stoicism made by Sedley (who tends to minimize it) and by White and Frede, who see the early leaders of the school as reacting rather more directly to Aristotle's work. A similar variation will be found in the handling by various authors of some of the more specialized technical terms coined or used by the ancient Stoics, since the best translation of any such term is determined by the authors' interpretations. Take, for example, the term kathkon in Stoic ethics. In Chapter 11, Brennan explains it without translating it; Sedley renders it 'proper action'; Gill as 'appropriate' or 'reasonable action'; Hankinson as 'fitting action'; and Brunschwig follows Long and Sedley (1987) in rendering the term 'proper function'. In such cases the authors have made clear the original technical term so that themes can be followed easily across the various chapters where it might occur. And the reader will certainly find significant overlap and intersection of themes in this Companion. The Stoic school in antiquity prided itself (rightly or wrongly) on its integration and internal consistency. The blended exposition. that characterized their teaching of the three parts of philosophy is bound to replicate itself in any modern discussion of their work.

The variety of interpretation found in this Companion is, the reader should be warned, typical of the current state of scholarship in the field. There is little orthodoxy among specialists in the study of ancient Stoicism - and that is wholly appropriate in view of the state of our evidence for the early centuries of the school's history. But although a standard 'line' is not available on most issues, there has developed a broad consensus on the most important factors that contribute to the study of Stoicism, as they do for any past philosophical movement: the sources for understanding it, the external history which affects it, and the leading topics to be dealt with. This growing consensus is reflected in a number of excellent works of which the reader of this book should be aware. Without pretending to provide a guide to further reading - a virtually impossible task - I merely indicate here some of the key resources about which any reader will want to know. Bibliographical details appear after Chapter 15.

Since this book is to serve as a guide to an entire philosophical tradition and not just to one philosopher, it has an unusual structure. It begins with two chapters that chart the history of the school in the ancient world. David Sedley (Chapter 1) takes us from the foundation of the school to the end of its institutional life as a school in the conventional ancient sense, and Christopher Gill (Chapter 2) picks up the story and takes it through the period of the Roman Empire, an era often thought to have been philosophically less creative but, paradoxically, the period which has given us our principal surviving texts written by ancient Stoics. It is therefore also the period which most decisively shaped the understanding of Stoicism in the early modern period, when philosophers did not yet have access to the historical reconstructions of early Stoicism on which we now rely.

The central part of the book is a series of chapters on major themes within the Stoic system. We begin with epistemology (Chapter 3, R. J. Hankinson) and logic (Chapter 4, Susanne Bobzien), two areas in which the philosophical influence of Stoicism has been particularly enduring. Ancient Stoicism produced the most influential (and controversial) version of empiricism in the ancient world, and the logic of Chrysippus, the third head of the school, was one of the great intellectual achievements of the school, though it was not until the mod-ern development of sentential rather than term logic that its distinctive merits became visible. Natural philosophy is, of course, founded on cosmology and the analysis of material stuffs, so in Chapter 5 Michael J. White sets out the framework in which the following three chapters should be read. Theology (Chapter 6, Keimpe Algra), determinism (Chapter 7, Dorothea Frede), and metaphysics (Chapter 8, Jacques Brunschwig) complete the cycle of topics in natural philosophy and open up, each in its own way, an area of philosophy in which Stoicism set an agenda for centuries to follow. Yet it is arguable that ethics is the heart and soul of the Stoic system (as one might expect of a school whose traditions go back to Socrates); it is covered in two chapters that take markedly different approaches to the topic: 'Ethics' (Chapter 9, Malcolm Schofield) and 'Moral Psychology' (Chapter io, Tad Brennan).

With that, one might regard the standard three-part account of Stoic philosophy as being complete, since the main topics of logic, physics, and ethics are covered. But Stoicism had a profound influence on intellectual life outside its own boundaries as well, and three shorter chapters explore the relationships between Stoicism and medicine (Chapter 11, R. J. Hankinson), ancient grammar and linguistics (Chapter 12, David Blank and Catherine Atherton), and the astronomical sciences (Chapter 13, Alexander Jones). In each case some of the more extravagant claims of influence (in both directions) are challenged, deflated, or modified in light of recent advances in the understanding of Stoicism by authors who are expert historians of the ancient sciences in question.

