Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions

Course No. 4320
Professor Jay L. Garfield, Ph.D.
Smith College
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Course No. 4320
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Course Overview

What is the meaning of life? It's a question every thoughtful person has pondered at one time or another. Indeed, it may be the biggest question of all. Most of us have asked ourselves this question at some time, or posed it to somebody we respect. It is at once a profound and abstract question, and a deeply personal one. We want to understand the world in which we live, but we also want to understand how to make our own lives as meaningful as possible; to know not only why we're living, but that we're doing it with intention, purpose, and ethical commitment.

But how, exactly, do we find that meaning, and develop that commitment? How can we grasp why we are here? Or how we should proceed? And to whom, exactly, are we supposed to listen as we shape the path we will walk?

The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions is an invigorating way to begin or to continue your pursuit of these questions, with no previous background in philosophical or religious thought required. Its 36 lectures offer a rigorous and wide-ranging exploration of what various spiritual, religious, and philosophical traditions from both the East and the West have contributed to this profound line of questioning.

Guided by Professor Jay L. Garfield of Smith College—as well as of the University of Massachusetts, Melbourne University in Australia, and the Central University of Tibetan Studies in India—you'll gain insights from a broad array of sources, including these:

  • Ancient Indian texts, including the Bhagavad-Gita
  • Foundational Chinese texts such as the Daodejing and the Chuang Tzu
  • Classical Western texts such as Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
  • Modern philosophers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Leo Tolstoy
  • The unique perspectives offered by Native Americans; in this case, the Lakota Sioux medicine man and writer, John Lame Deer
  • More recent and contemporary philosophers, such as Mohandas Gandhi and the Dalai Lama

Enjoy a Journey Rich in Knowledge and Perspective

The ability to ponder your own relationship with the universe and with others is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of being human. Even if you do not find a final answer to the question this course poses, each answer you consider cannot help but add depth and nuance to your own contemplation of how to live.

In considering the range of approaches to this question developed over the course of human intellectual history, you'll increase your own storehouse of wisdom, enabling you to shape a life that is as meaningful and satisfying as possible, heightening your appreciation of every moment.

The Meaning of Life is a course rich in wisdom, including the realization that although a single answer to the question may forever elude you, that elusiveness is no great tragedy. More important is the search itself, and the insights you'll gain as you realize that just as different traditions provide a vast diversity of answers, so, too, do they consistently return to recurring themes:

  • One's relationship to a larger context
  • The boundaries created by temporality and impermanence
  • The pursuit of a larger purpose, or even the goal of perfection
  • The value of spontaneity, even though the ideal of that characteristic differs from one tradition to another
  • The importance of freedom, whether from social norms and standards; religious, social, or political authority; external constraints; consumerism; or even philosophical ideas themselves
  • The commitment to live authentically

Find Common Ground with History's Most Profound Thinkers

For anyone who has spent time grappling with these ideas themselves, it is a comfort to see that even some of history's most profound thinkers have wrestled with these problems, engaging in a conversation thousands of years in length and rich in insight.

For example, while many of them agree on the importance of authenticity, their agreement marks not the end of the conversation, but its beginning.

  • Should that authenticity, as Kant and Mill believed, be epistemic, found in the hard work of serious reasoning over political, moral, and scientific issues so that we can propagate the answers we discover?
  • Should it be what we might call an aesthetic authenticity—a life lived truly in harmony with a beautifully visualized fundamental reality? Such a view attracted figures as varied as Nietzsche, the Zen writer Dogen, and Laozi, the possibly mythical figure credited with authorship of the Daodejing.
  • Or should it be instead a natural authenticity, so that you live your life as Lame Deer advocated, striving for harmony with the natural world in the face of a modern civilization whose every construct seems designed to make that impossible?

One of The Meaning of Life's great virtues is the ease with which Professor Garfield organizes and makes cohesive the vast range of perspectives. At every stage of the course, the relationship of each writer or tradition to all of the others is clear and logical, no matter how intricate or demanding a line of argument might be.

Dr. Garfield—teaching his material with extraordinary passion and thoroughness—shows great skill in unpacking the substance of each source, presenting it clearly and positioning it in its proper place within a philosophical conversation that has been going on for millennia.

And when an idea might otherwise present vexing complexities, he unveils an additional—and superbly useful—teaching skill. For Professor Garfield has the gift of analogy, enabling him to relate even the most ancient or subtle texts to your own life in ways that show their relevance to how you live today.

