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Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus [Kindle Edition]

John M. Cooper
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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  • Print ISBN-10: 0691138605
  • Print ISBN-13: 978-0691138602
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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 Wisdom examines 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 Wisdom is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding what the great philosophers of antiquity thought was the true purpose of philosophy--and of life.

Editorial Reviews


Honorable Mention for the 2012 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers

"[E]legant. . . . Mr. Cooper's book proves to be an antidote to the rosy nostalgia that poisons stories about what philosophy was and what it has become. . . . Unlike in the natural sciences, the central questions in philosophy are pretty much the same as they ever were: What should I believe in? How should I live? Mr. Cooper's book lucidly presents six appealing answers to those questions."--Brendan Boyle, Wall Street Journal

"In this insightful and well-written survey, Cooper presents the ancient Greek and Roman philosophical tradition as one that is unified around philosophy as a way of life. . . . Cooper offers an excellent survey that deserves a wide readership."--Choice

"Cooper's book is comprehensive, accessible, and well-written, and his claim that we could follow the ancients in allowing philosophy to steer our lives in order to understand what they were up to makes his book a provocative and worthwhile read."--Angela Schwenkler, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

"Cooper's attempt to write a book for a wide readership is successful. Readers interested in the subject of ancient philosophy as a way of life will find the book provocative, and those who seek a sophisticated introduction to ancient moral theory will learn a great deal from it."--Christopher Edelman, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"Pursuits of Wisdom is aimed at a 'wide readership' rather than at 'co-specialists'. Doubtless it deserves a wide readership, and as I am writing here as a 'co-specialist' I would say that it deserves reading by us too. Of course we might miss comments about the scholarly literature, but readers should be assured that Cooper is highly reliable. . . . What does 'living a philosophical life' involve? This book is a good place to go for several competing answers."--Antony Preus, Polis

"Pursuits of Wisdom is an original, clearly written, and brilliantly argued reinterpretation of six ways of life offered by ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates/Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, and the Platonism of Plotinus. Cooper writes vividly, with an unfaltering clarity of purpose, and he manages to balance accessibility and rigor. The book is the culmination of years of rigorous study in ancient philosophy and an invitation for a wide audience to engage seriously with these ancient ways of life. I think this invitation is worth accepting."--Antonis Coumoundouros, Philosophy in Review

"Pursuits of Wisdom is a well-written, thoroughly argued book. It undoubtedly makes an important contribution to contemporary understandings of ancient philosophy. It might even contribute to broadening the audience of those who see the relevance and seriousness of philosophy for their lives."--Ben Mulvey, Metapsychology Online Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Since Socrates, philosophy has been concerned with how we ought to live. But the sense in which philosophy must be an ineluctably practical activity has become obscured. How could philosophy have ever conceived of itself as centrally concerned with its own therapeutic value? In Pursuits of Wisdom, John Cooper brings this crucial question back to life. This marvelous book will shape the way we think about and engage with ancient philosophical traditions."--Jonathan Lear, University of Chicago

"With unparalleled learning, argumentative depth, and great originality, Cooper presents a thorough rethinking of the major Greek moral philosophers. He revitalizes their visions of philosophy as a way of life and shows how they present a powerful challenge to current moral philosophy. The Greeks will never look the same again."--J. B. Schneewind, author of The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy

"John Cooper has had a profound impact on the scholarly study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, particularly in its moral dimension. In this new work, he introduces this period to a far wider audience. His sympathy and enthusiasm for the pursuits of wisdom in antiquity, and the subtlety of his understanding of these philosophical schools, will make this book a classic of its kind."--Richard Kraut, author of What Is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being

"The product of a lifetime of study and thought, Pursuits of Wisdom is a detailed and rigorous analysis of the foundations of the major schools of ancient ethics in the overall philosophical systems of their authors. John Cooper's masterwork will thus be indispensable for every student of ancient philosophy in general as well as ancient ethics. But Cooper's study is also indispensable for all students of modern ethics since so much of it originates in these ancient schools. In other words, Cooper's book is simply indispensable."--Paul Guyer, University of Pennsylvania

