The Relevance of Stoicism

Lecture 9.  September 18 and 24.

Afterthoughts.  In class, I put up a new slide about why the Greeks still mattered, which cited the al Qaeda training manual’s rejection of Socratic logic and Platonic ideals.  I’ve just started reading Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind, by Nancy Sherman (Oxford University Press, 2005).  She begins this way:

In a remarkably prescient moment, James B. Stockdale, then a senior Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, muttered to himself on September 9, 1965, as he parachuted into enemy hands, “Five years down there at least.  I’m leaving behind the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus….”  Stoic philosophy resonated with Stockdale’s temperament and profession and he committed many of Epictetus’s pithy remarks to memory.  [They] would hold the key to his survival for seven and a half years … as a prisoner of war. … [and] they would form the backbone of his leadership style as the senior officer in the POW chain of command.” 

Sherman taught ethics at the United States Naval Academy for several years in the 1990s, and she assigned as reading the Enchiridion, or handbook, of the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55-135 BCE).  Stockdale was obviously not her student, but she found that for today’s soldiers in training Epictetus remains as resonant with their character and calling as Stockdale did (recall the Euphronius Krater, and think of Stockdale as Sarpedon).

Forethoughts.  Will the paths to arete, eudaemonia, and ataraxia offered by contemporary psychology be as resonant for anyone two millennia from now as Homer’s, Socrates’, or Epictetus’ are with USNA graduates today?

Published in: on September 29, 2008 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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