Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pg. 99: Margaret Graver's "Stoicism and Emotion"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Stoicism and Emotion by Margaret Graver.

About the book, from the publisher:
On the surface, stoicism and emotion seem like contradictory terms. Yet the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome were deeply interested in the emotions, which they understood as complex judgments about what we regard as valuable in our surroundings. Stoicism and Emotion shows that they did not simply advocate an across-the-board suppression of feeling, as stoicism implies in today’s English, but instead conducted a searching examination of these powerful psychological responses, seeking to understand what attitude toward them expresses the deepest respect for human potential.

In this elegant and clearly written work, Margaret Graver gives a compelling new interpretation of the Stoic position. Drawing on a vast range of ancient sources, she argues that the chief demand of Stoic ethics is not that we should suppress or deny our feelings, but that we should perfect the rational mind at the core of every human being. Like all our judgments, the Stoics believed, our affective responses can be either true or false and right or wrong, and we must assume responsibility for them. Without glossing over the difficulties, Graver also shows how the Stoics dealt with those questions that seem to present problems for their theory: the physiological basis of affective responses, the phenomenon of being carried away by one’s emotions, the occurrence of involuntary feelings and the disordered behaviors of mental illness. Ultimately revealing the deeper motivations of Stoic philosophy, Stoicism and Emotion uncovers the sources of its broad appeal in the ancient world and illuminates its surprising relevance to our own.
Among the early praise for Stoicism and Emotion:
“Margaret Graver’s book expertly demolishes the widespread belief that ancient Stoicism was a philosophy that advocated repression of every feeling we call an emotion. With admirable clarity she gives an in-depth analysis of how the Stoics assessed emotional health and pathology, and of why, while taking such emotions as anger and fear to be always irrational and culpable, they held that human perfection requires joy and love. This is a thoroughly excellent study both for the light it sheds on one of antiquity’s most influential philosophies and for its stimulus to make readers think about their own emotional responses to the world.”
—A. A. Long, University of California, Berkeley

“With clean and clear prose, Margaret Graver provides a truly wise reading of the Stoics on the emotions. Her book is destined to become the standard on appreciating the deep contribution the Stoics make to our understanding of the role of emotions in our lives. After reading this book, few will dare read the Stoics as proponents of a life devoid of all affect and attachment.”
—Nancy Sherman, Georgetown University

“A first-rate treatment of the Stoic theory of emotions, Stoicism and Emotion is full of extremely careful philological detective work presented in clear and precise prose. It propounds a distinctive positive thesis in urging us to see the Stoics as more favorably disposed to emotions and emotional feelings than they have traditionally been thought to be. Margaret Graver represents this more humanizing reading of Stoicism better than anyone has done it before.”
—Tad Brennan, Cornell University
Read more about Stoicism and Emotion at the University of Chicago Press website.

Margaret Graver is Associate Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College.

The Page 99 Test: Stoicism and Emotion.

--Marshal Zeringue