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Stoicism and Emotion

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.

272 pages | 9 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Ancient Studies

Philosophy: History and Classic Works


“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

"A lucidly written . . . compellingly argued, and carefully researched investigation which should remain an indispensable resource for study of the Stoics on emotions for years to come. As it is pitched to readers well versed in ancient Greek literature with a fair degree of philosophical training, scholars and graduate students in Classical philosophy will benefit the most from this work. . . . A fine, soberly crafted contribution to both our understaning of the Stoics’ theory of emotion and to an appreciation of the Stoics’ subtle, insightful arguments against non-cognitivism. The patient reader’s persistence will be repaid."

William O. Stephens | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"In addition to a beautifully clear and uncluttered style, [the book] offers a careful and balanced account of the Stoic view of the emotions which pays all due attention to the Stoics’ accounts of psychology in general . . . education and character development, and moral responsibility. . . . A fine contribution to the increasingly plausible view that the Stoics (and Epicureans too, for that matter), in adopting a broadly intellectualist psychology, can still offer a rich and sophisticated view of human emotional life."

James Warren | Journal of the History of Philosophy

"[A] valuable and provocative study. Accessible to general readers and challenging for specialists, [Graver’s] investigation of the Stoic theory of emotion succeeds in achieving her aim of sympathetically presenting the intellectual attractions of Stoic moral philosophy."

Glenn Lesses | Classical World

"Should we hold ourselves responsible for our own emotions? The Stoics tried to do so, and Graver invites us to take them seriously."

Common Knowledge

Table of Contents

Introduction: Emotion and Norms for Emotion
1 A Science of the Mind
The Psychic Material
The Central Directive Faculty
Thought, Belief, and Action
Affective Events
2 The Pathetic Syllogism
Emotions and Ascriptions of Value
Evaluations and Their Objects
The Stoic Ethical Stance
Eupathic Responses
Classification by Genus
Classification by Species
Some Remaining Questions
3 Vigor and Responsibility
Overriding Impulses
Medea and Odysseus
Plato and Platonists
The Posidonian Objections
4 Feelings without Assent
Beginnings and “Bitings” at Athens
The Senecan Account
“A Requirement of the Human Condition”
Alexandrian Propatheiai
A Stoic Essential

5 Brutishness and Insanity
Orestes and the Phantastikon
Melancholic Loss of Virtue
Fluttery Ignorance
Emotions as Causes
Seneca’s Three Movements
6 Traits of Character
Scalar Conditions of Mind
Fondnesses and Aversions
Habitudes of the Wise
7 The Development of Character
Empiricism and Corruption
The Twofold Cause
Cicero’s Hall of Mirrors
The Establishment of Traits
Autonomy and Luck
8 City of Friends and Lovers
Concern for Others
Proper Friendship and the Wise Community
Friendship and Self-Sufficiency
Optimistic Love
Ordinary Affections
9 The Tears of Alcibiades
Wisdom and Remorse
Strategies for Consolation
The Status of Premise 2
Progressor-Pain and Moral Shame
Apatheia Revisited
Appendix: The Status of Confidence in Stoic Classifications
List of Abbreviations
Index Locorum


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