Sunday, June 26, 2011

"The Beautiful Necessity": Emerson and the Stoic Tradition

Just got the new issue of American Journal of Theology & Philosophy , and there is a fantastic article titled "The Beautiful Necessity": Emerson and the Stoic Tradition" by James Woelfel.  It got me thinking about two things that my father always used to tell us, at the dinner table no less (and of course we were always bemused to hear these points of fact): He would say, first: we're born to be screwed (and so to this situation you should just shrug your shoulders and say, "Oh, ok.") and second: Always hope for the best, but expect the worst.  In Emerson's more positive language: we don't make the universe, it - at least in a large part - makes us.  Nature usually gets the last vote, and usually has ways of reminding you of that fact, whether horrid or beautiful.
I think that my father's way of just talking about life, the universe, God, all things space and time, science, cosmology - this is what got me interested in philosophy, especially as my sister and I would sit and listen to him while we sat at the dinner table (we were quite young during all of this.  It must have had an effect: My sister has more of an eccentric personality than I do, but she is also quite the deep thinker).  In any case, my father's wry outlook is something that I smile at until this day.  I think he has more in common with the Stoics than he realizes.

 Is my father a pessimist?  A Stoic of sorts?  Or in some strange way is he trying to save us all from a let-down?  Case in point - see the below video.  And I also ask: which is the more *honest* Stoicism: a wildly optimistic Emerson?  Or the humorously pessimistic Schopenhauer?