Sunday, June 29, 2014

The perennial philosophy in philosophy

Aldous Huxley wrote about The Perennial Philosophy that runs through all theologies. It's made me think recently, about the commonalities that run through many philosophies.

Recently, I've posted about Buddhism as a philosophy. More recently still, I've been reading about Epicureans and Stoics, and have been struck by the similarities they share with each other, and with Buddhist philosophy.

I'm not the only one who has noticed:

Buddhism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism
[...] Stoics aimed not at getting rid of emotions (despite the popular caricature of Stoics as Spock-like figures), but rather to channel them in a more productive direction. This was achieved through a combination of logic, concentration and reflection, and eventually evolved into various contemporary forms of cognitive behavioral therapy. (In this sense, both Buddhism — with its various meditative techniques — and Stoicism have entered the realm of modern practices, which can be pursued essentially independently of the philosophies that gave origin to them.) The ultimate goal of the Stoic was apatheia, or peace of mind, which I think is akin to both the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia and the Buddhist goal of nirvana (again, with due consideration given to the significant differences in the background conditions and specific articulation of the three philosophies). And of course Stoics too had a ready-made recipe for their philosophy, in the form of a short list of virtues to practice (nothing compared to the above mentioned panoply of Buddhist lists though!). These were: courage, justice, temperance and wisdom.

I am sure one could continue with this conceptual cross-mapping for a while, and of course scholars within each of the three traditions would object to or modify my suggestions. What I am interested in here, however, is pursuing the further questions of what the common limitations of the philosophies of Buddhism, Epicureanism and Stoicism are, as well as what positive contributions they have made to humanity's thinking about (and dealing with!) the universe.

I am inclined to reject both Buddhism’s and Stoicism’s metaphysics, being significantly more happy with the Epicurean view of the world. I don’t think there is any reason to think that concepts like logos or karma have any philosophical substance, nor do they do any work in actually explaining why things are the way they are. The Epicurean embracing of a materialist metaphysics, instead, is in synch with the development of natural philosophy and eventually of modern science. [...]
Read the whole thing, for a thoughtful comparison of the three philosophies. And for the embedded links, and some interesting comments afterward.

While reading about the Stoics, I came across this informative timeline on the Stoics' wikipedia page:

Since I don't have a lot of leisure time to study philosophy, I decided to cut to the chase and read Marcus Aurelius, who seems to be the culmination of the stoic philosophers. I had read a little bit of his writing in the past, and was favorably impressed, so I've ordered a book of his meditations.

Even though Marcus was a Stoic, he had studied Epicurus. I wondered if one could mix Marcus Aurelius and Epicurianism as practical wisdom for a good life? It seems I am not the first one to ask that question:

Can one mix Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius to create a great recipe for a good life?
It is time to present two of my all-time favorites among humanistic thinkers of the past. Number one on my list is early Greek philosopher Epicurus. He did create a comprehensive and wholly rational recipe on how to attain a maximal state of peace of mind.
My second choice is the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He did teach how to use self-restraint for achieving tranquility of mind.

These two great men had much in common. Marcus Aurelius was well aware of the teachings of the much earlier Epicurus, even if he belonged to a competing school of philosophy. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic and Stoicism did compete for followers with Epicureanism in the time of Marcus Aurelius.

Stoics did, in fact, at times pour scorn over Epicurus. However, the fact remains that their philosophy contains very many elements that were taken quite straight out of Epicureanism. Many ideas that were presented by Marcus Aurelius could have as well been uttered by Epicurus or his followers as well. [...]

Marcus Aurelius

I think we are blessed to have so many great minds from the past that we can still learn from. Wisdom we can build on.  I'm very much enjoying all this!

Also see:

"Never let the future disturb you" or Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus on foundations for a good life


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