|Meaning of Life
Course director: Jopling
Office hours: Mon 1230-1400, Fri 1730-1845
"What is the meaning of life?"
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
2. Why are we here? What is the point of human life?
3. What is the point of my life? (the personal
dimension) Is it a fluke that I am here?
4. Nietzsche -- it seems that the structures existing in
society are trying to stifle our awareness of our own
existence -- the purpose of philosophy is to shake up
the society from slumber
reflection paper (2 pp.) 10% 21 Jan.
short essay (4 pp.) 20% 8 Feb.
in-class test 20% 18 Mar.
final essay (8 pp.) 35% 5 Apr.
late penalty -- officially 3% per day
7.1.2002 (Jessica's notes)
What is philosophy?
- reasoned arguments
- philosophy does not give itself over to rhetoric and
- philosophy as an ongoing practice
Tools of philosophy
- critique, interpretation of texts
The goal of philosophy
- philosophy means love of wisdom
- many people claim to have found or attained wisdom
Diogenes of Sinope
- FMS: or as I would prefer to call him, Diogenes the
- a cynic who did not give a damn about convention
- used to go about with a lantern during daylight saying,
"Show me an honest man"
- Socrates (executed for his philosophy which called too
much into question)
- do not let convention steamroll over you by giving into
what others value -- worldly things
Areas of philosophy (a superficial introduction)
- social and political thought
- odd connection between philosophy and being a soldier
- a slave owned by emperor Nero's secretary
- Epictetus had no control over what happened to him, but
had control of his inner life
- "I was never more free than when I was on the rack"
- deterministic (higher, cosmic intelligence --
- everything that happens, happens for a reason or
"arrives by appointment"
- nothing that happens could have been otherwise -- there
are no anomalies or gaps and we cannot alter the grand
scheme of things
- instead of complaining, you ought to try to will what
is in your control -- you cannot change the world, so
- stoicism is a courageous acceptance
Dog and cart analogy
- imagine that a dog is chained to a horse-drawn cart
- even if the dog struggles against the chain he cannot
- if the dog trots behind the cart he won't feel the
- life is just like that -- work only on what you can
change (your attitude) and ignore what you cannot
- disinterested rational will (to become one with nature
-- more disinterested or detached from worldly things)
- calmness and serenity
- distinction between control and influence
- my attitudes, thoughts, will, and reactions are in my
- my health, body, status, reputation, and social
standing are not in my control
- read first 10 sections of Epictetus' Handbook
9.1.2002 (Frank's tutorial)
--> meaning of life notes
What is the self?
According to the stoics, you are the inner self.
Epictetus was a determinist, but he gives you a recipe for mental
Stoics recommend extinguishing or at least minimising
emotions (you are happy one day, but you feel down the next).
- do not despise things that are inevitable (death, ill
- despise only those things that are in your control
(moods, desires) because despising things that are not
in your control will not help (they will come along
sooner or later)
- you should immunise yourself against the loss of people
you love, things (do not attach yourself to anything)
- various religious people and moralists complain about
the human nature; the stoics do not complain, they ask
us to accept it (This the way things are.)
Who is the captain? God, logos.
Military training places great emphasis on §7.
- not just courageous acceptance
- complete extinction of dissatisfaction
- submit your will to the universe/nature
- test this kind of discipline yourself
- you are not your body
- illness and abuse happens to your body, not to yourself
- your capacity to deal with hardships is endless
- does this apply to torture? (vice admiral Stockdale)
- everything is merely lent to you
14.1.2002 (Jessica's notes)
The stoics were quite aware how difficult it is to
implement the stoic ideas. In fact you should take stoicism as
an ideal and work towards it.
Do not worry about small difficulties: freedom of the
mind is paramount. ("It is better for the slave boy to be bad
than for you to be in a bad state.")
If people think you are famous or know about externals,
you ought to be worried.
- advice against "playing the game"
- neglecting the status quo
Do not expect or want nature to be different from the way
it is. Do not desire a "perfect world" without death,
corruption, suffering, sickness, rough times. Simply expect that
things will sometimes go badly.
Do not desire what everyone else desires. When you feel
the tug of a desire, refrain it. Despising trivial things (by
despising he means indifference).
- the banquet analogy: if a dish comes to you, reach out
your hand, but do not go out of the way for it
You are an actor in a play, but you did not write the
script for the play: every stage of your life is determined by
someone other than you.
