Category Archives: Philosophy

Johnson’s Existential Quest

“Happiness… must be something solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty.”—Samuel Johnson, Rasselas I am returning to the roots of my journal with a discussion of Samuel Johnson’s novel Rasselas (1759), an exotic imaginary travelogue in which the characters … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

The General Condition of Man

“It is not sufficiently considered how much [a person] assumes who dares to claim the privilege of complaining…. why does he imagine that exemptions should be granted him from the general condition of man?”—Samuel Johnson, Rambler, No. 50 At the … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Stoicism

Points of View

Many popularizers of the intellectual life speak of the importance of reflective thought, and not just on the part of scholars and experts. According to Jacob Needleman, philosophy “is an imperative need in our lives and in the life of … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy

The Uncertainty of Good and Evil

“All fear is in itself painful, and when it conduces not to safety is painful without use.”—Samuel Johnson My latest meditation is based on Johnson’s Rambler essay “The folly of anticipating misfortunes” (No. 29). Few things in life are so … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Samuel Johnson

Curing the Irascible Soul

The Greek writer Plutarch is best known for his biographical studies, but he was also an important moralist. I am reading his commentary “On the Control of Anger,” found in volume VI of the Loeb edition. In it he explains … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Plutarch

Epictetus for Lent

Reading the pagan Stoics during this traditional Christian penitential season might seem unusual except that Stoic writings, especially those of the Greek Epictetus, have long been admired by even the most austere orders of monks. Later Christian philosophers, like Justus … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Stoicism

Seneca’s World-Weary Wisdom

“There is only one liberal study that deserves the name—because it makes a person free—and that is the pursuit of wisdom.”—Seneca, Letter LXXXVIII The epistles of the Roman Stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca are full of jaded charm and acidulous wit. … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Stoicism

Orwell on Socialism and Happiness

“All efforts to describe permanent happiness… have been failures.” That is the opinion of  George Orwell in his perceptive essay “Can Socialists Be Happy?” (Tribune, 1943). He adds that Utopias “seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable … Continue reading

Posted in George Orwell, Philosophy, Politics

Deep Feelings Seek for Solitude

Having finished the first part of Thomas de Quincey’s memoirs, I came across this passage in his autobiographical sequel, Suspira de Profundis, in which the author discusses his bereavement following the death of a beloved sister. Interesting it is to … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy

Memento Mori

“A frequent and attentive prospect of that moment, which must put a period to all our schemes, and deprive us of all our acquisitions, is indeed of the utmost efficacy to the just and rational regulation of our lives; nor … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson