A very nice a seemingly comprehensive (hard to judge not being that knowledgeable in the subject prior to reading this) presentation of the different...moreA very nice a seemingly comprehensive (hard to judge not being that knowledgeable in the subject prior to reading this) presentation of the different strands of skepticism existing in the ancient world, their histories and interrelatedness. Beginning with Pyrrho and the start of skepticism, the tale goes through the continually modified strands of skepticism taken up by the Academy and its continuing relation to Stoicism, through the attempted arrival of the original form of skepticism by Aenesidemus, and ending with Sextus Empiricus.
As with the other books in the series, the presentation is largely chronological, with lots of references to how the particular school of philosophy currently dealt with related to other contemporary schools as well as how one can find influences and similar lines of thought in thinkers living many centuries later. The presentation is by no means plainly historical though, arguments in favor of as well as in opposition of, skepticism are presented and dealt with fairly in-depth. Different interpretations of statements are presented, metaphysical, epistemological and logical issues are brought up, and even though no particular stand point regarding the philosophy is reached (which is perhaps only natural given the nature of skepticism), it is not simply presented in a dispassionate way. The arguments are dealt with and presented in at least a semblance of the dialectical approach presented as being the method of choice for the skeptics (inherited from Socrates) that are the subject of the book.
The style of writing is straight forward and vivid, making the book a simple read as far as the language is concerned, but a bit of general knowledge about the philosophy of antiquity is probably needed to keep track of all the other schools of thought that are presented, contrasted to and compared with skepticism.
A recommended read for anyone interested in philosophy who has had at least a brief introduction to the history of the subject prior to reading this.(less)
This is the third book in the series that I've read (the other two being Cynics and Stoicism) and I have to say that it is my least favorite so far. T...moreThis is the third book in the series that I've read (the other two being Cynics and Stoicism) and I have to say that it is my least favorite so far. That's not to say that it was bad, in fact, it was quite good (as the rating of 3 out of 5 stars would seem to indicate), but it has a few shortcomings, which I'll deal with in a minute.
Like the other two books mentioned above, it's a introductory text to a certain school of philosophy in Antiquity. Also like the other two, the focus lies on the philosophical ideas rather than the philosophers themselves, the history of the ideas, or the place of the movement in society at large. Here, one objection immediately comes to mind. The books on Stoicism and Cynicism didn't focus on the history of ideas, but nevertheless started with a quick overview of the philosophers and how the ideas evolved over the centuries. Nothing of the sort is found in this book. Instead, the lines of though and their development is dealt with in the different chapters dealing with the different parts of Epicurean philosophy. It is of course at least in part a matter of personal taste which one of these one prefers, but personally, I preferred to have a brief overview at the beginning to get some sense of orientation. Nevertheless, this is a minor point.
Somewhat more serious is my objection to aspects of the author's style of writing. The text tries to explain concepts through practical, pedagogical, everyday examples (which is welcome), but uses attempted humorous modern day references and borrows from personal reflections and opinions (less welcome) in a way that is a bit annoying and distracting from the issues at hand. I am not a proponent of a completely dispassionate, dry style of writing, but a writer needs to be careful not to stray to much from the actual issues and to become too personal when the subject matter is inherently non personal. The author fails to be sufficiently careful in this regard.
Another thing which seems a bit questionable is the exact way in which Epicurean though is related to other view of philosophy. Relating a certain school of thought to others is always a good idea, but it should be done in a way where a comparison is relevant. Some examples of obviously relevant comparisons are those between Epicurean (in this example) thought and other contemporary thinkers, commentators (both contemporary and later), and later or earlier thinkers who are not consciously commenting upon Epicurean thought (or, in the case of earlier thinkers, upon which the Epicureans are not consciously commenting) but which have ideas which are related to Epicurean thought. It is not that the author here brings up ideas which are completely irrelevant, it is just that he bring in discussion of ideas from philosophers far into the future which are only related to the general subject which is currently under discussion, for example ethics, without it being obvious how those ideas relate specifically to Epicurean thought. At least, this is sometimes how these references are presented, but maybe this is a misunderstanding on my part.
