This course will examine the long history of the ancient idea that philosophy is not primarily a business of learned speaking and writing, but an existential way of life, aiming at the ethical transformation of its pursuers through disciplines of rational ascesis. Beginning from the illustrative case of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy, we will devote particular attention to the great, too often neglected, Hellenistic and imperial schools of philosophy, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and neoPlatonism, tracing their long shadows forward into the renaissance and scientific revolution, Michel de Montaigne, Spinoza, and Nietzsche. The figure of Socrates will be central, from the opening class. Central to each class will also be a core of philosophical arguments concerning the nature of the good for human beings, and we will encounter again and a small number of recurrent existential exercises: the view from above, the view sub specie eternitatis, writing as memory aid, the distinction between what is and is not in our control, necessary and unnecessary for us, memento mori, and attention to the present. The classes will then have two dimensions. For students interested in the history of ideas, we will trace the evolution of the idea of philosophy as a manner of living, including its disappearance from university philosophy. For people interested in existential questions, we will focus on different particular issues as we pass through the different philosophers: for instance, Lucretius on love, Seneca on anger, Aurelius on transience and the present.
1. Wed Aug 1: Introduction: Boethius, Socrates and Philosophy as a Way of Life
2. Wed Aug 8: Epictetus, or why it doesn’t matter if you can recite Chrisippus, or give dazzling long speeches
3. Wed Aug 15: Marcus Aurelius’ Notes to Himself: “This alone suffices …”
4. Wed Aug 29: Seneca on life, mourning, and anger
5. Wed Sep 12: Epicurus & Lucretius on the nature of things, love, and tranquility
6. Wed Sep 26: From Narcissus to Odysseus: mysticism and the neoPlatonic ascent
7. Wed October 10: The good life in the Renaissance, and in the scientific revolution
8. Wed October 24: Montaigne and Spinoza: two modern ancients
9. Wed Nov 7: Nietzsche and the Ancients: On gaining a Hyperborean view
10. Wed Nov 21: Camus’ neoclassicism: fidelity, carnets, and mesure
The course will draw heavily on the ideas of recent philosophers like Pierre and Ilsetraut Hadot, A.-J. Voelke, John Sellars, John M. Cooper and Michel Foucault.