2019-2020 Catalog

CSLC 247 Why Do We Suffer? Ancient Therapies of the Soul

After the era of Plato and Aristotle (4th century BCE), Greek and Roman philosophers centered the therapy of psychological suffering in their philosophical programs. Epicurus, for example, wrote, “There is no use in philosophy, unless it casts out the suffering of the soul.” In this course, we examine the therapeutic programs offered by various ancient philosophical schools: the Peripatetics (followers of Aristotle), Stoics (followers of Zeno of Citium), Epicureans (followers of Epicurus), Skeptics (two schools, one descending from Plato’s Academy and the other from Pyrrho), and finally the Christian philosophy of Augustine of Hippo, which was informed by but also broke decisively with the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition that had preceded it. In order to understand the therapeutic programs of these schools, we shall first have to understand each school’s account of human nature (“anthropology,” in its original sense), of the mind or soul (“psychology,” in its original sense), and of the purpose or “end” of human existence (“ethics”). Each school’s answer to the question of why we suffer and how we might find psychological peace only makes sense in light of that school’s beliefs about what it is to be human, what is the nature of the mind/soul, and what is the purpose of life. Our source materials in this investigation will include classic texts in ancient ethical thought: Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, a literary masterpiece cast as a dialogue among prominent Romans who had sought refuge in the countryside as the end of the Roman republic unfolded; Seneca’s On tranquility of mind, which takes the form of a letter to his friend Serenus, who had sought him out to find relief from his distress; and the third book of Augustine’s Confessions, which details the author’s suffering under the afflictions of lust and the apparent paradox of his perverse delight in his own misery.


4 units

Core Requirements Met

  • Pre-1800
  • Regional Focus