Existential Freedom in Sartre's The Flies

Last month, I took part in an online discussion - hosted on the Noetic platform - about a classic Existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Flies.  I was particularly happy after rereading the work several years back to have a similar experience to that in returning to a number of other Existentialist works that I originally read some years back, and now revisit with a perspective altered by time, maturation, and further study.  Sometimes works that I remember turn out not to possess the excellences I originally attributed to them.  In this case, however, the opposite is true.  I didn't appreciate The Flies as much when I first encountered it to the extent that I do in the present.

One of the central themes of the work - one running through pretty much every work in Sartre's corpus - is that of human freedom. As I'll explain in more detail below, Sartre maintained that freedom is both at the essence of what it is to be a human being, and emerges from and engages with the concrete situations or conditions of one's existence.  In this play, however, precisely because of the historical situation - the Nazi occupation of France - in which it was written and then presented to the public, there is a further resonance to the situations and choices of the characters, particularly those of Orestes and Electra on the one hand, and Zeus, Aegistheus, and Clytemnestra on the other.  

A New Local Stoic Meetup - The MKE Stoic Fellowship

Last week, we held the first meeting for the MKE Stoic Fellowship!  (For my readership that is out of town, "MKE" is the designation for Mitchell airport, here in Milwaukee, and in recent years has become a kind of code for the entire Greater Milwaukee area).  This was a particularly important meeting, since it was devoted to determining what sorts of Stoicism-related activities we would plan for the year.

We also got to meet each other, as well as to discuss the interests and backgrounds the various members brought to the group.  As one might expect, the member display strong interest in studying classical and contemporary Stoic sources, and about discussing in particular the application of Stoic resources to our lives, issues, and challenges.  But it looks to be the case that we have a considerable pool of expertise to draw upon in the group as well - which works out particularly well for me, since it means that I'll be much more able to sit back, listen, and observe (as opposed to having to be more active as a leader or speaker).

Trump's Inaugural Address - A Philosophical Examination (part 1 of 3)

Like most Americans this election cycle, I closely followed the long campaigns and contests, participating in a number of discussions and observing many more, and voting in our state primary and the national election.  It has been without a doubt the most interesting election cycle of my lifetime, given how many issues were brought to the fore, the situation of cultural, economic, and political crisis and conflicts we remain mired in, and the alternatives offered to us in the form of candidates.  Although one can arguably claim that both main political parties do largely represent a political establishment, a cadre and class of wide-reaching scope and power, both of those alternately ruling elites faced stiff challenges from outsiders, one of whom lost (Bernie Sanders), and the other which won and then went on to upset expectations and secure the presidency by winning the electoral college (Donald Trump).

When I read that Trump planned for his Inaugural Address, delivered last Friday, to be a "'philosophical document' rather than a description of policy plans - in the words of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, I was intrigued.  What would such a deliberately "philosophical" speech look like?  Would it measure up at all to any of the senses that can be assigned that ambiguous term?  And then, I watched the speech - which I argue is indeed a philosophical one - read and reread the transcript, reflected upon its points and rhetoric, and decided to engage in some public discussion - as a philosopher - bearing upon now-President Trump's address.

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

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.

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".

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