With The Meaning of Life, Professor Garfield has put together an intellectually gripping course that is every bit the equal of the monumental subject it sets out to explore.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Meaning of the Meaning of Life
    Establish the solid ground from which your journey will begin. You'll learn the meanings that the word "meaning," itself, may embody and preview the approaches you will take to the question that gives the course its name. x
  • 2
    The Bhagavad-Gita—Choice and Daily Life
    One of the core texts of the Mahabharata—a major moral and religious text for most Hindus—introduces you to the critically important skill of truly reading a text, deeply and with comprehension. It also begins your consideration of the concept of human choice. x
  • 3
    The Bhagavad-Gita—Discipline and Duty
    Plunge more deeply into the Bhagavad-Gita's wisdom by grasping the three kinds of yogas, or disciplines, embedded in its metaphors. See why these disciplines of action, knowledge, and devotion are all required if life is to be coherent, integrated, and rational. x
  • 4
    The Bhagavad-Gita—Union and Purpose
    Conclude your reading of the Bhagavad-Gita with an appreciation of the theophany—Krishna's revelation of the nature of divinity. True freedom, says the Gita's final message, comes from disinterested action, reflective knowledge, and a finding of value at the cosmic level of a universe divine in its own right. x
  • 5
    Aristotle on Life—The Big Picture
    Shift your perspective from India to the roots of Western thought about life's meaning by beginning your study of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics. This introductory lecture sets out the framework of Aristotle's view, as set forth in the lecture notes kept by his son and pupil, Nichomacheus. x
  • 6
    Aristotle—The Highest Good
    Explore Aristotle's search for the "highest good." It is a search that takes you through his famous "function argument" and offers an explanation of the comprehensive state of being known as eudaimonea, the fully flourishing life that may well elude evaluation until long after death. x
  • 7
    Aristotle—The Happy Life
    Your examination of Aristotle's ethical teachings concludes with his explanation of virtue, its key dimensions, and its necessary coupling with action. Special attention is also paid to the importance of friendship. x
  • 8
    Job's Predicament—Life Is So Unfair
    As you move to the Hebraic tradition, you grasp how the core question has shifted. Instead of seeking our answer in our relationship to the cosmos, as in the Indian tradition, or to society, as in that of the Greeks, the focus is now on our relationship to a personal God. x
  • 9
    Job's Challenge—Who Are We?
    The book of Job brings an encounter with a troubling conclusion. Although life may indeed have meaning, it is a meaning shrouded by a mysterious divine, and we may need to live in ignorance of what that meaning may be. x
  • 10
    Stoicism—Rationality and Acceptance
    Your focus moves to the beginnings of Stoic moral theory in the writings of Seneca and Epictetus. Their accounts of a good life describe one that is moderate, reasonable, and controlled, living in harmony with the universe and society, and accepting of the inevitability of death. x
  • 11
    Human Finitude—The Epicurean Synthesis
    A brief introduction to Lucretius, the foremost Epicurean philosopher, serves as a gateway to the thought of Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius's Meditations synthesizes Stoic ideas about rational order and the importance of emotional control with Epicurean ideas about finitude and impermanence. x
  • 12
    Confucius—Order in the Cosmos and in Life
    Your focus shifts to China and the ideas attributed to the man known to the West as Confucius. Hear what his teachings have to say about concepts like warm-heartedness, propriety, virtue, filial piety, the nature of the universe, and the achievement of an effortless excellence of character. x
  • 13
    Daodejing—The Dao of Life and Spontaneity
    An exploration of a very different Chinese approach to understanding than that set forth in Confucianism begins with a cautionary demonstration of the startling differences in interpretation that will always be present among various translations of a text. x
  • 14
    Daodejing—The Best Life Is a Simple Life
    Some beautiful readings from the Daodejing bring out the profound differences in outlook that set it apart from Confucianism. Grasp how it turns away from social structures and the "cultivation" of individual excellence in favor of a simple, natural life. x
  • 15
    Daodejing—Subtlety and Paradox
    Conclude your immersion in the Daodejing with this examination of some of its most important aspects. Take in its perspectives on the nature of the universe, the subtlety and suppleness of virtue, the value of "negativity," and the delicacy of life. x
  • 16
    Zhuangzi on Daoism—Impermanence and Harmony
    Your exploration of Daoism ends with its longest classical text, the Zhuangzi. You find not only the themes of spontaneity and the suspicion of logic, but also ridicule of the Confucian emphasis on ritual, propriety, and rigid relationships. x
  • 17
    The Teachings of the Buddha
    This lecture begins with the search for enlightenment by a young Indian prince and concludes with an introduction to what he found—the so-called Four Noble Truths, including the eightfold path to sharing that enlightenment. x
  • 18
    Santideva—Mahayana Buddhism
