How Should We Live?

Answers from the ancient world

A ten-week online course on the philosophy and wisdom of the ancient world

The middle centuries of the first millennium BCE were a time of radical upheaval in civilizations across Eurasia. Philosophers and sages from Greece to China challenged traditional modes of thought and worked to imagine radically new ways that individuals and society might flourish. We, too, find ourselves in a time of upheaval—politically, environmentally, and now coping with the shock of a global pandemic. In this course, we will read some of those ancient texts with modern eyes and ask whether the answers those thinkers found might fruitfully apply to some of the questions we face today. We will consider texts and authors from ancient Greece (Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus, Diogenes of Sinope), India (the Upaniṣads and the Buddha), and China (Confucius and Zhuangzi) that ask probing questions about what it means to be human and how we can find peace and happiness in a turbulent world.

Course Schedule

We will meet on ten consecutive Wednesdays (plus a first organizational meeting). There are two class meeting times:

• 11am Pacific/2pm Eastern/7pm UK
• 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern

Each class is 75 minutes long and will be supplemented by a video lecture made available in advance.

Readings will be made available in PDF format.

Week 0 (Jan. 20): Organizational meeting

Week 1 (Jan. 27): “The unexamined life is not worth living”: Plato’s Apology

Week 2 (Feb. 3): The characteristic activity of human beings: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Week 3 (Feb. 10): The highest human good: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Week 4 (Feb. 17): Suspending judgment and finding peace: Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Pyrrhonism

Week 5 (Feb. 24): Quarrelling monkeys and butterfly dreams: Zhuangzi’s “On Equalizing Things”

Week 6 (Mar. 3): Finding the true self: the Katha Upaniṣad

Week 7 (Mar. 10): Finding there’s no self: the Buddha’s Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta

Week 8 (Mar. 17): Suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the Path: the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

Week 9 (Mar. 24): Cultivating human nature: the Confucian ideal of the gentleman

Week 10 (Mar. 31): Cultivating natural humans: Zhuangzi, Diogenes the Cynic, and the repudiation of cultural convention

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