Genevieve Lloyd
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In our ever more secular times - is providence lost? Perhaps, but as Lloyd makes clear, providence still exerts a powerful influence on our thought and in our lives. This book traces a succession of transformations in the concept of providence through the history of Western philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04031-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The history of providence belongs in the history of the interactions and the crossovers between philosophy and religion in Western thought. The rationale for this book is the belief that the largely neglected history of providence can help us understand much that can be puzzling in our contemporary ways of thinking about freedom, necessity, and responsibility. Providence may now be largely “lost” from our secular consciousness; but it continues to exert an influence on our thought and on our lives. My intention is not to argue for a revival of providence—either by reasserting the importance of religion or by...

  4. 1 Euripides, Philosopher of the Stage
    (pp. 14-56)

    There are rare authors whose work acquires the status of an enactment of the culture in which they were formed. Shakespeare was one such, using the resources of the theater to integrate received philosophical thought with themes that captured the emotional and imaginative preoccupations of his contemporaries. A much older model for that extraordinary achievement in the transmission and transformation of culture appears in the plays of Euripides, produced in the fifth century bce. Euripides was a contemporary of Socrates and of Thucydides, and his life overlapped with Plato’s. By that time, the thought of the earliest Greek philosophers had...

  5. 2 The World of Men and Gods
    (pp. 57-89)

    Plato notoriously distrusted literary representations as distortions of truth. In book 10 of hisRepubliche has the poets exiled from his ideal state. He was no lover of the theater. Just as notoriously, though, he appropriated literary strategies into his own philosophical writing. His reconstructions of the figure of Socrates in his dialogues draw on dramatic techniques that the early Greek dramatists had used to explore ethical dilemmas. In theTimaeushe brings the dialogue form together with narrative strategies in a remarkable and at times bizarre synthesis of literature and philosophy.¹

    As a work of philosophy, theTimaeus...

  6. 3 Agreeing with Nature: Fate and Providence in Stoic Ethics
    (pp. 90-128)

    To live like a Stoic—as we now imagine that—is not a cheering prospect. The Stoics are best known for their reputed endurance—for the capacity to suffer with fortitude misfortunes that cannot be changed. The common understanding of their ethical theory is not particularly enlightening. They are best known as the principal ancient exponents of the ideal of living in accordance with our “natures”—if only we could decide what those are. Both strands in the stereotype of the Stoic have some truth. But the stereotypes fail to capture the magnetism of the Stoics’ way of thinking about...

  7. 4 Augustine: Divine Justice and the “Ordering” of Evil
    (pp. 129-159)

    Although the Stoics idealized detachment, there was a worldliness about their ideas of nature and providence. The Stoic philosophers wanted to live at ease in a world shared with the gods. That ideal could be combined with piety; but the piety was not essential. Even when the Stoics speak in pious tones, the focus is not on the will of deities but rather on the necessary structure of the world. A Stoic may talk of acceptance of what the gods want for men; but divine providence is not perceived as an intrusion—however benign—from another world. The essence of...

  8. 5 The Philosopher and the Princess: Descartes and the Philosophical Life
    (pp. 160-191)

    Over the final six years of his life, the philosopher René Descartes exchanged letters with a young princess-in-exile at The Hague. Elisabeth was one of the thirteen children of the more famous Elizabeth of Bohemia—the “Winter Queen,” so called for the shortness of her reign—whose picturesque but disaster-ridden life was caught up in the tragic events of both the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War.¹ That older Elizabeth was the daughter of James I of England; her brother Charles would become Charles I. The troubled trajectory of her life was set by her dazzling marriage in...

  9. 6 Living with Necessity: Spinoza and the Philosophical Life
    (pp. 192-234)

    On 27 July 1656, a Jewish edict of separation—acherem—was read in Hebrew in the synagogue of Amsterdam. The authorities, it said, having failed to get Baruch de Spinoza to “mend his wicked ways,” and receiving more information daily about his “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds,” had decided to resort to more drastic action, by expelling him “from the people of Israel.” Spinoza, “with the consent of God,” was accordingly cursed and damned. “Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night, cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises...

  10. 7 Designer Worlds
    (pp. 235-278)

    In early Enlightenment thought, ideas of providence stood at the center of controversies about a range of issues that on the surface had little to do with what we now recognize as philosophy—issues of governance, of the authority of the state, of free speech and censorship, and of the nature and scope of science. As long as philosophy—not seen at this stage as sharply differentiated from science—had been subservient to theology, it had been possible for philosophical controversy to remain, for the most part, just that—disputes that divided the learned. Not that those discussions were by...

  11. 8 Providence as Progress
    (pp. 279-301)

    “Something thus it must have been!” Plotinus, inspired by the temerity of Plato’sTimaeus, was confident that he too could tell a convincing story of cosmic origins. As we have seen, later philosophers have not held back either from offering ingeniously constructed fictions through which their readers might glimpse truths about the origins and nature of the world. It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was in the eighteenth century to offer perhaps the boldest of crossovers between philosophical argument and imaginative storytelling.

    In the preface to hisDiscourse on the Origins of Inequality, published in 1755, Rousseau argued that to answer...

  12. 9 Providence Lost
    (pp. 302-332)

    We have seen the concept of providence, in a succession of forms, in the crossovers between religion and philosophy throughout the history of Western thought. The presence of providence in philosophy was in the past not regarded as an alien incursion. Yet if we look for it now as a living concept—one that might give rise to lively disputation or to rival accounts or approaches—we turn not to the works of contemporary philosophers but to religious discussion. Providence is now the stuff not of philosophical seminars but of sermons. Despite its departure from “secular” public discourse, however, the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 333-344)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 345-346)
  15. Further Reading
    (pp. 347-360)
  16. Index
    (pp. 361-370)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 371-371)