William Braxton Irvine and a Guide to the Good Life

For William Braxton Irvine, today's world can benefit from leaning toward classical philosophy. This is because there's no philosophy of life these days. This leads to the unnecessary pain of a meaningless existence.
William Braxton Irvine and a Guide to the Good Life

Last update: 30 October, 2021

William Braxton Irvine is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University in Ohio. He became popular around the world after the publication of two books: A Guide to the Good Life and On Desire: Why We Want What We Want. His work, as a whole, focuses on the values that seem to govern today’s Western world.

This philosopher aligns with the Stoic school, a current whose main representatives in antiquity were Zeno, Seneca, and Epictetus. Their main characteristic is the promotion of the principle of exercising control over situations and passions that disturb life.

In terms of ethics, the Stoics advocated individual responsibility, prudence, and moderation. They point out that man’s raison d’être is happiness and that one can only attain it through virtue. This, in turn, has to do with reasonable conduct. William B. Irvine thinks that Stoicism is still valid and that the world should turn its eyes towards it.

“Pay attention to your enemies, for they’re the first to discover your mistakes.”

-William B. Irvine-

A woman breathing deeply.

William Braxton Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life and Stoicism

The author has pointed out that Stoicism is a life practice. Many think of the Stoics as a sort of “self-righteous” people who avoid, or rather repress, negative emotions in order to maintain their balance in life. Irvine says this is a distorted view.

This is because Stoicism is actually about dealing with negative emotions. The purpose isn’t to deny or inhibit them, but to deal with them in the style Seneca proposes in the Consolations. The Roman philosopher indicates in it that the only good is a moral good and the only evil is a moral evil. That everything else is neutral.

Thus, laments and pain come from the fact that misfortunes are neither expected nor accepted. Some live in the fantasy that misfortune will never befall them. Therefore, it causes surprise and resistance when it comes. The Stoics, and William Braxton Irvine in particular, think that “the negative” is actually an interpretation of the real. In other words, every person gives it that connotation.

Philosophy and life

William Braxton Irvine emphasizes that philosophy has a very different role in today’s world than it did back in the day. People used to have spaces for rethinking reality, whereas now it’s all about academic knowledge.

However, everyone needs and adopts a philosophy of life, in fact. The problem is there’s nowhere to look for it nowadays. Thus, people are forced to look elsewhere for such precepts or guidelines for living.

It’s quite usual for religions to dictate their catalog of conducts to give meaning to people’s life. However, everything ends up concentrating on a set of prohibitions and mandates. This isn’t a philosophy of life, says William B. Irvine, only a compilation of precepts.

People can have a religion, and even go to university and study philosophy, but they still won’t have a philosophy of life. Faced with this, William Braxton Irvine proposes to think about life. Even better if it’s with the help and the guidelines of philosophers with the goal of individually constructing a philosophy of life. One’s own and not interchangeable, although flexible.

A person watching the sunset.

Stoic joy

A Guide to the Good Life consists of focusing on enjoying everything, without attachment to anything. Excess arises when there’s attachment and it’s a source of pain. You can’t be attached to the precepts of a doctrine in order to reasonably live with virtue. In turn, to be reasonable is to seek happiness and to show certain flexibility in the face of circumstances.

William Braxton Irvine and the Stoics argue that the root of pain isn’t in reality, but in the opinion built around it. Thus, for example, if something “bad” happens, it isn’t bad in itself and if another opinion is adopted, perhaps a nuance to the “bad”, one comes to discover that perhaps it wasn’t that negative, or that it was a learning experience or that it just doesn’t matter.

Thus, the only things you can control are your judgments, opinions, and values. You decide how you reason and your perspective on reality. Everything else is beyond your control, so, in the Stoic view, it doesn’t matter either. William Braxton Irvine is one of those authors worth consulting to nourish your life.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.