Next Talk 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' given by Simeon Underwood 11 October 2016


In his classic History of Western Philosophy (1946) Bertrand Russell wrote:  “Roman armies, Roman roads, Roman law, and roman officials first created and then preserved a powerful centralised state.  Nothing was attributable to Roman philosophy, since there was none.”  This reflects a general view within traditional histories of Western philosophy.  But it is also a simplification, to the point of being misleading:  even if the Roman period contributed few works or names to the canon of great works of Western philosophy or to the lineage of great (male) Western philosophers, it saw a great deal of interesting philosophical activity.  Much of this activity was important in its own day and has influenced later Western philosophy even down to the present day.  

In my talk I will be giving an introductory outline of the main features of Stoicism and Epicureanism, two philosophical systems which flourished in the first and second centuries CE.  Also, reflecting the focus of this year’s Barnes Philosophy Club season, I will be drawing out some more general issues about the history of philosophy.  Russell's mis-representation of the period raises some interesting questions about how we think about philosophy itself.