It’s Gottlieb’s Epicureans & Stoics today in CoPhi, a bit more refined than Warburton’s. What would they say about Sunday night’s Oscar kerfuffle? The Epicureans would probably just say not to waste money on Hollywood, the Stoics that there’s no point in grumbling about either Academy (Plato’s or the motion picture industry). Both would advise therapy for anyone who takes it all too seriously. “The key to wisdom is knowing what not to care about.”
“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”
If you want really to do your best in an examination, fling away the book the day before, say to yourself, “I won’t waste another minute on this miserable thing, and I don’t care an iota whether I succeed or not.” Say this sincerely, and feel it; and go out and play, or go to bed and sleep, and I am sure the results next day will encourage you to use the method permanently. William James, “Gospel of Relaxation“
Epicureanism was the ancestral precursor of utilitarianism and its “greatest happiness for the greatest number” approach to life. The big difference, though, is that you can’t really maximize happiness in the style of Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill while also shunning “any direct involvement in public life.” Can you?
Epicurus was apparently the first to state the intractable problem of free will and determinism. If the random knocking-about of atoms gives rise to every event, where does that leave us? On the sidelines, observing but not directing our fate? That won’t do. Will it?
The Stoics thought the Epicureans were wrong about plenty, but agreed with them that we live in a material world. Everything is physical, in its own way. Okay, but we’re natural spirits in the material world. We’re not just bouncing atoms, even if the occasional swerve leaves us guessing about the next configuration. Our breath is fiery and animated, and we have consequential choices and decisions to make.
But there’s a yawning inconsistency at the heart of the Stoic worldview, Gottlieb says. “If they are right about Fate, then nothing at all is under our control.” Not even our attitudes and inner reactions to external events. Back to the drawing board. Or back to the therapist’s couch.
Can philosophers can be good therapists, or as good (in their different way) as psychologists? People like Lou Marinoff say so. Others say: dream on.
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