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Stoicism (Ancient Philosophies) Paperback – July 19, 2006

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Product Details

  • Series: Ancient Philosophies (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (July 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520249089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520249080
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #517,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“If readers are interested in Stoicism and want a solid, thoughtful introduction, then this is the book to read.”
(Dialogue 2010-06-30)

From the Inside Flap

"Stoicism needs a new work of this kind. Sellars not only takes good account of the last thirty years of research, he also has much of his own to contribute. I particularly applaud his focus on Epictetus and on Stoicism as an art of life. "—A.A. Long, author of Stoic Studies

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on July 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
Who were the Stoics? How did they understand philosophy? How did their ideas of "ethics," "physics" (including what we call "metaphysics" as well as science), and "logic" (also much broader than what Mr. Spock engages in) join together into an organic whole? What role did the sage play in the Stoic system -- if such a creature were even possible. (Stoic agnosticism on this point was very similiar to that of the early Confucians about a "sheng ren," BTW.)

Sellars begins by giving an overall answer to these questions. Then he describes the three Stoic categories -- physics, logic, and ethics -- in the following chapters. He finishes the book with a chapter on the "Stoic legacy" -- the influence they have had since their gradual disappearance in the 4th and 5th Centuries. (One surprise: John Calvin was sympathetic to the Stoics in an early writing -- I've read his commentary on Acts 17, in which Paul discusses the Christian faith with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens, and he didn't seem so open-minded there -- perhaps because he was jousting at "Papist" shadows. But Sellars spreads his comments out through the centuries -- this section is very succinct, but interesting.)

I wanted a good general introduction to Stoicism, before reading (as I plan to) more of the primary and secondary material. This book turned out to be great for that purpose. It's simple, fairly straightforward, though Sellars also interacts in a light way with the scholarship, and does an excellent job of "mapping out" key figures and questions. Sellars is objective, seldom intruding his own views on the discussion, but (in general) describing what is understood about the Stoics, and clearly marking out where opinions differ.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By J.D. Sharpless on June 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
The traditional caricature that portray Stoic philosophers as stone faced, unemotional, and indifferent thinkers "does not tell the whole story" according to John Sellars' recent book, Stoicism. Some fifteen hundred years since Stoicism fell into antiquity, it is fair to say its influence is very much part of the western mind to this day. The book is presented as an introduction for students and general audiences alike in an accessible way and has some reasonable depth that will challenge novice readers. Sellers acknowledges the limits of this introduction, but presents a well organized overview of the history and what Epictetus called topoi or areas of study.

It begins with a brief history of Stoic philosophy, beginning with Zeno in 330B.C.E. and ending with Simplicius in 529C.E. Although many Stoic texts were lost to history, as noted by the author, we have lengthy works from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius and are able to glean important information and understanding from critics of Stoicism like the well-known skeptic Sextus Empiricus. I found the authors observation that the nature of Stoicism is itself partly responsible for its own decline interesting. According to Sellars, the Stoics where inspired by Socrates' focus on applying wisdom to living over theorizing which may have lent to less writing and more living the philosophy. He states, "For Epictetus, it is not the voluminous author Chrysippus who stands as his philosophical role model; rather it is Socrates, who expresses his philosophy in deed rather than words" (28). The Stoic ideal is of the sage who has the correct understanding of nature and lives in accordance with their nature.

From there we launch into the Stoic system: the three topos of Stoicism - logic, physics, and ethics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Harrison Koehli on August 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a great overview of Stoic philosophy. Sellars gives a short history of the main players in the first chapter, as well as a brief rundown of the influence of Stoicism on western thought up to the 20th century. The former is pretty standard, and the latter pretty dry, in my opinion, fine for presenting the legacy of Stoicism throughout the ages, but more of an anticlimax than anything. The chapters sandwiched in between, however, are where the gems are. Sellars devotes a chapter each to the three main facets of Stoic thought: logic, physics, and ethics. He describes the Stoic view on formal logic, language theory, epistemology; their materialist (yet panpsychic) ontology, based on the two active and passive principles (mind and matter, God and world); and their work on values, morality, and virtue. Sellars writes clearly and to the point, teasing apart the Stoics' arguments, presenting alternate interpretations, and fitting it all together into a comprehensive worldview, which was the Stoics' whole point. Personally, I was struck by how much Stoicism resembles postmodern philosophers like Alfred Whitehead and David Ray Griffin. While there are certainly differences, Stoicism seems like a premodern attempt to do exactly what Whitehead attempted: create a total, comprehensive, consistent worldview taking account of all facts available. With more facts available, Whitehead (and Griffin, who presents Whitehead perhaps clearer than Whitehead himself did) has the benefit of 2000 more years of thought and science behind him, but Sellars's Stoicism (****) does an excellent job of showing what Stoicism had going for it.
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More About the Author

John Sellars is a Research Fellow at King's College London where he works on the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project. Immediately prior to that he was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. He is also a member of Wolfson College, Oxford, where he held a Junior Research Fellowship.

He is the author of two books on Stoicism, one of which has been called "excellent", "outstanding", and "the best introduction to the subject". Since 2012 he has been involved in the Stoicism Today project, highlighting ways in which ancient Stoic ideas might help people today in their everyday lives.

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