The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero wrote that philosophy is ars vitae, the art of living. Today, signs of stress and duress point to a full-fledged crisis for individuals and communities while current modes of making sense of our lives prove inadequate. Yet, in this time of alienation and spiritual longing, we can glimpse signs of a renewed interest in ancient approaches to the art of living.
In this ambitious and timely book, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn engages both general readers and scholars on the topic of well-being. She examines the reappearance of ancient philosophical thought in contemporary American culture, probing whether new stirrings of Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism present a true alternative to our current therapeutic culture of self-help and consumerism, which elevates the self’s needs and desires yet fails to deliver on its promises of happiness and healing. Do the ancient philosophies represent a counter-tradition to today’s culture, auguring a new cultural vibrancy, or do they merely solidify a modern way of life that has little use for inwardness—the cultivation of an inner life—stemming from those older traditions? Tracing the contours of this cultural resurgence and exploring a range of sources, from scholarship to self-help manuals, films, and other artifacts of popular culture, this book sees the different schools as organically interrelated and asks whether, taken together, they can point us in important new directions.
Ars Vitae sounds a clarion call to take back philosophy as part of our everyday lives. It proposes a way to do so, sifting through the ruins of long-forgotten and recent history alike for any shards helpful in piecing together the coherence of a moral framework that allows us ways to move forward toward the life we want and need.