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A New Stoicism

by Lawrence C. Becker

Buy the book: Lawrence C. Becker. A New Stoicism

Release Date: 01 July, 1999

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Lawrence C. Becker. A New Stoicism

Stoicism: The Key to Success?

I spent much time considering why I would ever want to undertake the maximally arduous task of perfecting (improving) my agency, which Becker advocates. Why improve my agency when I could be lying on the couch watching reruns?

Here is Becker's best argument why I might want to try to perfect my agency: "Further reflection reveals that even if my most comprehensive and controlling endeavor is solely to perfect the exercise of my agency based upon the sort of practical reasoning that I ought to do, and if I succeed in that endeavor, then I will by definition succeed in optimizing the success of all my endeavors - over my whole life" (116).

So that's it then. The key to maximizing success in life is the perfection of one's agency. That would be remarkable if it were true.

This book would be better as over-the-top Tony Robbins style self-help: "be the best you can be: perfect your agency now!" As it is, the very real insight is lost somewhere in the forest of verbosity. That's too bad, because Becker might have hit upon the secret of maximizing the success of all our endeavors over our whole lives after all - and that secret can be yours for just [$$]

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Old School Resurrected?

I was very disappointed with this book. From our extant sources, the Stoics' holistic conception of life was backed up with a rich web of interdependent propositions and rigorous argumentation. In Becker's book, I was stunned to find the school's most influential thinker (Chrysippus of Soli) reduced to a total of eleven references.

I seriously doubt Stoicism can be practiced without a naturalistic ontology. Immediately, Becker divorces Stoicism from the very core of its set of beliefs: the organic "hegemonikon" which the Stoics posited ruled the universe. Rejecting the inherent teleology of this view leads one right into a suspension of interdependent "meaning" for events (lekta, as the Stoics called it), which in turn leads one to a type of skepticism.

As the founder Zeno himself likened it, the Stoic practice was a threefold whole, and one could not separate them without collapsing the structure--their logic, which underpinned the spoken proposition, was meant to be isomorphic with the causal nexus of the physical world; their ethics for the most part hinged upon aligning ones' own "hegemonikon" with the "hegemonikon" of the universe; and their physics, with its Herclitean concept of the "guiding fire" tied the individual subject, who was in possession of a single spark of the same, to the guiding fire of the whole. Our reason, our possession of the logos, allows us to choose to align ourselves or not to the "greater will" which called us into existence in the first place. Virtue can result, in a physical way, from the very perception of this continuum (this is another Stoic innovation--that a physical change occurs...We may liken this today to a change in brain chemistry, or activity in the central nervous system, a "Stoic calm" which results from "receiving the will of God").

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