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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joyby William Braxton Irvine
Synopses & Reviews
Sometimes it seems like you need a PhD just to open a book of philosophy. We leave philosophical matters to the philosophers in the same way that we leave science to scientists. Scott Samuelson thinks this is tragic, for our lives as well as for philosophy. In The Deepest Human Life he takes philosophy back from the specialists and restores it to its proper place at the center of our humanity, rediscovering it as our most profound effort toward understanding, as a way of life that anyone can live. Exploring the works of some of historys most important thinkers in the context of the everyday struggles of his students, he guides us through the most vexing quandaries of our existence—and shows just how enriching the examined life can be.
Samuelson begins at the beginning: with Socrates, working his most famous assertion—that wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing—into a method, a way of approaching our greatest mysteries. From there he springboards into a rich history of philosophy and the ways its journey is encoded in our own quests for meaning. He ruminates on Epicurus against the sonic backdrop of crickets and restaurant goers in Iowa City. He follows the Stoics into the cell where James Stockdale spent seven years as a prisoner of war. He spins with al-Ghazali first in doubt, then in the ecstasy of the divine. And he gets the philosophy education of his life when one of his students, who authorized a risky surgery for her son that inadvertently led to his death, asks with tears in her eyes if Kant was right, if it really is the motive that matters and not the consequences. Through heartbreaking stories, humanizing biographies, accessible theory, and evocative interludes like On Wine and Bicycles” or On Zombies and Superheroes ,” he invests philosophy with the personal and vice versa. The result is a book that is at once a primer and a reassurance—that the most important questions endure, coming to life in each of us.
Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the ancient Roman Stoics, Irvine offers a road map for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many.
As the title of Scott Samuelson’s manuscript suggests, his project introduces philosophy not as a “special, insular form of thought”—as Stanley Fish recently described philosophy—but rather as the very real and widespread search for meaning. Samuelson frames his “personal” presentation of philosophy with his own story of how he came to a community college as a classically-trained philosopher and rediscovered the true nature and power of philosophy among soldiers and chiropractors, preschool music teachers and aspiring undertakers, ex-cons and cancer patients—real people who surprised him with their need and flair for philosophy. A serious thematic and historical introduction to philosophy as way of life, the book is organized around four questions: What is philosophy? What is happiness? Is knowledge of God possible? And what is the nature of good and evil? Samuelson connects and compares some of the world’s great philosophers to his students, teachers, and himself, revealing that there is a pattern to the search for wisdom, even though it often leads to fascinatingly different places. This is a serious but accessible introduction to philosophy that empowers its readers as philosophers.
One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.
In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable first-hand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. Readers learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have.
Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own lives. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.
About the Author
William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Rise of Stoicism
The Birth of Philosophy
The First Stoics
The Roman Stoics
Part Two: Stoic Psychological Techniques
Negative Visualization: What's the Worst That Can Happen?
The Dichotomy of Control: On Becoming Invincible
Fatalism: Letting Go of the Past . . . and the Present
Self-Denial: On Dealing with the Dark Side of Pleasure
Meditation: Watching Ourselves Practice Stoicism
Part Three: Stoic Advice
Duty: On Loving Mankind
Social Relations: On Dealing with Other People
Insults: On Putting Up with Put-Downs
Grief: On Conquering Tears with Reason
Anger: On Overcoming Anti-Joy
Personal Values: On Seeking Fame
Personal Values: On Luxurious Living
Exile: On Surviving a Change of Place
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