Professor Christopher Gill: What can we learn from the ancient Stoics about what it means to be human?
This is the second lecture in the Being Human - Classical Perspectives Lecture Series. Please note the change of venue for this lecture.
The Stoics are sometimes criticised for a type of anthropocentrism we now find problematic, if not offensive; and there are certainly some comments about human-animal relations that support that impression. However, there are other features of Stoic thought that point in a quite different direction.
These include the Stoic tendency to present the universe as a whole as, in some sense, a norm for human ethical life. Also, the Stoic version of the scala naturae (the spectrum of natural kinds) abstracts radically from the normal human perspective. And Stoic thinking about social development presents humans and animals as alike in their other-benefiting instincts, even if human rationality adds a further dimension to this instinct. This lecture asks if we can find a coherent Stoic view in these apparently disparate strands of thought and whether the Stoic position, taken as a whole, is one which we moderns have reason to embrace.
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