Jan 13, 2017

Visualizing Networks of Philosophical Influence

A recent piece in Daily Nous, A Visualization of Influence in the History of Philosophy, highlights a new visualization project for figures in the history of philosophy - Philosopher's Web, created by Grant Louis Oliveira.  I'll lay my proverbial cards on the table with this one immediately.

While the project has a very worthwhile goal, and could provide a much needed resource, in its present form it is highly inadequate as what it purports to be, for reasons I'll discuss below.  Worse, precisely because of its serious flaws, and because it is being presented as merely "incomplete" but on the whole a decent visualization, it will end up providing in some cases - and reinforcing in others - mistaken conceptions about the history and contemporary state of philosophy.

The crux of the problem is that ALL - yes all - of the information used in the project comes from one online source, English-language Wikipedia entries on philosophers.  Actually, it all comes from one section of those Wikipedia pages, the one summarizing "influence".  This isn't something new, by the way.  A precursor visualization project - Simon Raper's Graphing The History of Philosophy - did precisely the same in relying solely on English-language Wikipedia entries, and generated a visualization roughly on par in terms of its inadequacy to Oliveria's

Jan 4, 2017

New Online Course - World Views And Values

One of the popular online courses I designed and taught several years back - while still working in traditional academia - was World Views and Values.  Intended primarily for transfer and degree-completion students, it was described as more or less an Intro to Philosophy course.

I was given considerable latitude in designing the course, so I decided to center it around a set of key thinkers and texts that my students were unlikely to have encountered previously - and perhaps would not as their studies proceeded - but whose ideas they would find enriching to read and think about.  I also created over 50 lecture videos for my students, and uploaded them into YouTube.

Viewers have been leaving comments expressing wishes that they could enroll in that course for several years (and those videos, to date, have had close to 50,000 views).  So, as we started building out our ReasonIO online academy, I decided to make World Views and Values one of the first classes I moved to that new platform.  So now, anyone anywhere in the world can enroll and work through the same course my online college students took and enjoyed.  And right now - for the month of January - we're offering a special coupon for enrollment at a preferred price of $39.

Dec 18, 2016

Philosophy As A Way Of Life - Who Else Besides Hadot?

One of the areas I work in as a professional philosopher is Stoic philosophy. Up to this point, I've admittedly published relatively little in traditional academic formats about Stoicism, but I regularly write, speak, and produce content about Stoicism in more popular and public settings.  Currently, I also edit an important forum for modern interpretations, discussion, and application of Stoic philosophy, Stoicism Today.  Though I'm not an orthodox Stoic, but rather an avowed eclectic, I draw upon and apply Stoic insights, practices, and techniques, not only in my own life, but also with clients in my philosophical counseling practice.

As a result, I move in quite a few circles that consist of other people who are interested in Stoicism.  That's actually something I'm very happy and grateful about - that I get to engage in conversations, not just with fellow academics, but with all sorts of people about philosophy.  Sometimes this takes place at an introductory level, but often the people I get into discussions with have developed an admirably extensive grasp of Stoic literature and doctrine.  The people drawn to Stoicism very often are interested in applying it - it putting it to work, and thereby also putting it to the test.  That is because, to use the phrase the Pierre Hadot so famously popularized, Stoicism is the sort of theory or doctrine that we can call "philosophy as a way of life."

I get asked about Hadot - and about this conception of "philosophy as a way of life" - a lot.  And I have to admit that, at times, I can be a bit brusque or dismissive in my replies, particularly when the assumption seems to be that this realization (that philosophy is meant to be lived and practiced) is something radically new, that until Hadot (or even better, Foucault) came along to reveal this feature of ancient philosophy to us, we late modern philosophers were all in the dark about this.  So here, I'd like to provide a reply at length to an interlocutor who was asking me about that topic - "philosophy as a way of life".

Dec 12, 2016

10 Famous Lines By Philosophers You Should Definitely Read

Every once in a while, a philosopher comes up with a great line, a saying that for one reason or another "sticks", so well that many - even most - of the people who employ the saying couldn't tell you which work the quip came from.  Why is that?  In most cases, it is because they haven't read that philosopher's work, or perhaps anything by that philosopher.  They just know - or rather, think they know - that the philosopher said it.  And it sounds cool, or apropos, or at least relevant.

