I recently did an interview for the Daily Stoic website, with Ryan Holiday, co-author of the book of the same name.
I've been putting together a new MA course which will be available as part of the philosophy MA programmes at Royal Holloway: 'Cultivation of the Self'. I paste below a description, core reading, and week-by-week schedule.
In the late twentieth century, Anglophone and Francophone philosophy witnessed parallel trends in ethics, both drawing on aspects of ancient philosophy, focused on self-cultivation. The idea that ethics ought to be about the cultivation of a certain character rather than individual moral acts is now a well-established theme in both traditions. In the Anglophone context, ‘virtue ethics’ turned to Aristotle for inspiration, while in France Foucault’s ‘care of the self’ drew on Hellenistic and Greco-Roman practices. This course will examine both of these traditions, exploring common ground and differences, as well as criticisms that have been levelled against both.
Weeks 1-4 will focus on the Anglophone tradition. Perceived problems with modern moral philosophy (1. Anscombe) led to a return to Aristotle in search of an alternative model focused on virtue (2. MacIntyre). This led to the rise of what is now known as ‘virtue ethics’ (3. Foot). In more recent years the debate has moved forwards, paying greater attention to the eudaimonistic context in which ancient discussions of virtue took place (4. Russell).
Weeks 5-10 will examine the Francophone tradition, where the motivations were quite different, inspired on the one hand by trying to grasp the existential features of ancient philosophy (5. Hadot) and on the other by trying to comprehend the development of modern conceptions of the subject (6. Foucault). In this tradition much attention has been paid to specific techniques and practices drawn from Greco-Roman philosophy (7-8. Foucault). There has also been critical discussion of the motivations for engaging in this ‘aesthetics of existence’ (9. Hadot), as well as attempts to defend it as part of a positive political strategy (10. Foucault).
Core Reading (* = most important)
*Crisp, R., and Slote, M., eds, Virtue Ethics (Oxford, 1997)
Foucault, M., The Care of the Self (Penguin, 1988)
*Foucault, M., Ethics, Essential Works 1 (Penguin, 1997)
*Hadot, P., Philosophy as a Way of Life (Blackwell, 1995)
MacIntyre, A., After Virtue (Duckworth, 1981)
Nussbuam, M., The Therapy of Desire (Princeton, 1994)
Russell, D., Happiness for Humans (Oxford, 2013)
Just back from a very enjoyable workshop at Monash's centre in Prato, Italy, part of a research project 'Reinventing Philosophy as a Way of Life', run by colleagues in Monash and Warwick. This was the second event (the last in July 2015), and a third is planned for July 2018.
This week I have another trip, this time to Berlin for a conference: Philosophy in its Ancient Beginnings, at the Humboldt University. Further info here.
My next book, on Hellenistic Philosophy, has now been accepted for publication with Oxford University Press, and should go into production fairly soon, after I have completed some final tweaks. Hopefully it will come out early next year. Here’s the full table of contents:
1. What, When, Where, and Who
a) Epicurus’s Garden
b) Zeno and the Painted Stoa
c) The Academy turns Sceptic
d) Aristotelians and Others
a) Epicurean Epistemology
b) Stoic Logic and Epistemology
c) The Academic Response
d) Arguments in the Academy
e) The Pyrrhonist Revival
f) Pyrrho and Timon
a) Hellenistic Metaphysics
b) The Stoic Cosmos
c) Peripatetic Objections
d) Epicurean Physics
e) Hellenistic Theology and Academic Objections
f) Cicero on the Gods
4. The Self
a) Epicurean Souls
b) Lucretius on Mind-Soul-Body
c) Epicurus contra Democritus
d) Stoic Breath
e) Peripatetic Breath
5. The Good
a) The Stoics on what is Good
b) Stoics versus Peripatetics
c) Panaetius on Personae
d) Hellenistic Cynics
e) Epicureans on Pleasure
f) Peripatetic Hedonism?
