My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a very enjoyable and practical book on Stoicism. It strucks a very good balance between historical context, theory, anecdotes and examples, and practical exercices.
It would have been a perfect read if not for what I think is a rather poor way of handling the fear of death. One of the important point of the Stoic philosophy is to allow its students to learn to accept death has inevitable and natural, as indifferent.
With that said, nowadays, we are slowly coming to an understanding of the process of aging, and it is reasonable to think that we might engineer an end to it. Of course, some people get a little to excited by the prospect of technological solution to aging and makes some quite outrageous predictions (I’m thinking about high profile transhumanists who contend that any day now we’ll be able to upload ourselves in machines).
And here the author uses these extreme examples to make a rather nasty strawman attack on the will to cure aging. And I think a rational and Stoic evaluation of the topic can show he is wrong:
Does a Stoic denies that we should cure any disease, or for that matter, try to prevent any suffering, whatever its cause, that befall on other human beings? I think not, I think the author would agree that it is a good thing (a preferred indifferent) that modern medicine reduced child mortality, put an end to ugly disease like smallpox,… And why should aging be any different? Anyone that knows of an aged person (that is anyone) can see the immense suffering it causes. In fact, thanks to the material progress enjoyed in the recent centuries, I contend that the suffering and deaths caused by aging surpass that of any other single causes in the world, being malnutrition, malaria, famine,… I don’t think Stoics would agree that they are kind of sufferings that should never be alleviated, or that some people deserves to suffer because of simply their circumstances.
I’ll pass on the poorly thoughts and usual arguments against bringing an end to aging. It is not immortality (you still die of all the other causes), it does not cause runaway overpopulation (the growth rate of a population is actually inversely proportional to the lifespan of its constituents), and finally it is no more hubris that any endeavor undertaken since humans are humans, from leaving Africa for the unknown, crossing the Pacific on rafts, building shelters against the elements,… In short it is not hubris, it is using what is our Nature, Reason, to solve a problem causing so much human sufferings.
Of course, as Massimo Pigliucci writes himself elsewhere in this book, you have to put the words of a person in the context of the society he grew up with. So I will not hold too much of a grudge for him for reflecting the still mainstream view of the “naturalness” of aging.
I know this last paragraph make me sound arrogant but it is not my intention nor how I feel. We all have our biasis, and reason and discussions is how we can try to overcome them. I may be wrong and blinded by my own hubris, who knows.
Apart from this huge rant on a very specific chapter of this book, this is a very useful and enjoyable book, which I will carry dearly with me to help me become a better person.
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