Another stoic: "Events do not just happen, they arrive
The universe displays a very deep intelligence. For the
stoic you want to make yourself part of the course of nature
rather than fighting it.
Be indifferent to what is not up to you. If you play the
fame game, the pleasure game, the keeping up with the Joneses
game .... If you do not play the game, you are free.
The stoic sage will not suffer from envy or jealousy
because he has extinguished them.
If you react to something, it reflects more on you than
it does on the person.
When you accept the big things (i.e. death) you will not
need to sweat the little things. Modern day stoics: Nelson
Mandella, Christopher Reed.
Philosophy is not always popular because it goes against
conventional beliefs. Philosophy sets up reason as the authority
and this is not popular.
Who can give to someone else what he does not have
himself (wisdom). You should not sacrifice your peace of mind by
trying to help others. Having friends is not essential to your
freedom and happiness, cf. Epicurus.
Everything has a price; if you want to become a musician
you have to pay the price. The world does not owe you anything.
Too high a price in terms of dignity and self-respect.
React to the loss of one's loved ones in the same
dispassionate way; we suffer when we are attached to things.
(FMS: Why attach yourself at all, then?)
Nature is perfect, there are no flaws or bugs when you
consider it as a whole. What we perceive as bad is only
Think about the sacrifice before you undertake some
- if you claim to do something be realistic
- do not live in a pipe dream
- do not let your illusions lead you by the nose
- one has to know his own limits
- whatever you do, you must do wholeheartedly
- your life is not a rehearsal for something to come:
every moment counts!
- another person cannot do you harm, unless you allow it
- each one of us has duties to family and society
- regardless of whether we like or dislike our duties, we
must honour them
- there are no entitlements in the universe
- other people cannot be the ______ of your happiness
- if you blame others then you do not understand your
place in nature
- let disinterested reason direct your responses
- every emotion contains a judgement
- are events worth of your response?
- portrait of a stoic wise person
- do not be a cheater, a liar, a gossip, a glutton ...
sounds somewhat joyless
- ownership brings you up high and then lets you down
- in contradiction with himself: resistance
16.1.2002 (Frank's tutorial)
Ruling principle: the inner part of the soul (the better
self -- do not sell out your soul).
Avoid indulgence and luxury.
Jopling: "skip over this one"
You are identical neither with your property nor with
your abilities. Epictetus is egalitarian when it comes to souls.
Do not get involved with philosophy among
Be on guard against yourself!
Theory vs. practice distinction. Becoming a philosopher
vs. becoming a grammarian.
Do your duty!
Do not procrastinate! Each moment is a gift, a bonus,
make use of it. Focus on each moment of existence.
Socrates: "Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they
cannot harm me."
1. Philosophy of sour grapes
- you fool yourself into thinking that you do not want
- but all things are only lent to you
- a Lamborgini will eventually rust away too!
- fame is just a prison created by others
- love might be an impediment to your freedom
2. Stoicism is psychologically unrealistic
- men do not have the resources
- yes, it is difficult, it is an ideal
- there have been just a few stoic sages (Socrates,
3. Determinism and quietism
- why bother fighting racism or descrimination
- not all external things are equally indifferent (health
is indifferent, and yet good health is preferrable over
4. The stoic sage is cold, indifferent, inhuman
- does not want to get involved with family, wife
- a stoic saving his children from a burning house: not
out of love, but of out of duty
5. Stoic sages are apolitical, self-centred, escapist
- they only care about themselves, there is not a trace
- you have to do your duty
- slavery is irrelevant to your fundamental, mental
6. If the universe is perfect, what about evil and disaster?
- if you could see the world as a whole then you would
realise that it is perfect
- imagine that you see only a small portion of an
enormous painting. The portion that you see might not
seem perfect and yet when you see the painting as
a whole you realise that it is perfect.
- evil is a perceiver-relative term
21.1.2002 (Jessica's notes)
- imprisoned for 8 years in Hanoi; everything in the
hands of his captors
- no safety nets could help Stockdale when his plane was
- what do you fall back on when you are without a net?
- stoicism: in a situation where you have no control
over things, you still have an inner control!
