Saturday, April 14, 2012

Christopher Brooke's "Philosophic Pride"

Christopher Brooke is lecturer in political theory and the history of political thought in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he is a fellow of King's College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau, and reported the following:
Some early modern writers argued that ‘Christians may profit by the Stoicks’—that the themes of constancy and the willing acceptance of divine providence that could be found in the writings of the ancient Stoic philosophers offered an invaluable supplement to Christians in an era of violent religious wars. But others—in particular those who still took St Augustine of Hippo’s theology with great seriousness—pushed back against this fashion. In the fourth chapter of my book, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau, then, which is where p. 99 falls, I examine five Augustinian writers in seventeenth-century France: the controversial bishop Corneille Jansen, the Oratorian general Jean-François Senault, the brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal, the ‘occasionalist’ metaphysician Nicolas Malebranche, and the celebrated epigrammatist La Rochefoucauld. These critics charged that the Stoic account of human agency—in particular of what was under the control of the will—implicitly denied Original Sin, and therefore was something to be rejected by all good Christians. Stoicism, they held, was a symptom of the pride of Fallen man—hence the book’s title, which comes from a line of John Milton’s Paradise Regain’d: ‘The Stoic last in philosophic pride, / By him called virtue…’

But this polemic was more effective against some versions of Stoicism than against others. The French Augustinians wrote above all against the Roman philosopher Seneca, but, as I note on p. 99, ‘If the critique of Senecan Neostoicism was most fully elaborated in seventeenth-century France, we might not be surprised to find that the most systematic attempt to portray [the Roman Emperor] Marcus [Aurelius] as a Stoic author immunized against that critique was presented in the major French edition of the Meditations to be published in the second half of the seventeenth century.’ That edition was the work of the classicists André and Anne Dacier, and in their preface they identified six Augustinian objections to Stoicism and try to show that, in the case of Marcus Aurelius at least, they fail.

So in a way, then, p. 99 brings the contemporary challenge facing hardcore anti-Stoics into focus: how to find a line of attack that would prove equally effective against the Stoicisms of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca alike. The German Lutheran professor Johann Franz Buddeus worked hardest on this problem, and I discuss his contribution to the argument in chapter six of Philosophic Pride, ‘How the Stoics became Atheists’.
Learn more about Philosophic Pride at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue