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Review of "The Stoic Art of Living"

By Tom Morris
Open Court Publishing, 2003
Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D. on Sep 3rd 2005
The Stoic Art of Living

The Stoics offered powerful answers to the perennial questions of the human condition. Tom Morris resurrects the Stoic wisdom that counsels the development of an "inner resilience" for the sake of the "outer results" that resilience can foster in the human life. Morris's treatment of the three principle Stoic sages--the lawyer Seneca, the slave Epictetus, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius--demonstrates that the need for the sound practical wisdom of the Stoics is never outdated; its guiding counsel can help in the living of a noble and creative life. Stoic wisdom remains as useful today, as a guide to a happy and fulfilling existence that is tranquil, thoughtful, and free from pain and fear of change or death, as it was during its germination in Socrates, through its Hellenistic triumph and into the early centuries of the Roman Empire.

These ancient sages from their widely varied walks of life testify to the universality of human wisdom in general, and the universal appeal of Stoic principles, in particular, for successful and happy living. Morris shows that Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, highly successful men in their times, insist that life goals be rooted in self-knowledge and action be rooted in virtuous principles of conduct; they offer sound advice for steering actions through times of difficulty when fortunes may take a turn for the worse and through times of joy that can turn one's head from the virtuous life. On the other hand, Morris shows Epictetus to be less concerned with the vicissitudes of fortune and more focused upon the perennial wisdom of simplicity, claiming that very little is really needed for the full and happy life.

Morris' book does not pretend to academic or scholarly rigor; nor does it claim to offer a comprehensive historical or thematic representation of Stoic thought--its development, its origins, or its influences. The Stoic Art of Living composes simply a useful collection of Stoic insights into the universal prescriptions for the "good life." The powerful recommendations of the Stoic worldview, brought to the modern reader afresh in this work, promises to guide the reader to effectively develop a life plan that enhances character and promotes the virtues that compose the true meaning of personal success and fulfillment. I have long been a student of the Stoics and, though this little book adds little to the sad penury of scholarship on Stoic thought, I thoroughly enjoyed reading its hopeful messages, punctuated with ancient gems of wisdom, and I felt myself inspired once again to seek after the elusive Stoic goal of noble self-possession. I highly recommend The Stoic Art of Living as a fiery incentive to uplift the tired consumerist souls of modernity.

 

© 2005 Wendy Hamblet

 

Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., Philosophy Department, Adelphi University, New York, author of The Sacred Monstrous: A Reflection on Violence in Human Communities (Lexington Books, 2003).

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