- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195374614
- ISBN-13: 978-0195374612
- Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.3 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 478 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Hardcover – November 4, 2008
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"Irvine excels at giving a "walking tour" of the many schools of Stoic philosophy, from Greek to Roman traditions, identifying individual Stoic thinkers (many more than Seneca) and their principles and techniques, which Irvine argues are even more relevant in modern times than their own." --Philosophical Practice
"Another valuable ally in your personal morale campaign can be found in William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, which removes the grim grey mask of noble, resigned fatalism attached to the popular conception of Stoic philosophy and lets the humanity out and the air in.... It is a work of clarion clarity, and you won't have to read that far into it before the phrase 'stoic joy' ceases sounding like an oxymoron and becomes a workable proposition."--James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
"Irvine's book excels as a guide for practicing Stoics or for individuals seeking to improve that practice." --The Common Review
"Irvine's intended audience is nonphilosophers, but everyone can profit from his clear presentation on the on the benefits of using philosophical doctrines to live a meaningful life."--Library Journal
"If, however, you are skeptical that even therapy will make you happy -- if you are looking for a life philosophy -- A Guide to the Good Life is for you.... Irvine's book is more thought-provoking."--Austin American-Statesman
"He writes in clear, almost jargon-free prose that is well suited to his target audience, and maintains a cheerful tone throughout the book...that perfectly expresses the sort of rationally grounded upbeat attitude that is one of the payoffs of becoming a practicing Stoic.... I can firmly recommend Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life to anyone interested in exploring some of the ways philosophical work can be brought to bear on the ordinary problems of living.... there is a great deal of useful thinking and excellent advice to be found in it, presented in a clear, straightforward and often charming manner."--Lauren Tillinghast, Metapsychology Online Reviews
"Bill Irvine has given us a great gift: the most accessible and inviting description of modern Stoicism available. Read this book and be prepared to change your life!"--Sharon Lebell, author of Epictetus's The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
"Well-written and so compelling, this is a rare example of a book that actually will make a difference in the lives of its readers. Whether it's coping with grief or arriving at lasting happiness, Irvine shows, with care and verve, ancient Stoic wisdom to be ever relevant and very, very helpful." --Gary Klein, author of Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions
"Never have I seen so delightful, empathetic, and supple a presentation of Stoicism as Irvine gives us here. Hardly Christian even in sensibilities, the Stoics were, none the less, wise in the ways of life, a benison Irvine exposes, and then delivers here, with panache and great acumen."--Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours
"Irvine's calm yet impassioned presentation of a Western philosophy of life that one can actually abide by and practice will be good medicine for many readers...I heartily recommend it." --The Christian Century
"Dr Irvine has used very simple language in his book. He gives a notion of modern stoicism and urges modern readers to practice stoicism." -- The Nation, Pakistan
About the Author
William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want.
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You know, though, in the quiet recesses of your mind, that "stress kills." You hear it from the Doc every12 months. "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I hear you, I exercise and I've got my blood pressure down, I'm making making a point of trying to reduce the amount of friction in my life, if not the numbers of stressful situations." And in retirement, you can carve out more time to think about distractions from things that get you riled up, or sadden you, or fill you with fear or anxiety when you face the encroaching reality that "all things human are short-lived and perishable," including you.
Stoicism doesn't rescue you so much as train you to manage unproductive emotions and thoughts, beginning by bundling up, or triaging, your concerns according to a fundamental trichotomy--expanded by author William Irvine from a classical dichotomy posed by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (Some things are up to us, other things are not)--of "things I have no control over, things I have absolute control over, and things I have some measure of control over." We can exert control over our goals, values, what we formulate as our life philosophy. We have no control over the sunrise, or of the past--what's happened has happened--or, as a federal annuitant, over trade or immigration policy or other acts of people in high office over whom we have no means of influence. We have some control over our professional lives but cannot guarantee success in every endeavor, only that we'll do our very best, our utmost to fulfill the mission.
Hence there's a broad category of things beyond my control that I'd be foolish to spend much time fretting over. As the great Stoic and Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius observed, "Nothing is worth doing pointlessly." It's more productive to spend my time on cultivating my own garden of tranquility and on worrying the things I can affect. This is very like Niebuhr's serenity prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Author Irvine is a pleasant cicerone on our journey into Stocism, focusing on the four Roman Stoics whose writings seem to him most relevant to us today: Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus. He divides his book into four broad parts. In part one, he discusses the birth of philosophy and, in greater detail, the rise of Stoicism. In part two, he inventories and lay out psychological techniques devised by the Stoics for developing and maintaining tranquility, perhaps the most important of which is "negative visualization," the art of reasoning through our fears or anger--"what's the worst than can happen"--or through the sources of our happiness or unhappiness, the latter of which is (as research suggests) often rooted in the insatiable character of life in a mass-consumer society. Part three discusses "Stoic advice" across a broad array of concerns: social relations, insults, grief, anger, luxurious living, the desire for fame and fortune, aging, death. The entertaining concluding part is Irvine's often humorous reflections on how he's walked the Stoic walk.
I flatter myself to think that reading, and thinking through, and beginning the practice of "the ancient art of Stoic joy" over the past two weeks has begun to soften me and mute my anger (along with canceling the papers and most magazines). I'd like to be kinder. A better citizen. Calm. Tranquil. Thankful for all I have: family, friends, interests, a decent place to live in a nice city. I'll give this a shot, as Irvine recommends, as a "stealth Stoic" (although I've already outed myself. No matter: no one reads a thing I've posted here...) But I'm withholding a star, and will probably update these remarks at some point, as I progress, or don't, in Stoicism.
And I'm wishing myself luck on this.
I think I'm into something good.
Learning about Stoic philosophy is like finding a perfectly ripe orchard peach after living with the memory of what they taste like while making due with those tasteless grocery store articles. There's an art to living well as I see it, and this book is really helping to guide me towards a more meaningful life. William Irvine's book is a treasure of information on this philosophy, on the importance of setting a goal you won't deviate from, on what Stoic philosophy is and how to live it. Well-written, inspiring, informative. I no longer have an opportunity to study in a Stoic school, philosophy courses are focused on learning theories while the ancient schools taught pupils how to practice. This book is as close as I may ever come to one of those immersive experiences with a teacher. I'm enjoying this book, thrilled to be finding some texts here on Amazon to learn more about Stoicism written by knowledgeable authors, and feeling very optimistic about life in general again.
As a Stoic, Irvine has a lot of criticism for current psychological approaches to dealing with life's challenges. He says that "the consensus view among psychological therapists is that we should stay in touch with our emotions: Rather than try to deny their existence, we should contemplate them, and rather than trying to bottle them up we should vent them." He contrasts this with the Stoic approach, which doesn't require that we bottle up our emotions, but does "help us to to take steps to prevent negative emotions and to overcome them when our attempts at prevention fail."
This criticism is valid for much of popular psychology and many psychological professionals as well. There is one psychological approach, however, that is explicitly based on Stoicism: Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy (REBT). REBT was developed by Albert Ellis, who wrote many books teaching people how to identify and correct the thinking that causes them emotional upset. If you want practical advice about how to live as a Stoic, without having to read about ancient philosophers, get one of the several books by Ellis.