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Ancient Stoics repeatedly stressed the monolithic unity of their philosophy. In this groundbreaking “essay” Johnny Christensen takes their claim at face value: “It is a presupposition of the present essay that Stoic philosophy is a coherent and consistent system of thought,” he says, and “The Stoic Philosopher is a man caught by the quest for unity. If this life is to make sense, all of it must be taken into account and somehow justified. Therefore Reality must be rational, not random, and organically one.” In four concise sections –“Ontology,” “Physics,” “Dialectic,” “Ethics” – Christensen lays out the core ideas of Stoicism and their interconnection, never losing himself in details. The exposition is philosophically penetrating and lucid at the same time.
Most scholars neglect the role Aristotelian philosophy must have played as the most advanced system of thought available when the first Stoics began working. Christensen, by contrast, shows that keeping the Aristotelian backdrop in mind can be a key to understanding some of the central ideas of Stoicism in spite of both superficial and deep divergences.
Originally published in 1962, when it was far too modern for its time, this small but exceedingly generous study constitutes the most holistic grasp of Stoicism to date. Offering a deep appreciation of, and insightful meditation on, Stoicism, this study is required reading for anyone interested in the history of philosophy.
Johnny Christensen Professor of Classics at the University of Copenhagen 1962-1996, Fellow of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.
Fore- and afterword by Sten Ebbesen, professor of the Aristotelian Tradition at the University of Copenhagen and Troels Engberg-Pedersen, professor of the New Testament at the University of Copenhagen.
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