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C.S. Morrissey – Global Theatre

Spend time well; read a good book

Voices Dec. 13, 2018

The Young Cicero Reading, a 1464 fresco by Vincenzo Foppa.  “ A wall of books in front of you can remind you of how precious your time is,” says Chris Morrissey.  (Wikipedia image)

We spend more money if we pay with credit cards instead of cash. The physical presence of hard currency reminds us of our limits.

But the days of your life are like a stack of dollar bills. How are you going to spend them?

Just as we can easily lose control of Christmas spending, so too we can forget about how valuable our limited time is.

“I say, let no one rob me of a single day who isn’t going to make a full return on the loss,” writes the Roman philosopher Seneca in On Tranquility of Mind.

One way to make good use of your time, and to keep others from tempting you to waste it, is to insist on some time alone every day to read a book.

Because of all the other demands on us, this practice takes effort. But it becomes a daily reminder of how limited your time really is.

Just as if you stacked all of your money in towers of cash or coins on a table, a wall of books in front of you can remind you of how precious your time is.

The daily decision about what to read becomes good training

Book lovers know: they have so many good books to read, but so little time. Yet the daily decision about what to read becomes good training in how to approach managing the rest of our lives.

Spending some of our precious time with a good book will also lead to time well spent elsewhere. Great books will eventually lead to great conversations.

I am thankful for all the books I read in 2018. Let me mention a few that were published this year. They can help you start good conversations about a life worth living.

By looking closely at others, biographies help us to examine our own lives. I enjoyed Gregory Allan Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, which tells an amazing story about the desire of a Christian artist to innovate in the midst of those hostile to innovation.

Conflict in anyone’s life leads us to reflect. Cynthia L. Haven’s biography Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard introduces readers to the remarkable work of a great contemporary Catholic thinker. I wrote a specialized PhD dissertation on Girard, but this book is an accessible way for anyone to learn about his ideas and insights into where conflicts come from.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates exhorted human beings to carefully examine their desires. Josef Pieper’s Don’t Worry about Socrates: Three Plays for Television adapts some of Plato’s literary masterpieces about Socrates for the television generation. It is good to see it appearing this year, translated from German into English, a perfect resource for the YouTube generation.

The Socratic method uses logic to reason about difficult matters

Peter Kreeft’s The Platonic Tradition argues in an engaging way for the importance of the philosophical tradition started by Socrates and his pupil Plato. The Socratic method uses logic to reason about difficult matters.

Plato’s pupil Aristotle formalized logic in a way that is still relevant today for philosophy, as I argue in my book The Way of Logic, published this year by a university press in China. Ancient wisdom needs to be adapted to serve present needs, especially when we are tempted to think it is outdated.

I show how an updated Aristotelian logic offers the best technique for transforming bad arguments into good arguments, but Bad Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Fallacies in Western Philosophy, a new logic book edited by Robert Arp, Steven Barbone, and Michael Bruce, is a very detailed study of how an argument can go wrong.

Although it too developed a theory of logic, later Stoic philosophy interpreted Socrates in a more popular way by emphasizing practice. Donald Robinson explains the contemporary relevance of Stoic philosophy in this year’s second edition of Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Life.

The Romans remain our models in how to adapt Greek philosophy

The Romans remain our models in how to adapt Greek philosophy. John Sellars explores the later history of Greek wisdom in Hellenistic Philosophy, a fine book from Oxford University Press.

But Princeton University Press added to their collection of handy little volumes of the Roman genius Marcus Tullius Cicero this year with Philip Freeman’s translations of Cicero in How to Be a Friend: An Ancient Guide to True Friendship.

In this same series, Epictetus translated by Anthony Long, How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life appeared, as well as Seneca translated by James S. Romm, How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life.

Each one of them can assist us in spending well the time of our lives.