In this course you will gain insights from the greatest philosophers in human history on the good life, or human happiness. With a hands-on approach, you will learn
You know there are no "happy pills", "magic formulae" or any long-lasting "quick fixes"! This is your life we are talking about! You'll want to invest in this project, in YOU, to (re)build a successful and happy life. By the end of this course you will rid yourself of bad habits, recognize common flaws in your reasoning, find the source of your anxieties and become a balanced, passionate, vibrant and happy person.
What are you going to get out of this course? You will acquire fresh perspective and a deeper appreciation for life. You'll understand that Socrates' famous saying "the unexamined life is not worth living" is about the danger of floating with stream of life, and the importance to stem the tide and run your own course.
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RELATED WORK EXPERIENCE
The American College of Greece 1985-present, Athens, Greece - Adjunct Professor of Philosophy
McGill University, Faculty of Religious Studies – May 2013 | May 2014, Montreal, Canada
Tiffin University 2010- 2011, Tiffin, Ohio, USA, Adjunct Faculty Member
Jim Kanaris, Personalising Philosophy of Religion: An Enecstatic Treatment (forthcoming)
“Greeks have an untranslatable expression that communicates an activity performed with soul, creativity, or love. According to linguist Christopher J. Moore, meraki (μεράκι) means putting “'something of yourself' into what you're doing, whatever it may be.” It is “often used to describe cooking or preparing a meal, but it can also mean arranging a room, choosing decorations, or setting an elegant table.” While the quality of the form is not ignored, the proper referent in meraki is the “spirit” of the act, how one identifies with whatever one is doing. In other words, when one does something with meraki the defining element is not whether one does it well, according to accepted standards, but whether one does it lovingly, wholeheartedly. Of course, the two go together. If something is done with meraki, it is the skill with which it is executed that typically draws attention. However, in devising this contrast I distinguish meraki from the skill that happens to manifest it. Meraki is defined by a state of being or quality of disposition, not the skill with which it is engineered. One can, for instance, be an accomplished artisan but lack meraki. Conversely, one can practice one's art with meraki but be a subpar artisan. An act of personal investment is essentially what is at stake in meraki and it is this element that I conjoin with the thinking implied in enecstasis.
It seems to me that meraki, in conjunction with enecstasis, captures the classical significance of philosophy according to which one pursues knowledge as an integral part of oneself, as a way of caring for the self and, by extension, others interested in thinking. Rather than simply communicating a craft, a specialty, or facilitating a disengaged acquisition of knowledge, enecstasis embodies a thinking that possesses soul, creativity, or love. Without meraki thinking is like body without soul: necessary perhaps but lifeless. It is not too surprising, then, to discover scholars identifying philosophy with meraki in ancient Greece qua an “art of living” or “way of life” (see Nehamas; also Hadot and Foucault). Nietzsche is [an] immediate reference … whose love of this artistic metaphor, let alone his love of the ancient Greeks, is not among his best-kept secrets. “I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance” (Thus Spake Zarathustra I.7).”
Taking my lead from Prof. Kanaris' engaging philosophical narrative, thoughtfulness is an intimately personalized practice of philosophical engagement – you are invited think about this active process in terms of meraki.
Choosing wisely is a thoughtful exercise both objective and subjective in orientation. It is not my intention to engage that highly philosophical debate regarding what knowledge is and how it can be attained. Wisdom, unlike knowledge, is a practical and existential activity problematized by what it might mean to lead a prosperous and fulfilling human life. Methods born out of the Enlightenment ushered in methods both abstract and hyper rational. The scientific method, which has been the paradigm of objectivity and true knowledge, has come to be challenged as a lifeless, irrelevant and fragmented exercise that as much ostracises the subject as it does paralyze her.
Lesson of the Day:
The Greek term meraki communicates the meaning of thoughtfulness as an art of philosophical thinking. Meraki then is an act of personal comportment characterized by care, devotion and commitment.
