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Doesn't really get it
on 21 June 2011
The problem with this book is that the author does not understand the Stoics. He makes no attempt to engage with Stoic logic or physics, and as a result manages to seriously misrepresent their ethics.
In Irvine's view, Stoics enjoy and appreciate the good things in life, such as wealth, fine food etc, but learn not to cling to them too hard. In terms of describing the everyday life of a Stoic, this is all very well, insofar as he or she will tend to seek the things that we are by nature fitted to seek out, and, as a human being, will experience sensations such as pleasure or pain. But for the writers whom he claims to represent,these "good" things were truly indifferent, and ought to be regarded as such. I might seek out a tasty meal, but failing to acquire one - or getting a fatal dose of food poisoning - is no more or less "good" than its successful acquisition. The good thing is making a reasoned, autonomous (and non passionate) decision to act according to our nature - making a decision to look for food, and accepting whatever outcome fate decrees with good grace. Irvine's "goods" are as unworthy of inspiring a response in us as so-called "bad" things like pain, disease or the death of a loved one.
In his discussion of Epictetus's argument that we should learn to value and seek only what is in our control, he fails to appreciate that what Epictetus is referring to is the capacity for choice (to assent to or withhold assent from impressions). This leads him to argue - against Epictetus - that some things are in our control, some are outside our control, and some are partly under our control. With this, the Stoics' detailed insights into cause, effect, fate and necessity are thrown out of the window and replaced with something completely vapid.
I'll confess that I stopped reading at this point and went back to my copy of Brennan's "The Stoic Life", and a good dose of Seneca. I'm sure the author's intentions were good, but he seems to have missed the point.