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Wed, Oct 21

Ancient philosophers drew an important distinction between the "vita activa" (the life of action) and the "vita contemplativa" (the life of contemplation).  In this class period, we will consider arguments that these two good life formats are in tension.  We'll read examples or two philosophers advocating for contemplative virtues -- Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Stoicism) and Henry David Thoreau (Transcendentalism).  

By the end of this class, you will:

  1. Compare and contrast the life of action with the life of contemplation, particularly considering views of human nature (starting point), eudaimonia (goal), and relevant habits (means) that each vision assumes.
  2. Understand where stoic and transcendental philosophers fit within the tradition of virtue ethics we have been studying.
  3. Weigh advantages and costs to pursuing a life of contemplation; argue for a position about how contemplation fits within your apology.
  4. Reflect on ways contemplation may help with disruptions, including the 2020 pandemic. 

Read This:


Interactive Essay: Selections from the Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)


Why Do We Love Henry David Thoreau? (New Yorker)

Do This:

Complete these steps before you come to class

  • Consider the following prompts (you may want to write responses to these in your journal or talk about them with a friend):
    • Were there any ways the pandemic made your life more contemplative, in a way that either Marcus Aurelius or Henry David Thoreau would recognize?  
    • If you wanted to be more stoic in your approach to the good life, what would you try to do?
    • Reflect on the Thoreau article. Does the author's criticisms of Thoreau's version of the "life of contemplation" apply to contemplative life more generally?
  • Optional: test yourself by taking a practice comprehension check [comp check now closed]

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