Moral virtues or excellences you may recall are acquired not by instruction but by practice. In Aristotle’s words:
Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity; but excellences (virtues) we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. (Nicomachean Ethics, II.2)
There are a great many things that we come to do by just doing them. Infants are not instructed in the biology and physics of mobility before they take their first steps, and toddlers are not instructed in the rules of grammar before uttering their first words. Children are also not instructed in matters pertaining to ethics before learning the rules indigenous to their culture - you know things like waiting your turn, respecting your elders, abiding by rules, pulling your own weight and so on. Most of us are probably well versed in this understanding mostly because most of us are also folk psychologists these days. J We in the “western” side of the globe have been trained in the psychological tradition that speaks to creating a stable environment for our children, with clear and consistent rules, caring and nurturing tactics of reinforcement, and a wider social context to buttress those. So we preoccupy ourselves with creating a home environment that reinforces a schedule, “good” role models in ourselves as parents and those making up the their extended community life, like baby sitters and schools. Again Aristotle makes a further point with which most people are probably familiar, ‘the same causes and means out of which every excellence is produced, can also destroyed these’. If you permit your child to behave with disrespect, oh, I don’t know, yelling and shouting when they don’t get their way, out of frustration, exhaustion, or when pressed for time, he or she will learn to adopt such practices. As children are amazingly adept, they may even pick up when and how they can get away with actions of disrespect. Of course, they don’t do this with the intention to disrespect you or anyone else, after all they don’t yet know what they are doing, but because this is their instinctual reaction which speaks to their, as of yet, unruly desirous or appetitive disposition. When these practices are inadvertently “reinforced” by the lack of intervention or corrective measures, they soon become habits, which work contrary to the cultivation of moral virtues and these Aristotle calls vices. I bet you had no idea how Aristotelian you are, right! J
Seeing as we all first arrive as infants and so at the mercy of a socio-political climate conducive or not to the cultivation of good habits, it’s no wonder Aristotle considered political science to be the master science. The ideological paradigm that will play maestro to the symphony of inter-human activities and reflective institutions will determine the song to which we shall all sing. This discussion takes us into his Politics, and may perhaps be something to follow in another series of lectures, but for now, it is enough that we are wary of assuming this to be a straightforward or obvious affair.
The cultivation of good habits requires experience, and this presupposes exposure of the right kind, as well as consistency and regularity. By exposure I mean that children (and later as adults) should not be sheltered from difficulties, or challenging situations. Exposure to what might be a fearful situation, for instance, must not, however, be too great or beyond one’s years that shunning away cowardly is the likely outcome. But again this will be relative to the child, the cultural value placed on the type of situation and the presence of already existing habits. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that humankind has evolved to naturally fear certain things, like snakes, spiders, reptiles, heights and water (to mention but a few), as these posed serious threat to our survival. But encouraging fear of spiders indiscriminately in any and all circumstances breeds cowardice in otherwise innocuous situations. We have after all evolved, and many of the residual innate fears have no place in modern(ized) society (e.g. Fear of the dark for instance is traced to the fear that closed spaces, like caves, make us easy prey to predators for the lack of an exit route.) So, for instance, screeching “help” or becoming immobile at the sight of a daddy longlegs (a harmless spider) should be discouraged. And then there are personal idiosyncrasies, like shyness and hyper-sensitivity. You may think you’re being caring and supportive when you succumb to your 7-year old son’s overt anxiety over going to his soccer game, but really it robs him of the opportunity to meet his fears and develop courage and self-confidence. Of course, this would have be to gauged appropriately so that it doesn’t end up being traumatizing, but I think it important to see how controlled exposure is essential to the development of moral virtues. What about when your daughter cries uncontrollably because Sarah calls her fat, or she isn’t chosen for the lead role in the class play? Burrowing her in your arms and caressing her ego with talk of how terrible those girls are, and how right she is to feel so hurt, and subsequently discourage any further contact with such children, may again only encourage her self-indulgence and sense of personal grandeur, instead of acquiring a more even keeled disposition and the cultivation of temperance.
Figuring out when to push and when not to, when to reel in the reigns and when to let go, and when to reprimand and when to reward seems precarious in the face of all the incertitude that comprises the list of variables one has to contend with. But somehow we all seem to muddle through. But how can we do better than just muddle through? We don’t, after all, want to place too much value in hoping that it will just work out in the end. To being, let’s not lose sight of the obvious: however inexact practical matters may be, they neither come about by natural compulsion, nor do they occur randomly. We must, Aristotle reminds us, act with right reason (II.2.32) in cultivating those potential traits of character in our children – moral virtues – and later in ourselves in response to the havoc of everyday life. Don’t lose sight of what we’ve already talked about in terms of functionality and human happiness either. Right reason rides on the back of these two ideas.
