Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stoic-colored glasses

We normally characterize an optimist as someone who sees his glass as being half full rather than half empty. For a Stoic, though, this degree of optimism would only be a starting point. After expressing his appreciation that his glass is half full rather than being completely empty, he will go on to express his delight in even having a glass: It could, after all, have been broken or stolen. And if he is atop his Stoic game, he might go on to comment about what an astonishing thing glass vessels are: They are cheap and fairly durable, impart no taste to what we put in them, and — miracle of miracles! — allow us to see what they contain. This might sound a bit silly, but to someone who has not lost his capacity for joy, the world is a wonderful place. To such a person, glasses are amazing: to everyone else, a glass is just a glass, and it is half empty to boot.

William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
A terrific book. Reading it, I realize that for years now I’ve been thinking (at least sometimes) along Stoic lines.

Related reading
I can’t get no satisfaction (Another excerpt)
William B. Irvine’s website

comments: 4

Gunther said...

I was immediately taken with this quote, read a few reviews of the book and ordered it. Thank you for making me aware of it!

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Gunther. I just posted another choice passage. And now Seneca is on my reading list.

MK said...

I read this book some time ago and was rather disappointed.

At the danger of sounding conceited: It's "Stoicism light." In particular, the ethical or moral dimension of Stoicism drops completely out of sight.

I recommend: Epictetus, Enciridion. There are various translations, but The art of Living. The Classic manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness (San Francisco: Harper) comes to mind. There are also many e-texts.

Michael Leddy said...

He’s writing an introduction, to be sure. Epictetus is on my list too. I have the Oxford paperback.