Philosophy for Change: the course so far

I’m taking an eight-class night course at the University of Sydney called Philosophy For Change. I’ve been to three of the classes so far.

I took the class because I’m interested in philosophy, and because I was intrigued by the course outline’s description of a very practical course. It’s meant to give you tools – philosophical tools, of course – for dealing with change. The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers used to “live” their beliefs, after all: to them, philosophy was a very practical exercise. And who couldn’t use a little change management skill?

As a result, each class contains a practical exercise. In the first class we used the example of Marcus Aurelius who would talk himself out of missing the comforts of home by reducing those comforts to their strict, physical bases.

In the second class we developed the idea of existential courage, and the now-common (though seldom practiced) notion of living each day as if it were your last. I like Kierkegaard’s idea that life compels you to decide how you’re going to live; I dislike Sartre’s ideas of people’s ontological difference from things. But I did like our exercise of actually identifying the things we’d regret not doing if we were told we had 24 hours to live.

In the third class we looked at the Stoics’ emphasis on self-control. I totally buy the ideal that all you can control is your judgment, and don’t get worked up about stuff you can’t control. Our exercise was to identify some of these things. I also like the Stoics because I’m a complete compatibilist. But I think the ancient Stoic view of the universe as a reasoning entity is pointless.

Like all short courses it’s a very quick run through each idea; we really don’t get much time to test out each concept. But having the practical exercise each class really grounds everything. It’s pretty effective for a course that’s meant to be able to help you approach change in your life.


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