74 - Tony Long on the Self in Hellenistic Philosophy

Leading Hellenistic philosophy scholar Tony Long talks to Peter about the self, ethics and politics in the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics.

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Further Reading: 

• A.A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy (London: 1974).

• A.A. Long and D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge: 1987).

• A.A. Long, Stoic Studies (Cambridge: 1996).

• A.A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life (Oxford: 2002).

• A.A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus. Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy (Oxford: 2006).

Bill Harder's picture

A Dialogue of Self and Soul

Peter, again let me preface my comments with praise for the engaging manner in which you present each podcast. Having now listened to two to three a day while jogging after work, I have finally caught up and now can follow at a more leisurely pace.

Concerning your interview with Tony Long, I am struck by the contrast between the the Hellenistic and modern sense of self, the former apparently conforming to a social norm, the latter being essentially solipistic. The symphonic element to which Tony alludes suggests that Hellenistic philosophy sought to harmonize with an order it perceived in nature. The modern notion is more a cacophony in as much as it no longer presumes that there is an underlying order to nature. Hellenistic philosohy, it seems, did not challenge the more basic religious presumptions that still dominated the culture.

I would go further with this but prefer to adhere to the material as you present it lest I embarass myself by building an argument on baseless speculation. The point I would make here is that the Hellenistic schools, for all their practicality, still operated against a metaphysical backdrop that suggested there was, after all, a meaning or purpose to human life.

One further remark, I do think that Theophilus, the addressee of "The Acts of the Apostles" would take exception to Tony's suggestion that Christians would be appalled by such titles as "friend of God." Then again, many scholars suppose that this is merely a generic name given to the general, God loving, reader. In as much as the podcasts have now reached the point where philosophy begins to converge with faith I am bound to confess, though with less verve than Tony Curtis, that "I am Theophilus." And while I have no problem with a critique of the religious perspective, I am happy to challenge the current fad to dismiss this view outright.

Peter Adamson's picture

Religion in Hellenistic philosophy

Hi there -- sounds like you have a long daily run! (2 or 3 episodes sounds like about an hour.) Anyway I agree with you that the Hellenistic schools were still very much engaged with traditional religious belief. Like the Pre-Socratics (and for that matter Plato and Aristotle) they seem to me to revise traditional ideas radically, yet preserve what they take to be most important for instance that gods are providential or appropriate objects of reverence. That's even, surprisingly, true of the Epicureans, who deny providence but do argue towards their version of theology on the basis of the "common conception" that the gods must be untroubled and so on.