Book Club summary: The Art of Living

Over at my Patreon and Medium sites I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to the most recently completed series.

The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy, by John Sellars, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. It is a commonplace to say that in antiquity philosophy was conceived as a way of life or an art of living, but precisely what such claims amount to has remained unclear. If ancient philosophers did think that philosophy should transform an individual’s way of life, then what conception of philosophy stands behind this claim? John Sellars explores this question via a detailed account of ancient Stoic ideas about the nature and function of philosophy. He considers the Socratic background to Stoic thinking about philosophy and Sceptical objections raised by Sextus Empiricus, and offers readings of late Stoic texts by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Sellars argues that the conception of philosophy as an ‘art of living’, inaugurated by Socrates and developed by the Stoics, has persisted since antiquity and remains a living alternative to modern attempts to assimilate philosophy to the natural sciences. It also enables us to rethink the relationship between an individual’s philosophy and their biography. The book appears here in paperback for the first time with a new preface by the author.

Here are my commentaries:

I. The Skeptics don’t believe in the art of living. Or do they? (Patreon / Medium)

II. The concept of spiritual philosophical exercises (Patreon / Medium)

III. The hidden structure of the Enchiridion (Patreon / Medium)

IV. How to study practical philosophy: a three-pronged curriculum (Patreon / Medium)

Book Club summary: The Inner Citadel

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, by Pierre Hadot, Harvard University Press, 2001. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are treasured today–as they have been over the centuries–as an inexhaustible source of wisdom. And as one of the three most important expressions of Stoicism, this is an essential text for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the work’s style are deceptive. Pierre Hadot, eminent historian of ancient thought, uncovers new levels of meaning and expands our understanding of its underlying philosophy.

Here are my commentaries:

1. Marcus Aurelius’ teachers.

2. A first glimpse of the Meditations.

3. The Meditations as spiritual exercises.

4. The philosopher-slave and the emperor-philosopher.

5. The beautifully coherent Stoicism of Epictetus.

6. The discipline of assent.

7. The discipline of desire, or amor fati.

8. The discipline of action, in the service of humanity.

9. Marcus Aurelius — the man himself.

Book Club summary: The Character Gap

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The book covered by today’s summary is The Character Gap: How Good Are We?, by Christian B. Miller. We like to think of ourselves, our friends, and our families as decent people. We may not be saints, but we are still honest, relatively kind, and mostly trustworthy. Miller argues that we are badly mistaken in thinking this. Hundreds of recent studies in psychology tell a different story: that we all have serious character flaws that prevent us from being as good as we think we are – and that we do not even recognize that these flaws exist. But neither are most of us cruel or dishonest. Instead, Miller argues, we are a mixed bag. On the one hand, most of us in a group of bystanders will do nothing as someone cries out for help in an emergency. Yet it is also true that there will be many times when we will selflessly come to the aid of a complete stranger – and resist the urge to lie, cheat, or steal even if we could get away with it. Much depends on cues in our social environment. Miller uses this recent psychological literature to explain what the notion of “character” really means today, and how we can use this new understanding to develop a character better in sync with the kind of people we want to be.

Here are my commentaries:

  1. What is character and why is it important?
  2. The way we actually are.
  3. What can we do to improve our characters?
  4. Improving character by way of divine assistance?

Book Club summary: Early Socratic Dialogues

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The book covered by today’s is Plato: Early Socratic Dialogues, edited by Trevor Saunders. Rich in drama and humor, these dialogues include the controversial Ion, a debate on poetic inspiration; Laches, in which Socrates seeks to define bravery; and Euthydemus, which considers the relationship between philosophy and politics. Together, they provide a definitive portrait of the real Socrates and raise issues still keenly debated by philosophers, forming an incisive overview of Plato’s philosophy.

Here are my commentaries:

  1. A brief introduction to Socrates.
  2. The Ion and whether poetry can teach moral skills.
  3. The Laches and the question of expertise in teaching young people.
  4. The Lysis and the nature of friendship.
  5. The Charmides and the nature of self-knowledge.
  6. Hippias Major and what it means when something is “fine.”
  7. Hippias Minor – or why virtue is knowledge and no one does evil on purpose.
  8. Euthydemus and the difference between sophistry and philosophy.