Aug 21, 2016

Should Stoics Be Concerned About Others?

In a 6-week online course on Epictetus I'm presently teaching though my company, ReasonIO, I got asked a question that keeps popping up, quite naturally, when we're considering Stoic Ethics.  I'm also in the process of consolidating and rewriting posts from my other blogs into pieces here in Orexis Dianoētikē. Here's a piece originally published in Virtue Ethics Digest that frames and addresses those general concerns - Should a Stoic be concerned about (non-)Stoic others? And further, how and why?

Over the course of Stoic Week 2015, I created a sequence of seven videos, four of which focused on discussions of key Stoic doctrines in the works of the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher, Cicero (who was not himself a Stoic, but who did admit himself attracted to a number of their doctrines, particularly in the field of Ethics.  On one of those videos, one of my interlocutors - a very bright, young South African student and blogger, Marc Smit asked me a very important question.

I feel that Stoicism does offer relevant ideas for me as individual, in the sense that I can apply it to my own thoughts, feelings or actions bearing on things that happen to me, but how do I respond to these things when then happen to others, notably friends or loved ones?

Aug 17, 2016

Musings About Life On YouTube

This weekend, my main YouTube channel - a largely academic channel devoted primarily to lectures about philosophical texts and thinkers  - passed a significant milestone.  Over 30,000 viewers are presently subscribers to the channel, and we're rapidly approaching 3 million total views.

Those numbers are particularly gratifying given that the videos I produce are on the low-tech, low-production - but high-content - end of the spectrum.  It shows that there's a real desire for substantive engagement with ideas out there, and that, if you produce content that helps people grapple with those ideas, what you out out there will indeed be watched.  And not just watched, but shared, commented on, and used by students, lifelong learners, working professionals - and even other academics.

Once I passed the 30,000 subscribers mark, I took a look through the figures - the "analytics" - YouTube provides me about the channel and the videos in it.  There's several other figures that are in many respects even more telling.  One of those is the total number of minutes that have been viewed - and that's a staggering number.  As I recheck those numbers tonight, it's 29,104,280 minutes.  29 million!  That has me once again mulling over something I've thought about from time to time over these last five years.  Quite simply - my YouTube avatar has existed for more total time than I have.

Jul 19, 2016

Worlds of Speculative Fiction - An Update

Earlier this year, I announced the start of a new public lecture series, called "Worlds of Speculative Fiction," partnering with the Brookfield Public Library.  I've still got the intention of engaging in some writing here about the philosophical themes in the authors and works that we've been focusing on - my involvement in a variety of other projects, and other commitments, have unfortunately precluded me from getting those posts finished and published (but I'll have some coming out in August, when the author I'll be focusing on in the lecture will be Ursula K. Leguin).

We've already held seven of the scheduled twelve lectures and discussions for 2016 - and there's a good chance that we'll continue the series with twelve more in 2017 (if we do, keep an eye out for a post soliciting suggestions about who I might tackle in the new year).  For those who - due to geography or time - haven't been able to attend, but are interested to see what we discussed, here's the videos in the series so far:
We've got some heavy-hitters of science-fiction and fantasy lined up for discussion the coming months.  Ursula K. Leguin and her Hainish stories in August.  Then Michael Moorcock's Multiverse and his Eternal Champion in September, followed by the alternate America found in certain of Phillip K. Dick's novels in October.  November will focus on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, and we will round out the year in December by discussing George R.R. Martin's massive Song of Ice and Fire (what we've got of it so far!).

If there's sufficient interest down the line, we may consider putting together some online events oriented around the intersections between science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy as well, but that's something perhaps better discussed later on....

Jul 8, 2016

New Online Epictetus Course Enrolling!

I'm very happy to be able to report that we now have a third online ReasonIO course starting up soon, and enrolling now - focused on a set of classic Stoic texts  Epictetus' Enchiridion and Discourses!

The class begins officially on Sunday, July 24 with the introductory class sessions (carried out through video-conferencing), but I'll be opening the first course modules a week for students before the class starts.  It is a six-week, entirely online

We'll be starting the course with some general discussion of Stoicism as a movement, and then focusing on the shorter work, the Enchiridion for the entire first week.  Each week following that, we will work through one of the four books of the Discourses.  Then, we'll finish with a full week devoted to further in-depth discussion of student-selected topics in Epictetus' Stoic philosophy.

Jul 5, 2016

The Eight Basic Tastes or Flavors

Last month, I delivered a talk at one of our local libraries - in Whitefish Bay - straying a bit from philosophy into the field of gastronomy (you can watch the video of the talk here).  This isn't an area in which I do all that much work, but in which I've got a considerable, though basically amateur, interest.  The topic that I proposed is one that has exerted a kind of distracting pull upon my research work for some time - a history of basic tastes or flavors of food.

At present, and for roughly the last century and a half, most people here in the West tend to think that there are four main flavors - sometimes five, counting the umami flavor, what we might call an intellectual import from Japanese researchers.  There are, to be sure, food researchers here in the West who do discuss and research other basic tastes or flavors - but the additional gustatory qualities they rightly bring to light are typically regarded as recent additions to an otherwise all-too-simply palette of the palate.

Talk about additional flavors beyond the four or five typically acknowledged and taught about here in the West, and a common first response from other people is to reference the basic tastes distinguished in other culinary traditions of great civilizations of the East - in Indian or Chinese cooking, for example.  And yet, here in the West, there is also a millennia-old tradition of thinking in terms of significantly more than four flavors, one that tends to be overlooked.  It reaches an early apex and touchstone in several passages from Aristotle's works, in which he sets out for us the eight basic flavors.