Video lecture: Should I Kill Myself or Have a Cup of Coffee?

Join my friend Skye Cleary and myself for a discussion of Stoicism and existentialism.

Stoicism, the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy that is all the rage in the 21st century, has a lot to say about two apparently very far apart topics: suicide and the meaning of life. And yet, the Stoics argued, life’s meaning depends crucially on the fact that we will die, and the possibility of deciding on our own terms when that will happen is what ultimately gives us freedom.

Explore these and related ideas with a philosopher who actually practices Stoicism as a philosophy of life. Let’s talk about what does it mean to live a life worth living, and explore different ways of doing so. In the process, learn about the merchant who lost everything and founded a new philosophy, the slave who became one of the most renowned teachers of antiquity, and the brooding philosopher-king who may have loved sex, food and drink a bit too much…

On existentialism: When every day many of us wake up to read about fresh horrors on our fresh horrors device, we might find ourselves contemplating the question as to whether, as Albert Camus supposedly put it, one should kill oneself or have a cup of coffee. Existential philosophy is deeply concerned with the question of suicide and the way in which the possibility infuses life with meaning.

As Camus proposed in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Friedrich Nietzsche found the idea of suicide to be a way of affirming life that helped him get through many dark nights. And Simone de Beauvoir suggests that although suicide might seem like an easy escape from pain, it’s not just about us; it’s those who love us who will have to live our death. Join us for an Olio about existential attitudes towards suicide, finding meaning in life, and coffee.

Suggested readings, #69

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Why [some] intellectuals support dictators. (New York Times)

The Epictetus Club: part one. Stoicism in prison. (Modern Stoicism)

The flatterer and the chatterer: on Theophrastus’ enduring classification of human characters. (Paris Review)

What is the future of the UN in the age of impunity? As the laws of war become optional and crimes in Syria and Libya go unpunished, there are fears the body has no teeth. [Darn good question.] (The Guardian)

Too much Mars? Let’s discuss other worlds. Two veteran space journalists discuss why so much attention and budget seems to be directed to the red planet. [There are a number of solid scientific reasons to get over our obsession with Mars and look elsewhere.] (New York Times)

Suggested readings, #68

Drug Jar for Mithridate; Attributed to Annibale Fontana (Italian, about 1540 – 1587); about 1580; Terracotta with white paint and gilt exterior and glazed interior; 59.9 cm (23 5/8 in.); 90.SC.42.1; No Copyright – United States (http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/)

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Do we need a theory of everything? [Hint: nope.] (Nautilus)

How a famous Harvard professor became a target over his Tweets. The outcry over free speech and race takes aim at Steven Pinker, the best-selling author and well-known scholar. [The article goes a bit too easy on Pinker, but makes some good points.] (New York Times)

Love shouldn’t be blind or mad. Instead, fall rationally in love. (Psyche)

Mithridates the great pharmacologist. The scholarly pursuits of a Hellenistic king. (Lapham’s Quarterly)

White supremacy was her world. And then she left. To stop hate, we have to understand it. [Just don’t expect any silver bullet, or a comforting story.] (New York Times)

Suggested readings, #67

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

How to keep good habits post-lockdown. You’ll technically have to ‘relearn’ to cook each meal, or to exercise regularly or to read a book a week. But there are some shortcuts. (New York Times)

Horror and comedy: screaming and laughing. Both horror and comedy provoke strong emotions, but these two seemingly disparate genres are more closely linked than you would think. (New Statesman)

Science, mind, and limits of understanding, by Noam Chomsky. [Thought provoking, well informed by history and philosophy of science.]