    Here you begin your study of one of the major evolutions in Buddhist thought, the Mahayana, and one of its major texts—Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara—a "how-to" manual for leading an enlightened life. x
  • 19
    Santideva—Transforming the Mind
    Enhance your grasp of Mahayana Buddhism and Santideva's description of the meaningful life, achieved only through the "six perfections"—the pursuit of generosity, propriety, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom. x
  • 20
    Zen—The Moon in a Dewdrop and Impermanence
    Expand your understanding of Buddhism with an introduction to Zen. This path to Buddhahood is aimed at direct transformation. Knowledge is handed directly from mind to mind, with great emphasis placed on a teacher-disciple lineage that each Zen master can trace directly to Zen's originating moment. x
  • 21
    Zen—Being-Time and Primordial Awakening
    This lecture takes you through Zen concepts like duality and non-duality, perception and conception, Dogen's presentation of time as the very nature of our world, and what is required to reawaken our primordial Buddha-nature. x
  • 22
    Taking Stock of the Classical World
    A look back at the classical traditions studied thus far reveals that although there is no unanimity, there are common dimensions, as well as a consensus about the value of a virtuoso life attained through contemplation and practice. x
  • 23
    Hume's Skepticism and the Place of God
    European modernity brings the first challenges of science and reason to the primacy of theology. David Hume argues that, although theism may well be reasonable, it cannot be rational, establishing the foundation for separate public and private spheres. x
  • 24
    Hume's Careless and Compassionate Vision
    You explore Hume's distinctions between Nature and Second Nature, the importance of our social lives to our cognitive lives, and the key roles our passions and imagination play in our beliefs and actions. x
  • 25
    Kant—Immaturity and the Challenge to Know
    The work of Immanuel Kant is considered the demarcation line for modern academic philosophy. Here you take up Kant's view of the Enlightenment as a call for people to emerge from their self-imposed immaturity and realize their nature as fully formed human beings. x
  • 26
    Mill's Call to Individuality and to Liberty
    Readings from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty reveal the first purely individualistic doctrine of the meaning of life encountered in the course. Mill presents the strongest possible defense of the connection between a meaningful life and a liberal social order. x
  • 27
    Tolstoy—Is Everyday Life the Real Thing?
    A novella by Tolstoy presents a very different and critical view of modernity, suggesting that its values of secularization and mass society invariably lead us, in fact, to a life that is meaningless. x
  • 28
    Nietzsche—Twilight of the Idols
    Nietzsche initiates postmodernism in philosophy—its first sustained attack on modernity. Through readings from his Twilight of the Idols, you grasp Nietzsche's dismissal of modernity's core values, including philosophical progress, reason, systematicity, god, and transcendent value. x
  • 29
    Nietzsche—Achieving Authenticity
    Nietzsche's repudiation of modernity's concept of a meaningful life does not mean he lacks his own. This lecture presents his vision of life as a successful creative act on a grand scale, with oneself as the hero of a great autobiography. x
  • 30
    Gandhi—Satyagraha and Holding Fast to Truth
    Your introduction to the thought of Gandhi reveals him as even more radical than Nietzsche. Although a realization of Gandhi's views would admittedly sacrifice many of modernity's benefits, including much of technology, medicine, and law, it is a price he says we must be willing to pay. x
  • 31
    Gandhi—The Call to a Supernormal Life
    Gandhi's own life serves as an example of the supernormal life he advocates. See how his argument for what he believes to be the only meaningful life includes echoes from almost every text we've examined. x
  • 32
    Lame Deer—Life Enfolded in Symbols
    Readings from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions offer a different vantage point for seeking meaning: a symbolic view of life. It is not that modernity lacks its own symbolism or is without meaning, says this Lakota Sioux holy man, but that it means the wrong things. x
  • 33
    Lame Deer—Our Place in a Symbolic World
    Go deeper into Lame Deer's critique of modernity, examining his ideas about the impact of money and our fetishism about it, the alienation from nature it brings about, and modernity's simultaneous denial and spreading of death. x
  • 34
    HH Dalai Lama XIV—A Modern Buddhist View
    You are introduced to the Dalai Lama's Buddhist-inflected but very modern, secular vision about the universal human goal of happiness. You learn its components and the relationship between their pursuit and the interconnectedness of human life. x
  • 35
    HH Dalai Lama XIV—Discernment and Happiness
    A vigorous discussion of how to achieve happiness reveals how the Dalai Lama's views of a meaningful life, modern as they are, also contain a deep traditionalist thread. We must still commit to the bodhisattva path, the altruistic aspiration to attain awakening for the benefit of all. x
  • 36
    So, What Is the Meaning of Life?
    Tempting as it may be to form a single answer agreed on by all, there is none to be found. What is clear is that there are recurrent themes, with the answer that works for you likely to be found among them. x

