THE THERAPY OF DESIRE by Martha C. Nussbaum


Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics
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 A scholarly and beautifully written account of late Greek and Roman thought in which Nussbaum (Philosophy, Classics, and Comparative Literature/Brown Univ.) analyzes the use of philosophical argument as a technique for enabling people to grapple with fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression. Her theme is the ancients' concept of philosophy as a practical art of living (analogous to medicine) that welds ethics, religion, and emotional introspection in the pursuit of truth and the removal of unsound beliefs from the soul. Omitting Plato, who has been the subject of excellent recent work by other scholars (especially Gregory Vlastos), Nussbaum begins with background chapters on Aristotle and then works her way through the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and the Stoics. Much of the book is devoted to the writings of Lucretius and Seneca, whom she treats as thinkers in their own right rather than simply users of other people's thought as a vehicle for personal poetic or dramatic expression. She questions Lucretius' view of erotic love as essentially aiming at fusion rather than intimate responsiveness. Here and elsewhere Nussbaum makes subtle but vital distinctions. As in The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (not reviewed), she writes with a mixture of passion and delicacy on the one hand, professional scholarship on the other--a blend that in itself expresses her concept of philosophy as practical, compassionate, and inclusive. She sees in the Hellenistic philosophers a basic tension between transcendence and involvement in life, and an understanding of politics and emotion that has much to teach us today. There is a useful glossary of philosophers and their schools for the nonexpert. Stimulating, solid fare, likely to appeal to classicists, philosophers, and all who are concerned with perennial human issues.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-691-03342-0
Page count: 530pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994


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