Developing an Aristotelian Life Plan

January 25, 2012

As we begin thinking about our final project, I’d like us to crowdsource ideas for what that document should include. You will be writing something in the neighborhood of 10 pages or so, and it will need to be summative of the course in its integration of ideas and positions. So our ideas on this will change, but let’s go ahead and write something in the sand, before the tide comes in.

Aristotle believed that man should include a number of necessary and desirable elements in his overall aim of and plan for having a good or happy life. These elements should be coherently integrated with one another over a person’s whole life span, including both short-term and long-term goals. This is why he believed in a life plan.

This comprehensive life plan should also elaborate ways to achieve and integrate these aims with a view toward the most completeness (teleiotes) and self-sufficiency (autarkeia). A good life plan has virtuous activity as its cornerstone, according to Aristotle, because a good life is one that is shaped and directed through the exercise of virtue.

Is a good or worthwhile life plan possible? Aristotle states that a man of practical wisdom is able to deliberate “about what sorts of thing conduce to the good life in general.” So, yes, it’s possible. Because man is a social animal, this plan will include living with and working among family, friends, and fellow citizens, “since man is born for citizenship.”

So, how should we conceive of or organize our life plan? As if it were a self-help book? A declaration of some sorts? As a sort of contract with yourself? I’m interested in your reactions.

Regardless of its final form, here are some sections we might consider including in any template or proposal for a life plan:

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Identity
  • Talents and strengths
  • Wealth
  • Spiritual development
  • Identification and achievement of potentials
  • Lifestyle and quality of life
  • Health
  • Freedom, or liberty, or personal autonomy
  • Social freedom

Others? Think in terms of a mini-table of contents for these. What will should be on it? Here’s a first stab:

  1. Introduction and laying out of basic assumptions
  2. Description of the approach taken, and of the factors considered
  3. The life plan itself, divided by section
  4. Action steps, both near- and long-term
  5. Conclusions, caveats, qualifications

This is merely meant to get us thinking, to start the process. It’s exciting! It’s up to us, and we get to use Reason!

Deadline for your comment to this post: Thursday, Feb. 2.


What is a good life? Laying some groundwork

January 12, 2012

As promised, a prompt for our continued discussion principally on this idea that perhaps the pursuit of the good life (or a happy one) could in some way preclude us from attaining it. In other words, in general terms, can happiness be meaningfully pursued, or is it or should it instead be a byproduct or fruit of something else, of some other pursuit?

In thinking towards our first reading, might not the search for happiness entail its own undoing? Might the modern commandment to, “Be happy!” produce its own form of discontent?

And I’m deeply interested in your ideas about happiness as a sort of “right” or entitlement. Do you believe that we have a “right” to happiness? Why or why not?

Finally, in response to the Truman Show, what role does free will play in the pursuit of a good life? In other words, how authentically lived must a life be in order to be deemed “good” or, to use some good terms brought up today, “noble” or “honorable”? (Ooh, this is a good one.)

Please post a comment in response to these questions and to your classmates’ ponderings here no later than midnight Martin Luther King Day (Monday, Jan. 21), so I have a chance to read them before class the next day).


Writing prompts for your sample due Wednesday

January 11, 2012

You’ll be writing about 750 words, an entirely arbitrary number or limit. We need enough to be able to spot bad habits, problems and areas for growth. You will want to jot down some ideas before committing to the piece. You will NOT turn in a first draft. Ernest Hemingway: “All first drafts are shit.” So don’t expect too much from a first draft, and don’t subject your reader(s) to a first draft. Allow yourself to fumble around a bit, to even fail. You will re-vise, self-edit and polish before submitting.

I’ve put together some prompts below to help you get started. The key for each is vivid description. Don’t just tell us she was pretty; SHOW us by richly, vividly, pains-takingly describing her to us ON A PARTICULAR DAY or moment. This makes good writing.

Option A: Recall your first love. Remember the person. The emotions. The big date, or prom. Remember his or her smell. What did you talk about? What did you share in common? What drove you crazy about him or her? Looking back now, is there a sense of sadness, of loss? Something else?

Option B: Recall your brush with the stars (or a star/celebrity/public figure). How did it happen? How did it make you feel? What were you wearing? What was he or she wearing? How close did you get? What were you thinking at the time. Sights, smells, sounds.

Option C: Recall your first memorable experience with your own writing, good or bad. What did you write? What aspect of the experience was especially painful or joyous or whatever it was? How did it alter how you think about writing, or your attitudes toward the activity of writing? How did you learn from the experience? How has it changed your behavior.

And remember: Writer’s block is a fiction (ha!). An excuse. Writing is work. Imagine a plumber saying, “Oh, I have plumber’s block today. I’m just not feeling it. I’ll plumb when I get the feeling back.” You may not feel inspired, but go to work anyway. Sit your ass in the chair and write. We all want to write well RIGHT NOW. But it takes time and work. If there is no wind, ROW!


For Friday’s current events discussion

January 11, 2012

Hi COM 303 editors!

Post your five current events questions as comments to this post. This will give me one-stop shopping to see, organize and think about your questions. Focus on “how?” and “why?” questions. These questions can come from anywhere in the newspaper — any section — but focus on the one day (Thursday). Publish your questions in the form of a comment to this post.

Some good sample questions:

  1. Mitt Romney just won the New Hampshire primary. Why are Iowa and New Hampshire — two fairly small states in terms of population — the first two primaries? Why not, say, California and Texas?
  2. In 2012, how is that the government still can regulate television? Doesn’t the First Amendment immune broadcasters from government censorship?
  3. Why does Iran think that a U.S. citizen, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, is a spy? (Iran has sentenced Hekmati to death.)

Use either tomorrow’s print or online versions of the New York Times.

Deadline: 8 p.m. Thursday, January 12.


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