Why Covid-19 is turning us all into philosophers. If you haven’t yet spent a few moments this year staring out the window, chin in hand and ruminating on the meaning of life – or its absence – then the chances are it’s only a matter of time. (RNZ)

How far back in time could a Modern English speaker go and still communicate? The transition from Old English to Modern English was a process, not an event. (Medium)

Suggested readings, #66

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

What you can learn from the longest study conducted on aging. (Medium)

Montaigne fled the plague, and found himself. As disease and war ravaged the nation, he left town and invented the essay. [Of course, he could afford to flee…] (New York Times)

Why fairness matters more than equality – three ways to think philosophically about justice. (The Conversation)

The Golden Rule in Stoicism. How Stoic philosophy teaches us to treat others. (Medium)

Philosophy in prison: an introduction. (The View magazine)

Suggested readings, #65

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

This is no time to read alone. In lockdown and through our screens, we’re reminded of all that’s special and strange about group reading: a solitary, private act made public. (New York Times)

Marvel’s philosophical mythology. [Interesting even if you are not into comics.] (Philosophical Salon)

This time-management trick changed my whole relationship with time. [On the so-called pomodoro approach. I have developed a similar technique, though less rigid.] (New York Times)

Divinely ordained individualism: Cicero’s Natural Law. [Works also if you believe in Nature, not in God.] (Medium)

How scientism spawns pseudoscience and science denialism. [A bit overblown, but some good points.] (Philosophical Salon)

Book Club summary: Xenophon’s Memorabilia

Over at my Patreon and Medium sites I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as extended summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to the most recently completed series.

Xenophon’s Memorabilia. An essential text for understanding Socrates, Xenophon’s Memorabilia is the compelling tribute of an affectionate student to his teacher, providing a rare firsthand account of Socrates’ life and philosophy. The Memorabilia is invaluable both as a work of philosophy in its own right and as a complement to the study of Plato’s dialogues. The longest of Xenophon’s four Socratic works, it is particularly revealing about the differences between Socrates and his philosophical predecessors.

Here are my commentaries:

I. In defense of Socrates (Patreon / Medium)

II. Socrates teaches a lesson to his son (Patreon / Medium)

III. Socrates gives advice about politics (Patreon / Medium)

IV. Socrates teaches a lesson in statesmanship (Patreon / Medium)

Suggested readings, #64

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Ancient Greeks devised a way to fight disinformation. Sophists used rhetoric and debate to arrive at practical truths. [A fairly badly argued article in defense of sophistry, co-signed by a lawyer. Good example to keep in mind… Oh, and using a cover image of Socrates, the ultimate anti-Sophist! “Big Think” keep disappointing.] (Big Think)

How to live as the Ancients did. From drinking to ruling to growing old, a series of books offers classic advice. [On an ongoing series at Princeton Press, distilling the best writings of the Greco-Romans.] (Princeton Alumni Weekly)

Public philosophy and the civic duty of universities. (Daily Nous)

This ancient Japanese principle will help you overcome fear of failure. How to become an “imperfectionist”. (Medium)

Suggested readings, #63

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

In praise of aphorisms. What if we see the history of philosophy not as a grand system of sustained critique but as a series of brilliant fragments? [This article, I think, gets it seriously wrong. Still, a stimulating reading.] (Aeon)

The Ancient Greek’s guide to rejecting propaganda and disinformation. How Plato and the Sophists Can Help Us Find Shared Truth and Solve Our Political Problems. (Zocalo)

Gods and robots. Time-traveling back to antiquity might help us think about the human transformations of the future. (Noema)

What is emergence, and why should we care about it? [I’m going through one of my phases of skepticism about strong emergence. Still, interesting article.] (Axis Praxis)

Suggested readings, #62

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The robot artists aren’t coming. Artificial intelligence is making machines more creative — but machines don’t make art. (New York Times)

Where did the grandeur go? Superlative things were done in the past century by marshalling thousands of people in the service of a vision of the future. (Aeon)

How the coronavirus is changing digital etiquette. We’re watching the norms of using technology evolve in real time. Here’s how to keep up. (New York Times)

Why do we cling to art in apocalyptic times? (Art News)

What will greetings look like in a post-coronavirus world? It might be a while before we can offer a hug or handshake. But that’s OK. [I vote for “live long and prosper.”] (New York Times)