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Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life – The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Stoicism is one of the earlier philosophies that took root during the Greek and then the Roman period. Dr. Irvine presents Stoicism according to its Roman context. During this period the ethics of Stoicism are more well developed and clear. It refrains from dealing with the virtue and proto-physics of the Greek Stoics. The final step Dr.Irvine takes is to put all these ancient beliefs, and then place them in the context of modern psychology and evolution.

One of the most wonderful aspects of this book is that it is readable by a large section of the community. Most of the books in this genre are way above our comprehension and this book brings that level down for us to explore the ethics and wisdom of Stoicism. Instead of using a lot of complicated Greek and Roman terms, he replaces them with our normal day to day language which we use. Therefore words like apatheia and prohairesis are replaced by much simpler terms like tranquility, virtue, and reason. He also uses some sound psychology while he explains hedonic adaption and how it can lead to anhedonia. It means that if you have a lot of desires, then you are in more unrest in your quest to achieve. Therefore the fewer things you desire for the more happiness you gain.

There are also references to the Zeus driven aspects of Stoicism that alienate atheists and agnostics. Dr.Irvine however makes a fairly good study to explain that Stoic philosophy is perfectly consistent with an evolutionary worldview and non-theistic elements.

A major portion of the book is about various psychological methods that are used to head off hedonic adaption. It means that it assists in warding off those negative desires of smoking, alcoholism, stealing, addiction to shopping, etc. the methods include fatalism in regards to the past and present, negative visualization, voluntary discomfort, and delaying gratification. These techniques are developed from the study of the writings of Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aerilius, and Epictetus. The author also mentions the difficulty of using these methods in today’s world. A must-read for all those who are new to the concept of Stoicism.

A guide to the good life, the ancient art of stoic joy by William B. Irvine is a special book, explaining and exploring stoicism results in some really interesting forgotten techniques of finding happiness.


Source by Steve Ellis Anderson


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