My interest in philosophy has always been essentially concerned with how it could change the way I lived my life for the better. In the first place, over twenty years ago, I studied and published academic papers on the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche because their philosophies were seriously concerned with how we could bring meaning to our lives. My PhD thesis attempted to describe how each philosopher resolved the problem of meaning.
Since leaving academic philosophy and becoming a full-time teacher, I have become interested in Stocism because it offers a philosophical approach to all aspects of everyday life that potentially allows us to maintain our wellbeing and happiness in any and all circumstances.
The course I offer here attempts to distil my personal 25 year philosophical journey into an introduction to two of the main strands of a new and developing philosophical field that re-invents the ancient view that philosophy facilitates wellbeing (flourishing), in other words the idea of philosophy as a 'way of life'. (See the excerpt from Philosophy as a Way of Life by Mathew Sharp and Michael Ure below.)
By the end, I hope you will have been inspired and challenged by some ideas that you can use in your everyday life, particularly regarding the unavoidable problems of human existence: finding a meaningful life, tragedy, death, suffering, moral conflict, relationships, failure and success.
An ideal outcome is that you will have resolved some problem in your life and developed further your own philosophy for life.
This week introduces the main philosophical positions on freedom (hard determinism, radical free will and compatibilism). Stocism and existentialism are introduced via their respective positions on the question of freedom.
Having a consistent position on freedom is important for how we think about our actions and how other people should be treated, relating particular to anxiety, guilt, blame and responsibility.
An understanding of the philosophical positions on freedom will also make a deeper understanding of Stocism and existentialism possible.
The key ideas of Stoicism are introduced showing how Stoic philosophy can be used as a philosophy for life. These key ideas include the dichotomy of control, virtue is the only good and preferred indifferents.
We will learn how Stoics promote wellbeing by reducing negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, resentment and jealousy, and also increasing opportunities for love, joy and happiness.
This week uses Donald Roberston's Book, The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Stoic Philosophy as Rational amd Cognitive Psychotherapy, to describe how Stoicism and CBT can work hand in hand.
CBT is a modern scientifically grounded psychotherapy that has remarkable similarities with the ancient philosophy of Stocism. In so far as their techniques overlap, CBT supplies Stocism with scientific evidence and Stocism supplies a deeper complete philosophy for life to CBT practices.
This week will focus on key Stoic 'spirtual exercises' that Robertson argues overlap with CBT techniques. These include premeditation of adversity, Stoic mindfulness of the "here and now", the view from above, Stoic fatalism, determinism and acceptance.
The key work of one of the three main Stoics, Epictetus, is explored. Its title is Enchiridion, which is translated as Handbook. The book is a manual to show the way to achieve mental freedom and happiness in all circumstances.
This week explores the second of the three main Stoics and two of his influential letters.
Along with Freud and Adler, Frankl's work is part of the three Viennese schools of psychotherapy. He founded logotherapy which focuses on the search for a meaningful life as the fundamental drive in humans. He outlines a practical approach to what he describes as the "existential vacuum" that characterizes our age. His wonderfully accessible work provides an excellent introduction to existentialism more generally.
Kierkegaard is widely recognised as the grandfather of existentialism. He presents three distinctive 'spheres of existence' and tries to communicate in a way that can facilitate our development through them. He characterizes the adoption of a new sphere with anxiety and despair that can only be alleviated by the free choice to adopt a meaningful life. Kierkegaard's works are therefore, existential therapy as they stand.
Nietzsche's idea of the eternal recurrence plays a central role in his key positive work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. That work outlines how the meaninglessness of the world can be overcome in a way that does not appeal to an after-life and is, according to Nietzsche, truely life affirming.
Sartre describes how living in good faith allows us to choose projects that make our lives meaningful. For Sartre, this is to live authentically.
Participants have an opportunity to talk about any aspect of the course they found interesting and how they might apply it to their life.
Online by Google Meet hosted by Dr Pete Rogers. £5 per session per person or £40 per person for the whole course if purchased before first session.
Approximate timing: 90 min sessions, presentation of topic for 45 mins and discussion for 45 mins. 1 session per week. Wednesdays 19:30-21:00 GMT.
Start date: Wed 1st Sept 2021, end: Wed 3rd Nov 2021.
By Mathew Sharpe and Michael Ure
Bloomsbury are publishing a series of books under the series heading: Re-inventing Philosophy as a Way of Life.
Series editors: Keith Ansell-Pearson, Mathew Sharpe and Michael Ure.
They write the following as an introdution to the series:
"For the most part, academic philosophy is considered a purely theoretical discipline that aims at systematic knowledge; contemporary philosophers do not, as a rule, think that they or their audience will lead better lives by doing philosophy. Recently, however, we have seen a powerful resurgence of interest in the contervailing ancient view that philosophy facilitates human flourishing. Philosophy, Seneca famously stated, teaches us doing, not saying. It aims to transform how we live. This ancient ideal has continually been reinvented from the Renaissance through to late modernity and is now contral to contemporary debates about philosophy's role and future.
This series is the first synoptic study of the re-inventions of the idea of philosophy as an ethical pursuit or 'way of life'. Collectively and individually, the books in this series will answer the following questions:
1. How have philosophers re-animated the ancient model of philosophy? How have they revised ancient assumptions, concepts and practices in the light of wider cultural shifts in the modern world? What new ideas of the good life and new arts, exercises, disciplines and consolations have they formulated?
2. Do these re-inventions successfully re-establish the idea that philsophy can transform our lives? What are the standard criticisms of this philosophical ambition and how have they been addressed?
3. What are the implication for these new versions of philosophy as a way of life for contemporary issues that concern the nature of philosophy, its procedures, limits, ends, and its relatioinship to wider society?"