martedì, aprile 09, 2013

Going back in time to get some new ideas -

What could I learn over eight lectures about ancient Greek Philosophy that would be of any benefit to life in the early 21st century?

A view of the statues of Socrates in the foreground and Athena on the column in the background, outside the Athens' Academy in the Greek capital

It started on a whim. I had written an article on Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote . It was about happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking, a fascinating book that takes readers on a whistle-stop tour through stoicism, Buddhism, Mexican death rituals, some psychological theories and a smattering of philosophical thought from Seneca to Rousseau to Thomas Merton.
I’m a graduate of psychology but had virtually no knowledge of the philosophical schools that came before it. I had no idea what Aristotle or Plato or Socrates had to say on matters of life and death, and yet these ancient Greek philosophers continue to influence our culture more than 2,000 years later.
For a few weeks, I toyed with the idea of taking a course in these ancient thinkers, then wondered if instead I should study something more relevant, such as a course in the economics of the current great recession or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab Spring or the politics of food. What could I possibly learn over eight two-hour lectures about ancient Greek philosophy that would be of any benefit to life in the early 21st century?
Well, I phoned the administrator, paid my fee (€155 for an eight-week course) and two hours later was driving to the campus, slightly bemused by the endeavour. As mid-life crises go, if this was it, then really I wouldn’t have much to worry about.
The lecturer was an Italian man with a beard, glasses and a friendly face. His command of English was superb and his interest in philosophical debate insatiable. He outlined the course to the 12 students – nine men and three women – and we took up what would become our chosen seats for the next eight weeks.
A tour of the philosophical foundation of western civilization began with an introduction to the pre-Socratics – philosophers including Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes who lived between 585 and 400 BC. These were names I’d never heard of, with equally baffling theories on physics and cosmology that seem so outdated with even a layperson’s understanding of modern science.
More here.