After seeing yet one more person start out a post ostensibly focused on gratitude by citing Cicero - who did in fact say that gratitude is the "parent of the other virtues" - a post that made it clear that the author either had never read Cicero, or if she did, had managed to forget everything that she had read, I decided it was time, rather than to silently curse the intellectual darkness again, to shed a bit of light.

I put out a challenge in three of the social media platforms I use - Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Here it is: What quotations of philosophers, in your view, best meet these four criteria:

1) the passage is posted online fairly often
2) the passage was actually said somewhere by that philosopher
3) almost none of the the people posting the quote would be able to say what work it comes from
4) most of the people posting the quote have not read more than a bit of that philosopher's actual work

Dec 9, 2016

21 Free Course Videos on Epictetus' Enchiridion

Last summer, I created a series of videos on a classic text of Stoic philosophy in my new History of Ideas YouTube channel - Epictetus' Enchiridion.  There are 21 roughly half-hour videos in the series, and they provide commentary, explanations, and lots of examples covering the entire work, line by line, skipping nothing.

As some of you may know, I've also been producing a similar, but much more ambitious series focused on a much longer work, G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit - the Half Hour Hegel series.  After seeing the success of that approach, I decided to apply it to this much more widely read book by Epictetus.

Back in October, I publicly released those 21 new Epictetus videos over the course of Stoic Week.  I also incorporated them into a full online course - Epictetus' Enchiridion: Ancient Philosophy & Peace of Mind - which students can sign up for and take for free, and work through at their own pace.

Here's the full set of the videos - if there's any parts of passages of the Enchiridion you've found puzzling or challenging, just click on the video for that chapter, and see whether the commentary helps clear matters up or not!

Dec 6, 2016

How Hard Is It To Find An Aristotelian Friend?

A thoughtful piece published last month in the Columbia Spectator, An Aristotelian Friend Is Hard To Find, brings up an issue about which I've often found myself engaged in not-entirely-satisfactory discussion:  the nature of friendship and the types of relationships.  I've taught Aristotle's classic treatment of friendship from book eight of the Nicomachean Ethics more times than I can easily tally up.  In my philosophical counseling practice - perhaps because so many people have encountered Aristotle's distinction - my clients also bring it up occasionally.

What seems to be the most problematic feature of his account for most people - and for good reasons that I'll explore below - is that the most primary and paradigmatic sort of friendship turns out to be quite rare, and requires a good bit of time and various factors coming together just right.  The other sorts of friendship, not quite so much deserving of the name, are much more common and easier to find.  So in terms of relationships, what is mediocre to decent to fairly good seems quite realizable, but what is really good to outstanding, while easy enough to imagine or conceive, appears extraordinarily difficult to realize.

The author of the piece is a young person, a college student, and she narrates and reflects upon the various kinds of relationships she has experienced amongst her fellow students in terms informed by Aristotle's distinction.  My own students have often been of the same age, as have some of the clients with whom I've worked through this distinction as they attempt to apply it within the framework of their own lives and relationships.  I've been mulling over Aristotle's theory of friendship since my own graduate school days - about two decades - and it seems like a fitting time to finally write out some of those ruminations here.

Nov 24, 2016

Reflections Upon Gratitude

There's a marked tendency to talk a lot about "gratitude" these days.  In fact, springboarding off an oft-quoted passage from Cicero's speech For Plancius - "gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of them" - (and then never engaging with Cicero's thought again after that) there's even quite a lot of buzz about gratitude in terms of virtue ethics, or at least what we might call "virtue-lite morality."  There's also a rising and somewhat paradoxical tendency to focus on the positive effects of gratitude on the life, the attitude, even the physical health of the grateful person.

I wonder myself at times whether we really ought to include "gratitude" among the virtues, or whether -  as I've argued elsewhere about forgiveness - we ought instead better regard it as something connected with and flowing from virtues, but not actually a virtue in its own right.  That's a topic on which I admittedly need to do more thinking.  But, one thing I have been reflecting upon quite a bit lately, is what gratitude ought to look like.  Or, you might say, how far it ought to extend in attitude and action, if it is really to be gratitude.