Three Books That Most Changed My Life

Earlier this month, I participated in a great interview with Clifford Lee Sargent. He has been producing the Better than Food book reviews for several years – a great video series that I’m a big fan of – and we have been discussing what sort of collaborative work we might engage in. So when he decided to start a podcast focused around “Three Books That Changed Your Life,” and asked me if I’d come on, I thought it was a great topic, and immediately agreed.

As it turned out – for me – it was a much more difficult topic to think out, at least at first. I suspect it would have been a good bit easier if there wasn’t so much of my life already behind me at this point – if I was in my mid 20s rather than my mid 40s – since then I would be a lot closer to the times when those sorts of life-changing reading experiences occurred. I’d probably have a lot more youthful enthusiasm about literature working for me as well. Though frankly, I wouldn’t trade the more sober realism derived from much more time put in reading, writing, reflecting, and teaching for that almost electric charge I do remember, but don’t often experience these days, that occurs in exciting encounters with books.

Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics Classes in the ReasonIO Academy

I'm very happy to announce that we have two new courses available in the ReasonIO Academy.  They are both on Aristotle's classic work in moral theory, the Nicomachean Ethics, so you might be wondering why we are offering two classes for that text.

The answer is pretty simple - we've produced so much content that I didn't want learners to be overwhelmed by it all!  Between these two courses, learners get access to 94 lecture videos, 27 downloadable handouts, 10 quizzes, 11 downloadable worksheets, and 38 lesson pages.  That's quite a bit - but that's what I thought needed to really cover the work in the depth and detail it deserves.

Here are the links to the sites for the two courses - you can click on them and preview some of the content for free.

We also have a special deal - you can save $29.00 by enrolling in both courses at the same time, purchasing this course bundle.  If you'd like to know a bit more about these courses, take a look at this short video.

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.