New book on the concepts of wisdom and Sagehood

41dd9sD52FLI want to bring to readers’ attention a comprehensive review of a new book on the early Stoics’ concepts of wisdom and Sagehood. The review is by Jacob Klein, and it appeared in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. The book being reviewed is The Stoic Sage: The Early Stoics on Wisdom, Sagehood and Socrates, by René Brouwer, Cambridge University Press. Unfortunately, it is expensive ($49.99 on Kindle, $80 in hardcover). Regardless, below are some interesting excerpts from the review:

“This volume is a nicely focused study of the older Stoic conception of wisdom (sophia) and the ideal of the Stoic sage (sophos).

Chapter One investigates two Stoic definitions of sophia preserved by our sources: sophia is said to be knowledge of divine and human matters (theiôn te kai anthrôpinôn epistêmê) and also a kind of fitting expertise (epitêdeia technê).

A main claim of Brouwer’s in this chapter is that the first definition of sophia — knowledge of human and divine matters — corresponds to the three parts of philosophy distinguished by the Stoics: physics, ethics, and dialectic.

A further claim is that the main divisions of philosophy are interconnected and hence that the elements of sophia are interconnected as well. This “interconnectedness” consists in the fact that the Stoics hold “that ethics cannot do without physics as knowledge of cosmic nature”

Chapter Three argues both that the early Stoics — Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus — did not consider themselves to be sages and that later Stoics probably did not consider any historical personage to have achieved sagehood.

Brouwer sees the inspiration for the main Stoic definition of sophia — knowledge of human and divine matters — in passages of Plato’s Apology as well as in the Memorabilia’s discussion of piety and justice as, respectively, knowledge of “what is lawful concerning the gods” (4.6.4) and knowledge of “what is lawful concerning men” (4.6.7).

The study of the older Stoics has suffered from a somewhat uneven reliance on the testimony of Cicero, to the exclusion of evidence that is securely free of Academic influence. A real strength of Brouwer’s book is the care with which he handles a wide range of sources. Moreover, one of Brouwer’s guiding assumptions is that “Stoicism should principally be investigated as a unified system of thought”

There has been much debate on the role of cosmic nature in Stoic ethics. Brouwer sides with those who think the early Stoics regard physics as somehow essential to ethical theory (24- 29). A fact or set of facts can be essential to ethics in various ways, however: perhaps by justifying conformity to the claims of ethics or by being something one must know in order to know the content of ethics.


Categories: Ancient Stoicism

1 reply

  1. Thanks for this review.
    Book , bought.

    Liked by 1 person

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