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Stoicism Is Just So Yesterday

October 4, 2010

Emily Colette Wilkinson in In Character:

Ours is not a philosophical age, much less an age of Stoicism.  As Frank McLynn explains in his new biography of Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome’s “five good emperors,” commander of Rome’s prolonged campaigns against the invasions of barbarian German tribes, and the last important Stoic philosopher of ancient days, our philosophers (academics) no longer profess to help the average person answer life’s great metaphysical questions. Contemporary philosophers might contemplate such abstruse problems as whether mental properties can be said to emerge from the physical processes of the universe; what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for self-interest; where the mind stops and the rest of the world begins-not, perhaps, the pressing existential questions presented by the normal course of a human life.

Beyond the realm of professional philosophy, an ever-expanding tribe of self-appointed lay philosophers profess practical strategies for worldly success: how to win friends and influence, how not to sweat the small stuff, how to free ourselves from shyness, anxiety, phobias, poverty, extra pounds, how to ensnare the perfect mate, how to care for and feed a husband or be a domestic goddess.  But, again, these regimes, while they might indeed make you thinner, more confident, or more productive, do not answer life’s great metaphysical questions.

Between the hyper-intellectual abstractions of university philosophers and the calculating, materialistic schemes of self-help gurus, lies another philosophy. [More]

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