So what can we observe about ourselves that might be insightful? Aristotle makes an interesting observation. Anything done deficiently or excessively is harmful. As Goldilocks herself noticed, too much in one extreme, or its opposite extreme is adverse, but what falls in the middle of these is always “juuuuuust right”. J Eating too much can cause obesity, eating to little, malnutrition; exercising too much can cause severe injury, exercising too little leads to poor fitness; sleeping too much can lead to laziness, sleeping too little to agitation; spending too much money can lead to poverty, spending too little to moneygrubbing. But what’s too much or too little? One thing’s for sure, if I ate anywhere near the quantities of food that my teenage son eats I’d be enormous! So, it would seem that this is, in fact, relative or context - person specific. For a marathon runner, a daily 10-mile route is too little, for my 6-year old daughter it is too much, and for myself (I’m 50, and suffer from no impeding health issues) it is just right. So the numerical value that one aims at in the middle of these extremes is not objective or universal (Nicomachean Ethics, II.6), but relative and context-based. This is called the Doctrine of the Mean or more colloquially the Goldilocks Principle, because Aristotle opts for the middle ground.
You can think of the Doctrine of the Mean as a formulaic practical rule to track moral excellences or virtues. So, for instance, courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness; temperance is the mean between self-indulgence and insensitivity; truthfulness is the mean between boastfulness and mock modesty, and so on. So in general moral virtue is always the mean between two vices found on either extreme – so both cowardice and foolhardiness are vices, both self-indulgence and insensitivity are vices, and both boastfulness and mock modesty are vices! How do we cultivate these in our children? We are after all concerned with the how these virtues can be acquired if not by instruction then by the proper exposure and trained habituation. It is as you might expect: ‘one who flies from and fears everything will become a coward, just like one who indulges every pleasure and abstains from none becomes self-indulgent, or otherwise insensitive when one shuns all pleasures’. By doing or engaging in activities that are self-indulgent, one comes to be self-indulgent. Take the following example: “We” (in the “Western developed countries”) are an eating culture. We teach our children early on that watching a film is accompanied by popcorn and colas, going to a ballgame involves eating hotdogs and consuming coke, and you can be sure to find venting machines or canteens at museums, parks, and the zoo. Mothers are notorious for bringing munchies (not always unhealthy ones, but still snacking…all day long L) to every excursion with their youngsters – be that to the park, on a drive, or just out on a stroll. A baby cries, and we give her drink or food; anything to occupy her palate! There are associative beliefs and experiences here, which we rely on – experience of eating and drinking is pleasant, and food and drink are good! It makes sense then to acclimatize youngsters to the association of pleasure with the things that they ought to do and pain with the things that you ought to abstain from. But sometimes we seem to get this wrong as in the case of indulging in food at every venue. So pleasure and pain need to be experienced (the experience of having these feelings must be properly cultivated in us) ‘at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right aim, and in the right way, and this is what is intermediate and best, and characteristic of excellence’ (Nicomchean Ethics, II.6.20). Here we have yet another Aristotelian idea you are for sure already familiar with – positive and negative reinforcement. A punishment and reward system is part of anyone’s familial and social upbringing, but perhaps what we sometimes miss is how vulnerable that system is to the inadvertent manipulation of the human mind. For instance, you reward your child for performing well at school, and may punish or reprimand her for performing poorly. But your daughter’s teary eyes and pouting face may be too much for you, too painful as it were, and so instead of reprimanding you scoop her up into your arms and console her. The pleasure/pain principle works both ways, and sometimes our children have the upper hand. J
About cultivating courage Aristotle says conditioning youngsters to loathe things abhorrent and stand our ground against them is how to inculcate a moral excellence, but that only once a virtue has fully taken hold of us, or is fully inculcated in us, are we better able to stand our ground. And there is a simple truth in this: the more one performs a certain action, the more it becomes second nature – in effect we have become habituated to act thus and so on the appropriate occasion. Exposure, and the association of pleasure with what one ought to do, namely what is good, requires a set of associative beliefs and experiences regarding the good. Aristotle is no Platonist when it comes to an understanding of “the good”, as we’ve seen. Since the ‘virtues are states that bring into good condition the thing of which it is the excellence’, and the good is the end of all human activity, namely eudaimonia or human happiness, it follows that all the moral virtues must together work towards living a fulfilling and meaningful human life. What will be those things that we shall want to cultivate in our children to loathe and what to admire and shun, then? Did you know that some cultures place a great deal of value of female chastity? ‘The virgin is seen as a “gift”, a special and valuable object’ (in India, for instance) which is integral to the hierarchical ranking systems of relevant cultures. Christianity has also given exalted value to chastity, of course. But today, in a more secularized “West” these associative beliefs no longer hold. We no longer consider virginity to be an asset, and it’s certainly not determinant of one’s social standing and marital future. So shall we consider chastity a virtue? You may recall that deficiency and excess are at either polar ends of the Doctrine of the Mean. Chastity is the complete abstinence in sexual relations prior to marriage for women. And yet, what is extreme for one person in one set of circumstances may be an expression of measure for another. Intrigued? We’ll take this up in the following lecture.
Now to return to the moral excellences. Habituation of the moral excellences through experience acquired through a properly guided upbringing makes these second nature; but this falls short of actually being virtuous. To act or do virtuous things, even systematically, is not the same thing as being virtuous. Where’s the thinking part of that tripartite relation we talked about at the inception of this course – think it, be it, do it? Where indeed is that essentially human quality of rationality? For could not a robot be programmed to practice the very same virtues? To be virtuous then one must know what he or she is doing, do it with intent and act with certainty and firmness (Nicomachean Ethics, II.4.30). What brings about these habits of moral virtue is necessary, therefore, but insufficient, and further elaboration with regards to how one chooses rightly must be further explored.
Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean
Here is a convenient table you can consult as a guide. See Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, II.7.
Disclaimer: Aristotle argued that as a general rule this doctrine could be applied. So as a general rule whatever done in excess or deficiency is harmful. But he was also well aware that “not every action nor every passions admit of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder; for all these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them. Nor does goodness or badness with regard to such things depend upon committing adultery with the right woman, at the right time, and in the right way, but simply to do any of them is wrong”. (Nicomachean Ethics, II.6. 1107a.10) Also there may not always be an assigned or existing name for some of the states or passions that fall at either end of the extremes. These we can devise ourselves. J
Remember there is a quasi-objective position being laid out here which says that something is in general considered to be an act of courage, for instance, when it avoids the extremes but when applied to the particular sphere of human life and conduct (which is where it counts) we must appraise each individual case, so that its practice is context-person relative.
Courage is fully worked out at Nicomachean Ethics III.6-9; Temperance at III.10-12 & VII. 1-10; and Justice at Book V. These will be discussed in subsequent sections.
At 8.26 in this lecture presentation I begin to speak of Aristotle and summarize the content of the excerpt found here. I have also attached this as a pdf file for you to download and save to your computer.
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, chapter 3
Written 350 BC
Translated by W. D. Ross
Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premises of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.
Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For to such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit.
These remarks about the student, the sort of treatment to be expected, and the purpose of the inquiry, may be taken as our preface.
Philosophical discourse is sometimes perceived as pretentious. Here is video that adds levity to the linguistic dissonance sometimes experienced.
I love what I do! I knew I wanted to teach the moment I first set foot on university campus. I was compelled by the vibrancy of ideas that spurred people into action, incited conversation, and challenged everyday assumptions. The power of ideas to change people's lives has always had a gravitational pull on me. But philosophy has become professionalized and tucked away in the ivory tower of academic instruction. For ancient Greek thought, philosophy was a practical and everyday preoccupation inserting meaningfulness where despondence lurked.
These Udemy online courses are part of a project to revive the ancient Greek spirit and it is my hope that you will join me and become as passionate about philosophical discourse as I am.
As far as my credential go, I have a BA, MA and PhD in Philosophy. I have 24 years of experience teaching at the College level. Courses I have taught include, Ethics, Early Greek Philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, Existentialism and Philosophy of Education. I have experience teaching both in the traditional classroom (The American College of Greece, College Year in Athens and McGill University) and online (graduate program - Tiffin University). I also have a practice in Philosophical Counselling in Montreal where I consult both individuals and groups.