Finally, the Companion concludes with two chapters that aim to give readers a small taste of what is possible in the way of future exploration. The influence of Stoicism on later thought has often been discussed, yet in the last twenty-five years our understanding of ancient Stoicism has improved so fundamentally that much of what used to be taken for granted must be reassessed. With medieval philosophy, the state of research is still too preliminary to permit a reliable guide to be written, but significant reassessments of the impact of ancient Stoicism on modern philosophy are beginning to appear. Chapter 14 ('Stoic Naturalism and its Critics', T. H. Irwin) offers a sharply focused case study of the philosophical reaction to ethical naturalism in the Stoic mode through to Butler in the early modern period. Similar studies could be developed in other areas of philosophy as well, but one example must suffice. Chapter i 5, 'Stoicism in the Philosophical Tradition', by A. A. Long, provides a suitably broad sense of where these possibilities might be found. Long's generous assessment of the historical impact of Stoicism in the early modern period covers Spinoza, Lipsius, and Butler and sets the stage for further study of the period down to Kant.

A fuller and more authoritative account of the school during its Hellenistic phase is in the Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Algra et al. 1999), in the context of a comprehensive account of other movements in the period. English translations of primary texts are scattered in various collections and other publications, many of which will be difficult to use for readers who are limited to English. But, inevitably, the only way for a newcomer to find his or her way around the primary and secondary sources for Stoicism is to dive in - and this Companion aims to make that plunge more inviting and less hazardous than it would otherwise be.

I am hopeful that many readers will find this plunge worth taking; if they do, the labours of the authors and editor will not have been in vain. Stoic philosophy is a curious blend of intellectual challenges. It will reward those whose strongest interests are in the historical evolution of ideas, but it will bring an even greater reward to those whose concern with Stoicism lies in the wide range of still challenging philosophical problems they either broached for the first time or developed in a distinctive way. There are also rewards for those who, like Lawrence Becker, are convinced that a fundamentally Stoic approach to the role of reason in human life is worth exploring and developing in the present millennium, just as it has been during the last three.

THE INNER CITADEL: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot, Michael Chase (Translator) ($45.00, hardcover, 386 pages, Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0674461711)

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius have been valued as the last great work of pagan piety and as the heralding of Christian ethos. Treasured as an inexhaustible source of wisdom, the Meditations is one of the three most important expressions surviving of Stoicism. This study offer an incomparable introduction to the Meditations and to the general ethos of Stoicism for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the Meditations' style are deceptive, because of future Christian doctrines and dogmas and the fragmentary nature by which the style of philosophy has been preserved for us. Pierre Hadot, an eminent historian of late antique thought, provides a close reading the the text that reveals many esoteric and metaphysical nuances that have usually been obscured by previous translators.

Written by the Roman emperor as a sort of daybook for his own private guidance and caution, the Meditations set forth principles for living a good and just life. Hadot probes Marcus Aurelius's guidelines and convictions and discerns the until now unperceived conceptual system that grounds them. Abundantly quoting the Meditations to illustrate his analysis, he allows Marcus Aurelius to speak directly to us. Hadot unfolds for us the general philosophical context of the Meditations, commenting on the philosophers Marcus Aurelius read and giving special attention to the teachings of Epictetus, whom Marcus followed closely.

The guiding principle within us is the soul. In Marcus Aurelius's Stoic philosophy it is an inviolable stronghold of freedom, the "inner citadel." Hadot centers his discussion upon the three levels of philosophical discourse, logic, ethics, and physics, to show how they blend in the Meditations, as a sort of philosophical daybook, a means through writing to invoke the central principles of philosophy as spiritual exercise. Hadot's study offers a fresh picture of the fascinating philosopher-emperor, a fuller understanding of theories and doctrines of Stoicism, and rich insight on the culture of the Roman empire in the second century. Hadot has been working on Marcus Aurelius for more than twenty years; in this book he distills his analysis and conclusions with extraordinary lucidity for the general reader and specialist.

Marcus Aurelius MEDITATIONS  by Marcus Aurelius, edited and translated by C.R. Haines ($19.95, hardcover, Loeb Classical Library 58, Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0674990641) is by far the best edition in English.  There are many English language edition and translations. The Everyman's Library Meditations (Knopf) offers the classic translation of A.S.L. Farquharson who attempts to see the influence of the New Testament in the text. George Long's Meditations is available in three editions.(Great Books in Philosophy, Prometheus Books) and as an inexpensive (Dover Thrift Edition)  and a small gift edition from (Shambhala Pocket Classics) takes care to distinguish the technical terms of stoic philosophy while offers some flow to the text. It is a popular translation that gives some dignity to the text. A good reader's edition is Maxwell Staniforth rendition of the Meditations (Penguin Classics). He is also sensitive to Christian paralells. The Meditations produced by Hackett we have not examined yet. Lastly there is an unabridged audio edition of the Emperor's musings from (Blackstone Audio Books). We have not heard this recording nor do we know the translator.
These reflections of ethical and religious questions were written during periods of solitude during the Emperor’s military campaigns. Originally intended for his private guidance and self-admonition, the Meditations have endured as a potent expression of Stoic belief. This is a central text for students of Stoicism as well as a unique personal guide to the moral life. The influence of Epictetus is apparent throughout. The life of Marcus Aurelius is reflected in the correspondence he maintained with his old teacher Fronto. THE CORRESPONDENCE OF MARCUS CORNELIUS FRONTO Volume I and THE CORRESPONDENCE OF MARCUS CORNELIUS FRONTO Volume II by Marcus Cornelius Fronto, edited and translated by C.R. Haines ($19.95 each, hardcover, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0674991249; ISBN: 0674991257) In these volumes we hear what the life of philosophy meant to the young Emperor.

