This summer, during the FIFA World Cup, I went with some friends to watch a soccer game at the house in Turin of the Italian philosopher and former member of the EU parliament Gianni Vattimo. As soon as our team began to lose, Vattimo said: ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, the pope called me yesterday.’
What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, obviously the roads – the roads go without saying. How about guidance for how to live in the 21st century? That seems less likely, but in fact the last few years have seen a flurry of interest in the work of three Roman Stoic philosophers who offered just that. They were Seneca, tutor to the Emperor Nero; Epictetus, a former slave; and Marcus Aurelius, himself emperor.
By Lorraine L Besser. Most of us know and value pleasant experiences. We savour the taste of a freshly picked strawberry. We laugh more than an event warrants, just because laughing feels good. We might argue about the degree to which such pleasant experiences are valuable, and the extent to which they ought to shape our lives, but we can’t deny their value.
There is a phrase you are as likely to find in a serious philosophy text as you are in the wackiest self-help book: ‘Know thyself!’ The phrase has serious philosophical pedigree: by Socrates’ time, it was more or less received wisdom (apparently chiselled into the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi) though a form of the phrase reaches back to Ancient Egypt. And ever since, the majority of philosophers have had something to say about it.
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We all know the most famous bit of ancient advice inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself. It’s a powerful and daunting recommendation. If you take it seriously, you will begin to push through all of the misconceptions you have, not only about yourself but about human beings generally. You will begin to think deeply about who you really are and who you ought to be.
Have we become unreasonable? In democracies around the world, anxious commentators exhort their fellow citizens to be more open-minded, more willing to engage in good-faith debate. In our era of hyperpolarization, social-media echo chambers and populist demagogues, many have turned to civility as the missing ingredient in our public life.