2021-01Thematic Section
A Good Person for a Crisis? On the Wisdom of the Stoic Sage (in Himself & for Us)


Is the Stoic sage a possible or desirable ideal for contemporary men and women, as we enter into difficult times?  Is he, as Seneca presents him, the very best person for a crisis?  In order to examine these questions, Part 1 begins from what Irene Liu calls the “standard” modern conceptions of the sage as either a kind of epistemically perfect, omniscient agent, or else someone in possession of a specific arsenal of theoretical knowledge, especially concerning the physical world.  We contest this contentious conception of the sage for being inconsistent with the Stoic conceptions of wisdom, the technai and knowledge which can be gleaned from the doxographic sources.  In Part 2, we suggest that the wisdom of the Stoic sage reflects the Stoics’ “dispositional” conception of knowledge, their substantive conception of reason (Logos), and their sense of philosophy as above all an “exercise” or askêsis of a craft or technê for living.  It is embodied in an ongoing exercise of examining one’s impressions for consistency with what one already knows, looking back to the natural prolêpseis with which all people are equipped.  In Part 3, we show how only this account of the wisdom of the sage, at the epistemic level, enables us to understand how, in the non-doxographic texts led by Seneca’s De Constantia Sapientiae, the sage is celebrated above all for his ethical characteristics, and his ability to bear up in a crisis.  Concluding reflections return to our framing concern, as to whether philosophy as a way of life, and the ancient ideal of the sage, can speak to us today not only as scholars, but as individuals called upon to live in difficult times.  We suggest that they can and should remain sources of orientation, contestation, and inspiration.


sage, wisdom, exercise, Seneca, Cato, technê for living

How to cite:

Sharpe, Matthew. “A Good Person for a Crisis? On the Wisdom of the Stoic Sage (in Himself & for Us).” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 5, no. 1 (2021): 32-49. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2021.0003.


Matthew Sharpe
Deakin University,
221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia


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