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Your professor

Jay L. Garfield

About Your Professor

Jay L. Garfield, Ph.D.
Smith College
Dr. Jay L. Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and director of both the Logic Program and of the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program at Smith College. The holder of a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Garfield also serves on the faculties of the University of Massachusetts, Melbourne University in Australia, and the Central University of...
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Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 129.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sincere perspective about a meaningful life Prof Garfield did an exceptional job explaining the various Asian schools of thought and religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.). He shared source documents and helped interpret them in light of what is meaningful (to him). Rather than treat old source documents as only a matter of historic importance, he was able to find and share their deeper meaning, still fully relevant to life in the 21st century. As a former philosophy and religion major in college, one of my primary objections to these areas of focus was the objective manner in which studies are currently performed, as if the objects of study are sterile entities which no longer have a real meaning for us now. Prof Garfield does not fall prey to this orientation of being merely a distant, objective observer. Instead, he successfully conveys his interpretation of the current value and meaning of many great works from the past. In his last lecture, Prof Garfield purports to objectively identify “recurrent themes” common to most or all of the various perspectives covered in the course; the implication is that these common themes help us identify what is really meaningful in life, not specific to a particular school of thought. However, of necessity, when he assembled content for this course, Prof Garfield already was highly selective of the material based upon his own perspective. He then draws conclusions about this material, though the “conclusions” were already baked into the selection process. This is understandable and does not negate the value of this course. However, it’s important to note that even the conclusions in the last lecture are specific to Prof Garfield’s concept of a meaningful life. As mentioned in other course reviews, I found his constant hand gestures distracting.
Date published: 2019-04-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing The lecturer sometimes does not speak clearly. His explications did not get through to me anyway. I personally think that gospel-based religion with the philosophy: 'earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can' and with a good welfare system is all that humanity can aspire to, to give life meaning and purpose. If Ghandi's philosophy about how live an ethical life is the epitome then in my humble opinion he should have got out more.
Date published: 2019-04-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing, biased, mis-titled I didn't purchase this course to hear someone trying to sell me on a mystical Eastern religion and Yoga! But Dr. Garfield starts by relating Indian fairy tales, via the Bhagavad-Gita ~ "Discipline as the key to freedom." Obviously Dr. Garfield LOVES the Bhagavad-Gita. This professor is biased, continually seeking ways to support HIS views, presenting leading figures who support to his own commitment beliefs. This is VERY far from a balanced course. The question he tries to answer is "How can a finite life be meaningful in an infinite universe?" Moving on to Aristotle (Lecture 5), the professor reminds us we are still seeking an answer to the question "What is the meaning of life?" and remarks that there are many voices, from many different cultures. Yes, indeed. I think he was plainly wrong to start with Indian philosophy, so remote and alien to the huge majority of us in the West. I could not finish this course. For one thing, the professor does not in fact address the TITLE of the course ~ that is enough for me to drop out. An extremely disappointing course which I cannot recommend.
Date published: 2019-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of 65 TGC courses -- the most useful information Probably needs a subtitle "a guide to life & living" as opposed to a tombstone epitaph. An excellent secular dissertation by numerous wise & renowned sages with varying & contrasting opposing perspectives. Since the question VARIES with the individual & culture - it appears NOBODY [really] knows "the meaning of life". Take your pick. The course was quite thorough. I took 31 pages of notes. The title term "meaning" can also be interpreted as "purpose". It is common sense to assess the "purpose" of something by asking the MANUFACTURER - not the manufactured. That would be equivalent of a Chevy explaining its meaning & purpose to a Ford. However, since it is not "politically correct" to mention god in the matter - I will use absurdity to illustrate absurdity: may the dignified intellectuals ask what our meaning & purpose is -- from the monkeys. