Interview with Larry Becker, part IV

Roman goddess of Justice

Roman goddess of Justice

Here is the fourth and last part of my series based on a personal interview with Lawrence Becker, author of A New Stoicism, on which I have commented a number of times before (use the “Becker” category on this site to read all previous posts). Part I is here, II here, and III here.

Again, I will not add any commentary of my own, since Larry’s words come through loud and clear. I simply list a series of topics and the approximate times in the linked audio file where we discuss them.

The pertinent file can be downloaded here.

You mention that “We follow later colleagues in thinking [that the doctrines concerning virtue being all-or-nothing] are untenable. But the concerns that underlie them are worthy of attention.” Can you explain why they are untenable? (0:00-2:26)

Sticking with all-or-nothing virtue, you mention that “Partial virtue does not make life easier, or more tranquil. In that sense, virtue is an all-or-nothing affair; not a matter of degree.” By the axiom of futility, if sagehood is impossible to attain, then why bother practicing Stoicism at all in your view? (2:27-6:05)

Progression in virtue, from health to fitness to virtuosity. More on the axiom of futility (6:08-7:17)
In chapter 7, you argue that “being overcome by emotion is not more problematic for a Stoic than being overcome by sleep.” So would you say your New Stoicism leaves more room for Dionysian exuberance than classical Stoicism, so long as it can be “turned off,” so to speak, at the proper times? (7:18-9:26)

Stoicism needs a better publicist, the new biography of Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Stoicism (9:28-11:14)

Also in chapter 7, you seem to imply that agency can indeed be destroyed by extensive suffering. Do you feel this view differs from classical Stoicism where the Sage can always and truly “be happy on the rack”? (11:15-12:20)

Stoicism doesn’t make you a superhuman, more on the rack (12:21-14:42)

Natural undermining of moral agency by age and disease (14:44-17:36)

Some have argued that what you propose cannot really be called Stoicism any more. Does it matter? (17:40-19:37)

But, really, aren’t we talking about Aristotelianism? No, not really (19:38-21:26)

Stoicism and slavery (21:29-21:49)

The virtue of Justice doesn’t make for a comprehensive political philosophy. But is that a fair criticism? (21:50-22:50)

Stoicism as an ecumenical, bit tent philosophy (22:51-25:15)

Coda (25:16-25:33)


1 thought on “Interview with Larry Becker, part IV

  1. viennahavana

    Massimo, Thanks to you and Dr. Becker for such a thoughtful interview. I listened to each part as they came out, then to the whole complete recording over the weekend, and it sent me back to re-reading “A New Stoicism” (for the third time!). I am not sure about the unity of virtues anymore… I disagree that the Sage is an attainable human state (instead of a metaphor)… and now I’m discovering that I may have a more Aristotelian approach than I thought… hmmm.
    More to ponder.
    I appreciate that you posted these for us to share as a community, since it is a rare opportunity to hear Dr. Becker’s current thinking on Stoic philosophy.

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