Who shall I be? How do I become? What highest value(s) ought I aspire toward? What is the end and aim of life? The Art of Living refers to the project and the problem of our lives as characterized by these fundamental questions.
In this capstone discussion we will explore the theory and practice of the Art of Living. Can great works of literature or philosophy inform your own personal Art of Living? Our discussion series and the Stanford course upon which it has been based assumed "Yes". Is that a sound assumption? Have any of the great texts explored in this series (Plato's "Symposium", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", Nietzsche's "The Gay Science", and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon") influenced your Art of Living? Have other great texts influenced your Art of Living more? Which texts have inspired you? Can the Art of Living be better learned from books or videos or role models? Story or prescription? Argument or experience? Planning or accident? Discussion or meditation? Something else?
In the Stanford video series the three lecturers had distinct perspectives and often disagreed with one another. In addition to the discussion outlined above, we will critique their approaches to explore the very meaning of the Art of Living. I recommend watching (or re-watching) the introductory video in the Stanford series to better understand this part of the discussion.
R. Lanier Anderson emphasized in his introductory lecture the importance of the liberal arts and "freedom for expansion and self-development". He cited W. E. B. DuBois who said the purpose of a liberal education is "not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes"? Does knowing "the end and aim of life" give us a freedom for growth and self-development? Are the liberal arts and the Humanities uniquely capable of informing our Art of Living? Does modern life seem less meaningful because we tend to over-emphasize science, business, and specialized skills in a profit-driven economy over the arts, the humanities, and the liberal arts?
Morality is defined by Wikipedia as "the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong)." In this series, we have followed Kenneth Taylor's profound idea from his introductory lecture that your life is given to you as a problem and as a project. As a problem the question is "What shall I be?"; as a project it is "How shall I become?" We have defined this paradigm as the Art of Living. Is Taylor's characterization valid? Are there aspects of the Art of Living that are not captured by his two penetrating questions? Is there a difference between morality and the Art of Living? Is the idea of an Art of Living more aspirational (ambitious, success-oriented) than morality which sometimes seems so judgmental? Would it be helpful to redefine morality as the Art of Living to emphasize this positive, aspirational aspect?
Joshua Landy in his introductory lecture emphasized finding values that you could live for and possibly even die for as a key element in an Art of Living. According to Wikipedia, descriptive morality "refers to personal or cultural values". Does that mean that the Art of Living is only the values side of morality (excluding the normative or prescriptive aspect)? Or is morality encompassed by the Art of Living? Is it important to deeply understand the values that you live for? Do you (or should you) have any values that you will die for? Landy also emphasized with each text the importance of finding the author's highest value. Is there or should there be a highest value? Instead should we all have highest values? How important are these distinctions?
For the third and final part of this discussion, we will explore various approaches to one's Art of Living by participants. What is your Art of Living? What spurs you to "freedom for expansion and self-development"? What is the end and aim of your life? How do you answer the questions for the problem and project of your life? What shall I be? How shall I become? What are your highest value(s)? How do you practice your Art of Living?
To inspire thinking about your art of living, here are five videos totalling 62 minutes to spur your thinking for the discussion:
• "Be Yourself" (2m) by Neil deGrasse Tyson
• Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech To the University of the Arts Class of 2012 (20m)
• "The Meaning of Life" (13m) by Jill Lepore
• "Be An Artist, right now!" (17m) by Young-ha Kim
• "The Power of Outrospection" (10m) by Roman Krznaric
This is the last discussion in a series inspired by an accessible, exquisite, free on-line course The Art of Living (http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/artofliving), three Stanford professors discuss five great works to explore how philosophy and literature can help us practice the art of living. The lecturers are Kenneth Taylor, Joshua Landy, and R. Lanier Anderson and the works are Plato's "Symposium", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", Nietzsche's "The Gay Science", and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". The course video lectures will guide our exploration of "The Art of Living" in a multidimensional way. For an overview of the topic, please watch the 50 minute video Introduction to The Art of Living.
These are links to the other meetups in The Art of Living series:
1. The Art of Living: Love and Reason in Plato's Symposium
2. The Art of Living: What Can We Learn From Shakespeare's Hamlet?
3. The Art of Living: The Paradoxes of Faith and Existence
4. The Art of Living: The Roles of Art and Science
5. The Art of Living: The Roles of Self and Community
6. The Art of Living: Engaging the Project of our Lives