Beauty of Soul: Course Schedule

My  Short Course at Schumacher College, ‘Beauty of Soul, According to Nature,’ has now been posted on Schumacher College’s website. The course is set to run from November 4-8. I’m including an early draft of the Course Schedule below.

Opening Talk

‘The Beautiful Life of the Virtues’

What would modern moral philosophers make of the following example: The mother stroked her sick child’s forehead with a touch of grace? A utilitarian would consider whether this act, among all the acts available to the mother, could be regarded as bringing about the best possible state of affairs: the most good or least evil overall. A Kantian would conclude that compassion–if that is indeed the mother’s motive–is the not the right reason for anyone’s acting morally. Yet neither camp would have much, if anything, to say about the beautiful manner in which the action is performed–that sense of lightness, that caressing softness–and their silence about the manner of the mother’s touch would, by my lights, be revealing.

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Examples which bring into focus the connection between goodness and beauty seem as rare in modern moral philosophy as in modern aesthetics. Aesthetics, which is concerned largely with the percipient’s aesthetic experience of a painting or with that of a natural beauty, seems divorced from moral considerations entirely while ethics, whether cast in terms of goodness or rightness, seems to leave no room for talk of elegance, élan, or naturalness. Yet, despite the quietism of modern aesthetics and ethics, some of our most vibrant, exuberant experiences occur when we say the right thing in just the right way or perform the appropriate action with a gentle lightness. And it is in these instances when we feel most at home with ourselves and with the world.

My hope with ‘The Beautiful Life of the Virtues’ is to make this connection between goodness and beauty seem both natural and attractive. Radiance, I’ll be urging, is virtue manifested in the ‘keys’ of natural eloquence, graceful action, and a gentle demeanor and resonating throughout the entirety of one’s being. Thinking in these terms may lead one to ask a very different, more interesting set of questions. Could awkwardness, for instance, spoil a compassionate action? Could an unfriendly demeanor make one’s generosity feel ‘heavy’? And could the ‘dissonance’ between one’s graceful action and his lack of natural eloquence cause the perceptive observer to withdraw her interest? The point of these kinds of question is to make more appealing the beautiful life of the virtues.

Morning: Mode

In the morning, we’ll be learning how to inquire into the things that matter most. This mode of inquiry is unique: it may be likened to a stroll, a philosophical chant, a mystery novel, or a kind of intellectual improvisation.

Day 1. Four conditions of philosophical inquiry

Day 2. Getting the specifications right

Day 3. Wrong questions

Day 4. Right questions

Day 5. Good enough answers

Afternoon: Meditation

In the afternoon, we’ll be practicing a number of spiritual exercises. My philosophical guide Pierre Hadot tells us that spiritual exercises (ascesis) are directed more at ‘forming’ the self than at ‘informing’ others about the nature of reality. When I practice spiritual exercises, I am not merely expressing how I feel, stating what is the case about reality, offering up an opinion, venturing a value judgment, claiming expert authority, following a rule or set of procedures, working out a theoretical argument, etc. Rather, I am forming and transforming the self.

Day 1. Attention

Day 2. Measure

Day 3. Directness and Simplicity

Day 4. Lightness

Day 5. Self-surrender

Evening: Substantive Considerations

During the evening, we’ll be having philosophical conversations about the nature and importance of beauty of soul. Each day’s conversation will introduce another manifestation of beauty of soul. The final day, on resonance, intends to bring out the theme of self-integration.

Day 1. Cultivation of the Salient Virtues

Day 2. Natural Eloquence

Day 3. Graceful Action

Day 4. Gentle Demeanor

Day 5. Resonance

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