"This book not only discusses philosophy as a way of life, but manifests many of the virtues such a life might be hoped to embody. There is scarcely an instance in which Cooper's sureness of grasp, vivacity of expression, or clarity of purpose falters. The book invites a wide readership, and should receive it."--C.D.C. Reeve, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Product Details

  • File Size: 1136 KB
  • Print Length: 459 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 069115970X
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 27, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007BOK5QW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,795 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject, awful writing November 9, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I agree with William Thorsell's comment about the writing style of the book. It is terribly verbose. Most sentences contain digressions, amplifications, or parenthetical material that detract from the clear expression of ideas. For example, the following is a single sentence from page four: "Second, we find theories indebted to Kant's ideas about a supposed 'categorical' imperative as establishing the priority of 'moral reasons' (ones deriving from other people's needs and interests, together with one's own, and others', human powers and status as rational agents) over concerns (otherwise legitimate, of course) for one's own pleasure or material advantage, or simply over one's particular desires--likes and dislikes--or special relationships one may stand in or love or family, and the like." There is simply no excuse for such circumlocution. Although philosophy has the potential of appealing to a much larger audience, this will never happen as long as books on philosophy are written in such a manner.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The editors were AWOL September 6, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a Princeton alumnus (and former journalist) I was astounded at the absence of basic editing in this text by Princeton University Press. The text is enormously loose, with waves of repetition that leave one drowning in redundancy. The egregious repetition of content is starkly exacerbated by the author's serial use of two phrases - "as I have described above," and "I will have more to say about this below." Add to this the author's chronic interruption of his text with bracketed asides, and the frustration of the reader simply rockets.

The author is obviously knowledgeable, the subject is clearly promising and the readership potentially large. But goodness, editors are a writer's best friend - particularly academic writers - and the editors were clearly AWOL on this. It leaves the book under water.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad prose defeats the search for good ideas November 4, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have the habit of noting at the end of a book when I've finished it the date I finished it along with a short comment describing my reaction to the book. I was surprised to find that my comment was identical in substance with that of William Thorsell. I remember way back when I turned in the first draft of my undergraduate senior thesis and found that unconsciously I had adopted some of the same prose tics that Cooper has, especially, "as I will explain below." My adviser cured me of that habit by marking those phrases and writing in red ink in large letters in the margin, "Cut out all the previews of coming attractions. We'll get to your points when we get to them."

Cooper's book is indeed so poorly edited that I wonder if because he is such a distinguished, and clearly accomplished, scholar of ancient philosophy and such a senior professor at Princeton, maybe the editors at Princeton University Press were a little scared of him or else just decided to give him a pass. In any case, I approached this book with much more enthusiasm than I had by the middle of it. I hung on to the end, however, and by then found myself so annoyed with the prose that I was having a hard time absorbing what points of his I could decipher.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Difficult Read of an Interesting Subject October 22, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I agree with those criticizing the editing and writing. The subject is of great interest to me, as a non-expert reader of philosophy. So far as I know, there is no other single book that encompasses all these early philosophies. And professor Cooper is clearly knowledgeable on the subject.

I am reading the book now and by the time I got to about page 50 I started wondering whether the subject matter was as difficult as it seemed or whether the writing was obscuring the subject matter. After reading further and going back and parsing some of the paragraphs, I decided it was mainly the latter. I then checked Amazon to see what reviewers had to say about this. This review followed.

There is no flow in the writing. You have to carefully think how the overabundant phrases and parentheticals relate to one another in order to understand -- or try to understand -- what the writer is saying. Nevertheless, I intend to keep reading the book because the subject matter is interesting. But I am resigned to having to read slowly and carefully, with frequent need to re-read sentences or paragraphs.
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