Cicero … and how to live

In “Cicero on Living a Stoic Life,” John Sellars explains Cicero’s view that there are four dimensions to who you are: common human nature, your own character traits, the circumstances in which you find yourself, and the career you choose. “So, how to live a Stoic life? The top priority remains a life in harmony with Nature/reason/virtue. Then there are the chance circumstances in which we find ourselves, out of our control and ultimately laid down by Nature too. But also central in Cicero’s account is the idea that we remain true to our own individual natures, to who we are. Thus self-knowledge becomes vital for a life in harmony with nature. Once we feel secure that we know who we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are, where we fit in the world, then the only decision to be made is how best to remain true to ourselves in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.” And all of this raises challenging questions about how much is up to you and how much just happens to you.

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Are we awe-deprived?

We now use “awesome” to describe almost everything. But how often do we experience true awe, the goose bumps that come with that “feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” Psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner say we are “awe-deprived.” And that may help explain why “people have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others.” Piff and Keltner “suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others — the teenage punk who gives up his seat on public transportation, the young child who explores the world in a state of wonder, the person who presses on against all odds.”

When medical treatment is futile

Futility cases … when doctors believe further medical treatment is futile and yet the patient’s family asks for treatment beyond palliative care … are nerve-wracking: “For most doctors, these cases present a crisis of conscience. How can we obey a central pillar of our profession — to do no harm — when we are forced to provide treatment that will only prolong suffering?” In “It’s Not Just about the ‘Quality of Life,’ ” Sandeep Jauhar sugguests: “Embracing the ethic of social justice can help us out of this morass. Social justice in medicine promotes the allocation of limited resources to maximize societal benefit.”

Philosophy of play

In “Reclaiming the Power of Play, Stephen Asma notes that “play is also a crucial part of the full life of the human animal, and yet philosophers have said very little about it.” And yet philosophy is a kind of play: “What would, and what should, we do with our free time? After the world of work, will we have the time, energy and ambition to do philosophy, make art, study history, master languages and make craft beers? Will we play creatively as ‘holy yea-sayers,’ or will we just watch more TV?”