EPICTETUS: Discourses, Book 1 by Epictetus, translation and commentary by Robert F. Dobbin ($70.00, hardcover, Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers, Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press; ISBN: 0198236646

EPICTETUS ('Acquired', probably his real name) was a crippled Greek slave of Phrygia during Nero's reign (A.D. 54-68). As a youth before he was freed he attended lectures by the Stoic Musonius. Expelled from Rome with other philosophers by the emperor Domitian in 89 or 92 Epictetus settled permanently in Nicopolis in Epirus and, established a school which he called 'healing place for sick souls', taught a practical philosophy, details of which were taken down by his pupil Flavius Arrianus, also author of a biography of Alexander the Great.
Here we hear, as it were, the voice of Epictetus teaching: often within the text we have the questions of a student to whom Epictetus is replying. We are able to catch the teacher's irony and wit. It is as if we are sitting in his presence, just a little farther away than we might wish. Epictetus's "program" is simple: to teach us how to live without fear or grief or unsatisfied desire; to teach how to "worry" ourselves only over those things which we can control, which--to put it simply, as Epictetus always does--are our own reactions and responses. I cannot control my
wife; I can control how I respond to her. I cannot control the Senators; I can control how I respond to them. I cannot control whether I have cancer or not; I can control how I react to that situation. Much like the
Buddha's insistence that we can attain nirvana by controlling our desires, Epictetus's teaching leads, if applied, to a calmer, more "centered" and peaceful life. His works survive in four books of  Discourses and a smaller Handbook which gives briefly the chief doctrines of the other work.

He lived apparently into the reign of Hadrian (117-138 CE). Epictetus was a teacher and preacher of practical Stoic ethics, broad and firm in method, sublime in thought, and now humorous, now sad or severe in spirit. "How should one live righteously? Our god-given will is our paramount possession, and we must not covet others." We must not resist fortune. Humanity is part of a system of people and God; we are reasoning beings (in feeble bodies) and must conform to God's mind and the will of nature. Epictetus presents us also with a pungent picture of the Stoic human perfection.

EPICTETUS: Discourses are a key source for ancient Stoicism, one of the richest and most influential schools of thought in Western philosophy. They not only represent the Stoicism of Epictetus’ own time, but also reflect the teachings of such early Stoics as Zeno and Chrysippus, whose writings are largely lost. The first of the four books of the Discourses is philosophically the richest according to Dobbin.It focuses primarily on ethics and moral psychology, but also touches on issues of logic, epistemology, science, and rhetoric. Other notable schools of ancient thought, including Epicureanism, the Sceptics, and the Cynics, are discussed.

Robert Dobbin presents a new translation into clear modern English of this important work, together with the first full-scale commentary on the work since the eighteenth century. Each of the thirty discourses that make up Book 1 is introduced and summarized; then the arguments are examined in detail. The general introduction gives background information about Epictetus’ life, the intellectual context of the work, the style of the discourses, and the history of the text. A bibliography surveys the literature. The volume serves as a guide to Epictetus’ thought as a whole.

Robert Dobbin is a publisher and independent scholar based in Berkeley, California.

EPICTETUS: Discourses Books 1 and 2, EPICTETUS: Discourses Books 3 and 4 by Epictetus, translated by W A. Oldfather ($19.95 each, hardcover, Loeb Classical Library, No 218, Harvard University Press, ISBN: 0674991451, ISBN: 0674992407)

Like the early Stoics, Epictetus sought the importance of control over ones own Mind and will; since happiness must not depend oil things one cannot control, the virtuous person should aspire to become Independent of external circumstances. The brotherhood of man is also central to his teaching, reflecting the Stoic belief that there is a spark of divinity in everyone. This two-volume edition contains the extant record of his lectures in lively and informal style as well as the Manual or Encheiridion, a summary of Epictetus’s thought by his student, the historian Arrianus.


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