The Life of Contemplation

Apr 30

Pick your Professor

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’ll read examples or two philosophers advocating for contemplative virtues — Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Stoicism) and Henry David Thoreau (Transcendentalism).  

By the end of this day, you will:

  1. Compare and contrast the life of action with the life of contemplation, particularly considering views of human nature and happiness that each vision assumes
  2. Understand where Stoic and Transcendentalist 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.

Read This:

Primary: Marcus Aurelius and Henry David Thoreau: Live a Life of Contemplation

Secondary: The Vita Contemplativa in the 21st Century

Do This:


  • After you’ve finished today’s reading, make sure you complete the reading quiz, which you can access through your section’s Canvas page.

Suggested: What are “contemplative” activities that play an essential role in your life at Notre Dame? How often do you engage in these? Schedule in a time this week to do one.

Watch This: