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Camden Philosophical Society – In Person & on Zoom

Tuesday, October 17, 2023 @ 3:30 pm 5:30 pm

The Camden Philosophical Society meets on the third Tuesday of each month for reading and discussion. Read below to learn about the topic for the meeting.. If you wish to participate via Zoom, please email sarahmiller@usa.net. You will receive a Zoom invitation on the morning of the meeting, Click on the “Join Zoom Meeting” link in that invitation at the time of the event.

Can philosophy still help us discover how to live a good life? Can the study of ethics get beyond the “consequentialist” and the moral rules-based approaches that have dominated modern Western philosophical thinking on the matter? Might ancient Greek philosophers from Aristotle to Cicero help us in our search?

The Camden Philosophical Society will be tacking these questions at its regular monthly discussion from 3:30-5:30 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 17. In its discussion, the society will be following the guidance provided by University of Arizona philosophy professor Julia Annas in her 1993 book The Morality of Happiness. All are welcome to participate in this hybrid session, in-person at the Picker Room of the Camden Public Library or by Zoom.

If you wish to participate via Zoom, please let us know by return email (Reply All). You will receive a Zoom invitation on the day of the meeting, Click on the “Join Zoom Meeting” link in that invitation at the time of the event. The Society meets regularly on the third Tuesday of each month.

We suggest that before attending the October discussion, people read Chapter 1 and also the first 11 pages of the Introduction to Morality of Happiness. The book can be found for free online here: https://archive.org/details/morality-of-happiness-julia-annas/page/n3/mode/2up   Scroll down and look on the right-hand side of the screen for download options, including a simple PDF.

Chapter 1 of our reading for this month begins: “In ancient ethics the fundamental question is, How ought I to live? or, What should my life be like?”  Do we ask such questions of ourselves today?  Annas suggests modern philosophy has gotten out of the habit of expecting philosophy to answer them. In the ancient world, while these were not in their origin philosopher’s questions – they were the kind of questions any reflective person would likely engage — philosophy was thought able to contribute to considering them.   

What about today? If we find ourselves not wholly satisfied with our lives, asking whether they could be improved, or pressed by an urge to live differently, can philosophy help? What might it contribute to making sense of our lives as a whole?  And if we’ve gotten out of  the habit of doing philosophy in order to ask how I ought to live, how then would we revisit it in order to find, as the ancients did, reflections worth exploring? 

 We sometimes hear folks say, as Seneca did, that we ought to live our lives as if each day were the last, the one that finished our life and made it complete. Really? How is that even possible? Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics begins by asserting that “every action and choice, seems to aim at some good; the good, therefore, has been well defined as that at which all things aim.” What in the world is the meaning there? Is “the good” responsive to Annas’s questions about the contemporary world?  

If it’s every action and choice, the goods I pursue are many. Do I pursue a single good to organize and unify my aims and goals? Is doing good what I desire? Most things I pursue I pursue for the sake of something else. Are there goods I pursue for their own sake? Ought there to be? Or why aren’t there? The ancients spoke of happiness, eudaimonia.  But apparently not just happiness of any sort will do — a movie from the sixties, not so well received, was called “What’s so Bad About Feeling Good.”  Is how I ought to live an objective as well as a subjective question?

 Also, what does it mean to pursue happiness?  Is it something we get, that happens to us, a state of affairs to bring about, or is it something we do? What counts as living well?  What counts as doing well?  Annas gives the example of playing tennis to stay fit and  suggests that staying healthy in order to play tennis would be getting things backwards.  Really?  Why do you suppose tennis pro Roger Federer (net worth $95.1 million) learned to stay healthy?  

 Anyway, what’s success got to do with it? What about what we are or could be as humans? The complete working out of our creative abilities, and powers, and needs, and enjoyments? Aristotle thought the good we’re after was self-sufficient or complete in the sense that it lacked nothing. The Zen monk Hakuin asked “What is there just now you lack?”  Is philosophical reflection a thing we lack?