- if you sell-out or lose control, you have no one to
blame except yourself
- the captors were really good at picking at people's
weak spots, on the weak points of their moral armour
- for the opportunist, experience came before duty
- integrity is primary for the POW -- the ethics of
- the Handbook is helpful in prison; integrity is above
- Stockdale accepted that life was not fair; he stopped
wanting things to happen as he wanted them to happen
- Stockdale gave up the feeling of hatred; he freed
himself of negative emotions
- Handbook §5; nothing can make him unhappy unless he
- emotions are not something that sweeps over you; you
can change your judgements about things and your
emotions will change
- a concentration camp survivor
- Man's Search for Meaning
- torture tests your mind (your moral fibres)
- for some people, pain hurts, but it does not matter
- pleasure is good
- all human beings seek pleasure: that is part of our
- a statement of fact
- we should pursue pleasure
- an ethical position
- the happy life is the one with the most pleasure and
the least amount of pain; we are surrounded by
- there are not only sensual but also intellectual
- everywhere we look we see pleasure seekers and pain
Could we be confused about pleasure? Are we caught up
with momentary pleasures and cheap thrills?
The pleasure cycle gives us a thrill. Have we gone wrong
in our search for pleasure?
- first school of hedonism
- 430-350 B.C., in North Africa
- pleasure is always a good regardless of its source
- Aristippus recommends the intense bodily pleasures:
joys of the flesh (sex, good food, laughter, humour)
- pleasures here and now: he does not support the delay
of pleasure (the future is too uncertain)
- all sensory pleasures are equal for Aristippus
- the question is, "What is the best pleasure?"
- is this gluttony?
- if you lose self-control, you will decline to the point
that you won't be able to enjoy pleasure
- Aristippus thinks there are no social or political
duties; it's all about pleasure
- the life of Aristippus is the life of a well-fed pig
Epicurus (340-270 B.C.)
- it is not the quantity, but the quality of pleasure
- saw philosophers as healers
- set up the Garden, a commune in the country
- the Garden was democratic and everyone was treated as
- many did not like the equality of slaves and nobles
- tranquility (peace of mind)
- Epicurus had gout, and yet lived a life of pleasure
23.1.2002 (Frank's tutorial)
- both a psychological and ethical hedonist
- the blessed life: avoiding pain and seeking pleasure
- Aristippus had a simplified, short-term view of
- Epicurus advocated enduring mental pleasures such as
friendship and thought
Desire —•— natural —•— necessary —•— happiness (friendship,
| | | prudence, wisdom)
| | |
| | •— comfort (basic clothing,
| | | basic shelter)
| | |
| | •— life (food and water)
| •— unnecessary (extravagant food, sex)
•— groundless (fame, power, luxury)
- Epicurus emphasises quality of pleasure over quantity
- stresses modesty: he is not an ascetic, we should seek
balance (cf. Aristotle)
- free bond between like-minded people
- you were not worried that you did not exist prior to
your birth, so why should you be worried that you will
not exist after your death? (You should not worry!)
- no afterlife, no immortality: when you die, you stop
- the belief in immortality is just a source of
anxiety: celebrate your existence here and now
- avoid anthropomorphising gods
- in the ancient world, philosophy was a kind of therapy
- elimination of body pain
- pleasure is "innate good", the good of life
- Jopling: it seems that life of constant pain would be
- fortunately, you can always have mental pleasures
- we avoid pleasures that we know are going to produce a
great amount of pain in the future
- hedonic calculus of pleasures (FMS: What is the unit
of pleasure for (North) Americans? $1?)
28.1.2002 (Jessica's notes)
For Friday, read the Apology
Here are some contrasts and comparisons of Epicurus and Stoicism.
Epicurianism: death is of no concern; there's nobody home after
death -- there is no "I" to experience it.
Stoicism: death is of no concern -- it is a natural event one
should simply accept.
On pain and pleasure:
Epicurianism: mental pleasure can outweigh physical pain.
Stoicism: pain does not affect my real self; I can rise above
On the goal of life:
Epicurianism: pleasure is the sole good in life; we ought to
Stoicism: goal of life is perfection of character and mind
(pleasure doesn't function).
Epicurianism: reduce possessions and maintain a detachment from
things; don't become dependent upong things (moderation).
Stoicism: maintain rational indifference to possessions -- all
possessions are merely lent to you.
What is Philosophy:
Epicurianism: philosophy is the healing of the soul; anyone can
practice philosophy -- the Garden is democratic.
Stoicism: philosophy is training for the soul, but not for
everyone -- it is potentially dangerous.
The Role of Emotion:
Epicurianism: cultivate ataraxia for the emotional life.
Stoicism: extinguish/transcend emotions.
The Role of God or the gods:
Epicurianism: don't worship the gods; they aren't like us and
don't care about us. Worrying about heaven and/or hell is just
a source of anxiety.
Stoicism: become one with the intelligence of the universe.
Epicurianism: atoms and the void are all that exist --
a materialist universe.
Stoicism: most were materialists, but a few believed in some
afterlife of sorts.
Epicurianism: the universe is governed by random chance.
Stoicism: cosmos is purposeful and there's some form of
intelligence driving it.
Epicurianism: virtue is nothing, if it does not lead to pleasure,
which is the highest good.
Stoicism: virtue is good in and of itself, regardless of how it
- barley cakes and water are all you need
- as long as you satisfy hunger and thirst you'll be able
to reach a baseline of satisfaction
- the difference between expensive wine and water is
- Epicurus advocates prudence, moderation and
II. There is nothing in and/or after death.
III. After you reach a baseline state of pleasure, everything
else is just a variation.
IV. When you experience intense pain it just doesn't last;
moderate pain doesn't stay forever. Overall, those who suffer
chronic pain experience more pleasure than pain.
IX. Room for discussion here.
X. Critique of Aristipus -- a lesson of limits.
XI. Natural science and philosophy dissolve dogma and
XV. Mrs. B dialogue exercise -- natural wealth is the
satisfaction of your natural desires; our entire culture is built
upon the acquisition of material things.
XXI. Don't confuse the baseline of pleasure; if you do make this
confusion it means more work and more hassle and headache.
XXV. Live in accordance with your nature.
XXVIII. Friendship is one of the greatest of all pleasures;
a friend is like another self.
9) Necessity -- changing your state of mind.
10) Most people have numb souls and hungry appetites.
14) Each and every moment is important -- don't squander your
gift of life (the bare fact of existence matters).
1.2.2002 (Frank's notes)
The history of medicine
- the history of failure
- up until the 18th c. the history of the placebo effect
- the measure of our well-being is the body
- he wants to stir us clear of false recipes
- Epicurus' taxonomy of desire (the hierarchy of needs)
- friendship, thought, and freedom
- friends are there to confirm you
- good friends are interested in your soul, they will not
mind if you become poor or unpopular
- some people pursue power and fame in order to have
friends, but this is wrong-headed because that way you
will only attract the leeches
- simple life -- drop out of the rat-race
- high power job or lots of free time?
- discourse, talking with friends, writing, keeping
a diary (a diary keeps a distance, it shows you
- one of the earliest psychotherapies
- depends primarily on psychological goods, not material
- the only place in North America where philosophy is
studied in high school
- in 1970's, philosophy was rejected as an unfit subject
to be taught in high schools because it would challenge
social and religious values
- philosophy became part of the high school curriculum in
- Socrates was seen as a dangerous individual who was
challenging the established norms
- the Athenians executed Socrates on charges of
corrupting the youth
Frank's notes (4.2.2002)
Criticisms of Socrates' Elenchus
1. Too rationalist an approach.
2. It is merely a tool, if used inappropriately, it can
3. The overexamined life is not worth living.
Frank's notes (8.2.2002)
- looked for a definition of justice etc. which would be
- he looked for the essence of concepts
- he is the wisest because he owns up to his own
- "anorexia of the soul" -- neglecting your soul
- Socrates and Spinoza -- both refused to take fees for
- Socrates does not make a distinction between public and
- it is bad faith if you think that you can make this
- Socrates never blended in, never compromised, never
- Apology 37a: no one does evil willingly/intentionally
- the Apology is a defence of philosophy against the
reactionary forces, a defence of the examined life
against the status quo
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
- a selection from the foundational work of Taoism
- Taoism is Chinese mystical philosophy
- tao = the way, the path (metaphor for the ultimate
nature of reality)
- tao is responsible for creating and sustaining the
- tao was there before the universe, but it would be
a mistake to say that the universe was created by tao
- OL cannot express the fundamental nature of reality
- logic and reason distort the fundamental nature of