Pursuits of Wisdom

Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus

John M. Cooper
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Pursuits of Wisdom
    Book Description:

    This is a major reinterpretation of ancient philosophy that recovers the long Greek and Roman tradition of philosophy as a complete way of life--and not simply an intellectual discipline. Distinguished philosopher John Cooper traces how, for many ancient thinkers, philosophy was not just to be studied or even used to solve particular practical problems. Rather, philosophy--not just ethics but even logic and physical theory--was literally to be lived. Yet there was great disagreement about how to live philosophically: philosophy was not one but many, mutually opposed, ways of life. Examining this tradition from its establishment by Socrates in the fifth century BCE through Plotinus in the third century CE and the eclipse of pagan philosophy by Christianity,Pursuits of Wisdomexamines six central philosophies of living--Socratic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean, Skeptic, and the Platonist life of late antiquity.

    The book describes the shared assumptions that allowed these thinkers to conceive of their philosophies as ways of life, as well as the distinctive ideas that led them to widely different conclusions about the best human life. Clearing up many common misperceptions and simplifications, Cooper explains in detail the Socratic devotion to philosophical discussion about human nature, human life, and human good; the Aristotelian focus on the true place of humans within the total system of the natural world; the Stoic commitment to dutifully accepting Zeus's plans; the Epicurean pursuit of pleasure through tranquil activities that exercise perception, thought, and feeling; the Skeptical eschewal of all critical reasoning in forming their beliefs; and, finally, the late Platonist emphasis on spiritual concerns and the eternal realm of Being.

    Pursuits of Wisdomis essential reading for anyone interested in understanding what the great philosophers of antiquity thought was the true purpose of philosophy--and of life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4232-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: On Philosophy as a Way of Life
    (pp. 1-23)

    Philosophy is a subject of study. In this, it is just like physics, mathematics, French language and literature, anthropology, economics, and all the other established specialties in contemporary higher education. Undergraduate institutions everywhere have departments of philosophy offering degrees in the subject. These departments are staffed with lecturers and professors with advanced degrees certifying their preparation as teachers and as professional philosophers—as people who pursue research in the field and write articles and books of philosophy and on philosophy, just as physics lecturers do physics and write on physics, or anthropologists do and write on anthropology. In fact, this...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Socratic Way of Life
    (pp. 24-69)

    Not everyone in antiquity whom we (and the ancients themselves) classify as philosophers conceived of their work as aimed at providing them, or any “disciples,” with a whole way of life. Vast numbers of philosophical writings from all periods, beginning with the sixth century BCE, when the first philosophers lived, had effectively been lost already by the last years of the Roman Empire. Hence many authors mentioned in ancient writings that have come down to us have been little more than names for more than a millennium. Nonetheless, for many philosophers of almost all periods of antiquity we have no...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Aristotle: Philosophy as Two Ways of Life
    (pp. 70-143)

    For Aristotle, philosophy itself and the life of philosophy are much different and much more complex than they were for Socrates. Aristotle’s philosophical activity included writing (and presenting in lectures) whole treatises, fully elaborated and extensively argued. In these he advanced, as philosophical theses of his own, many positive conclusions on all sorts of subjects. As a philosopher, he did not rest content, as Socrates did, with full and careful exploration of his own or other people’s ideas about human life and how to lead it. He developed, argued for, and defended elaborate theories not just on ethics and how...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Stoicism as a Way of Life
    (pp. 144-225)

    Schools of philosophy—organized places for study and instruction in philosophy and related matters—existed in Greece at least since Plato founded his famous Academy just outside the Athenian walls. That was not long (perhaps only fifteen years) after Socrates’s death. Aristotle studied and taught in the Academy during almost two decades at the end of Plato’s life. He opened some sort of school of his own in Athens ten years or so before his own death in 322 BCE—outside the walls on the other side of town, at or adjacent to a public exercise ground, the Lyceum. These...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Epicurean and Skeptic Ways of Life
    (pp. 226-304)

    Despite their many individual differences, for all the philosophers we have discussed in previous chapters—Socrates, Aristotle, and the Stoics—a devotion to reason lies at the center of the best way of life. The same is true, of course for Plato and, as we will see in the next chapter, for the tradition of Platonism, based on Plato’s works, that came to dominate philosophy in late ancient times. For these philosophers, the best life is not merely the one that philosophical reason explains and justifies to us. Reason also guides people as they go about leading that life, in...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Platonism as a Way of Life
    (pp. 305-388)

    In the last two chapters we have discussed the main philosophical movements of the Hellenistic period—skipping ahead in time to include the Pyrrhonian skepticism of Sextus Empiricus. We have discussed their respective conceptions of philosophy itself (philosophical understanding, philosophical thinking) as fundamental for the specific ways of life associated with each of these philosophies. The third century BCE saw the establishment of three Hellenistic “schools” of philosophy, each on its own firm and complete philosophical foundations, each formally organized with its own central place of instruction in Athens: the Epicurean Garden, the Painted Stoa, and the skeptical Academy that...

    (pp. 389-400)
    (pp. 401-424)
    (pp. 425-430)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 431-442)