In any case, this criticism might give the impression of this being a bad review, giving the reader of it great cause for confusion considering the rating, but I bring these up only because I cannot find anything particularly good to point out about the book, whereas I can (apparently) bring up several slightly bad things to say. I need to point out though, that my criticism above is somewhat hesitant, and not to be taken too seriously, these are by no means serious concerns of mine regarding the book, they should be viewed more as slight shortcomings than serious flaws. Overall, I quite liked the book. It's a very easy read (at least for the reader who is somewhat familiar with philosophy and in particular ancient philosophy, those without this familiarity might be a little bit overwhelmed by names and terminology, not that the book is heavy in either) and a great introduction to and overview of one of the main schools of philosophy in the ancient world.(less)
An excellent introduction to Stoicism and a very easy read. The general organization of the book resembles that found in Cynics from the same series....moreAn excellent introduction to Stoicism and a very easy read. The general organization of the book resembles that found in Cynics from the same series. It begins with a brief overview of the development of Stoicism through the centuries, from the 4th century BCE to the movement's seeming decline in the 3rd century CE. After this initial chapter follows a chapter on the overview of the Stoic system of philosophy, three chapters dedicated to the main parts of this system, namely: logic, physics, and ethics; and finally, a concluding chapter on the influences of Stoicism on later philosophy.
Stoicism constitutes a very interesting school of philosophy, sharing ideas with Cynicism in the views concerning the good life, in the idea of living according with nature, in the view of virtue being the only real good, but adding a system of theoretical philosophy in areas such as logic and physics, subjects which the Cynics disregarded completely.
Stoic logic is a subject worthy of attention, it presents a complement to Aristotle's syllogisms in that it deals with propositional logic, which the inventor of logic left out completely. Other interesting strands of thought are found in their idea of lekta. A lekton is that which a word means, which is distinct from that to which it refers. This distinction resembles the one made some 2000 years later by Gottlob Frege. Another interesting side of this is the fact that the Stoic conception of physics and metaphysics is such that only matter exists, which poses a problem for these lekta, which are somehow "real" in that they are that which is meant by words, but still don't exist, in that they are not material. The Stoics try to get out of the problem by saying that they "subsist". Other things that are somehow real but not material and hence not existent are time, space and the void, all of which are said to subsist. This connects to the discussion concerning sentences referring to non-existent entities, active in the early 20th century and something in which Bertrand Russell was engaged. The problem of the what sentences like "The current king of France" refer to was said to be something which did not exist, but nevertheless subsisted. Russell had a different solution to sentences such as this, but this is way beyond the discussion of the topic of this book, the point is that there are seemingly many interesting areas of philosophy where Stoics have ideas which arise again many centuries later. Another such interesting example concerns their view of god. The Stoic god is pantheistic, it is somehow identical to nature and permeates it throughout. This is also connected to a conception of nature as completely deterministic and without any room for free will. Those at least vaguely familiar with the history of philosophy should start thinking about Spinoza right about now.
The only thing that is a bit irritating about the book is that the author sometimes repeats himself needlessly, this affects the reading experience at times (though not too much), an experience which is otherwise a thoroughly pleasant. Highly recommended for philosophers and non-philosophers alike.(less)
Very good introduction to Cynicism (of the ancient kind, a school of philosophy having very little to do with the modern meaning of the word). We get...moreVery good introduction to Cynicism (of the ancient kind, a school of philosophy having very little to do with the modern meaning of the word). We get to see the development of Cynical thought through its historical beginnings (which are a bit controversial, either Antisthenes is the first Cynic, or Diogenes is) through the classical Greek period, the empires of the Hellenistic and roman eras, and finally get a discussion of the influences of Cynical thought on thinkers after the disappearance of "true" Cynics. This later discussion covers likenesses in a critical fashion (being careful not too far reaching conclusions) and finding them in early Christianity (where we also find heavy criticism of at least some aspects of Cynicism) and later in the renaissance with the renewed interest in classical Greek thought besides the church endorsed philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Finally we also see some influences in the enlightenment and the romantic period, among philosophers such as Rosseau and Nietzsche, as well as in more recent times in the post-modernist movement.
The book is very accessible, at least to readers with some basic familiarity with philosophy. It may be a bit hard to keep track of all the personalities and movements covered if one is not at all familiar with stocism, epicureanism and other movements in the classical Greece after Socrates, but it does not require the reader to know anything about Cynicism beforehand. It is, in other words, an introductory text to Cynicism specifically, but not to philosophy, or even ancient philosophy, in general.(less)