6. Free Will
a) Diodorus Cronus and Chrysippus on Logical Determinism
b) Chrysippus on Physical Determinism
c) Epicurus contra Democritus
d) Lucretius on Swerves
e) Carneades’ Distinctions
f) Cicero’s Contribution
a) Cleanthes on Fate
b) Preparing for Future Evils
c) Epicureans on Death
d) Academics on the Limits of Human Knowledge
e) Peripatetics on the Limits of Self-Sufficiency
a) Stoic Cosmopolitanism
b) Stoic Political Role Play
c) Epicurus on Justice
d) Epicurean Friendship
e) Cicero’s Political Theory
9. What was Hellenistic Philosophy?
a) Philosophy as Medicine
b) Epicurean Therapy
c) Stoic Remedies
d) Pyrrhonian Cures
e) Academic Therapy
f) Peripatetics Out of Step?
g) From Athens to Alexandria
Appendix: Looking East
Guide to Hellenistic Philosophers
Guide to Further Reading
Index of Passages
Delighted to announce that in September 2017 I shall be joining Royal Holloway as a Lecturer in Philosophy. I shall also remain associated with the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle at King;s College London.
Over the last few months I have been finishing off three commissioned pieces all dealing with Marcus Aurelius, each coming from a quite different angle. The first examines Marcus’s references to Socrates and the extent to which Socrates was an influence on both the form and content of the Meditations. The second discusses the theme of ‘mindfulness’ in Marcus and Epictetus, making some connections with Michel Foucault’s work on ‘cultivation of the self’. The third is concerned with the reception of the Meditations in the work of the seventeenth century Cambridge Platonist Henry More.
Here are the titles and abstracts for all three (preprints to follow shortly):
‘Socratic Themes in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’
Although Marcus Aurelius refers to Socrates only a handful of times in the Meditations, and often only to name him as an example of an illustrious figure now long dead, this chapter argues that there is a distinctive Socratic character to the philosophical project that we see at work in Marcus’s notebook writings. In those few places where Marcus does invoke Socrates it is usually in connection with one of the central preoccupations of the Meditations, in particular the notion of taking care of oneself, the primacy of virtue, and the need for self-control. This chapter i) examines Marcus’s knowledge of Socrates and the sources he used, and ii) explores the Socratic themes in the Meditations noted above. Although Marcus does not explicitly say very much about Socrates, I suggest that he probably considered the Meditations to embody a deeply Socratic project.
‘Roman Stoic Mindfulness: An Ancient Technology of the Self’
This chapter examines Michel Foucault’s notion of cultivation of the self by focusing on an example of an ancient practice contributing to that goal, namely the attitude of attention or mindfulness proposed by the Roman Stoics Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. It contrasts this Stoic attitude with modern versions of mindfulness, showing that both the object of attention and the goal of the process are different. It argues that the primary object of attention for Roman Stoic mindfulness was one’s philosophical principles. The goal of this practice was virtuous action based upon those principles. It was a technique aimed at ethical self-transformation, unlike its modern counterpart, which is primarily aimed at overcoming distress.
‘Henry More as Reader of Marcus Aurelius’
I examine Henry More’s engagement with Stoicism in general, and Marcus Aurelius in particular, in his Enchiridion Ethicum. More quotes from Marcus’s Meditations throughout the Enchiridion, leading one commentator to note that More ‘mined the Meditations’ when writing his book. Yet More’s general attitude towards Stoicism is more often than not critical, especially when it comes to the passions. I shall argue that while More was clearly an avid reader of the Meditations he read Marcus not as a Stoic but as a ‘non-denominational’ ancient moralist who confirms a range of doctrines that More finds elsewhere in ancient philosophy. In this sense More continues the Neoplatonic practice of downplaying doctrinal differences between ancient philosophers in order to construct a single ancient philosophical tradition. This is quite different from the approach of his contemporary and fellow Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth, who was keen to highlight doctrinal differences between ancient philosophers.
Talks this term:
In the Summer term I shall be speaking in Paris and (tbc) Italy.