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Philosophy and the Good Life: The Hellenistics and the Moderns

Most of us wish to lead happy and fulfilled lives. But just how do we define happiness? How do we achieve it? And does it require practice and wisdom?

The inspiration for the course comes from the idea that philosophy should not only be an abstract, theoretical discourse but a practical guide to life. This was actually the practice of the ancient schools of philosophy, such as the Epicureans and the Stoics, which we focus a lot of our attention on. These schools followed in the footsteps of Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy, and they sought to practice philosophy as a way of life and as way of enabling them to live a fulfilled life or what they called ‘the good life’. A great deal of academic philosophy is formal and abstract, remote from the everyday concerns of most human beings. This course presents a different conception of philosophy by putting it into contact with the pressing concerns of our everyday lives such as the human search for happiness.

What kind of questions does the course focus on? They include the following: what are the constituents of the good life? What is the role of pleasure in the good life? Do we need to be wise to lead a good life? Is happiness the goal of life? Is the art of dying a necessary part of the art of living? How can I learn to die well? What is the role of daily ‘spiritual exercises’ in living wisely? In negotiating these questions you will have the chance to read selections from some of the most challenging, exciting, and unusual texts in the history of philosophy, such as Seneca’s Letters, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne’s Essays, and Nietzsche’s The Joyful Science. You may be familiar with some of these texts already as they have a reach well beyond the confines of the academy. The philosophy you will engage with in this course will stay with you for the rest of your life. The course may not make you a better human being but it aims to make you a more profound one.

Module Director

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Timing and CATS

This module is worth 15 CATS and will run in the Autumn term of the 2016/17 academic year.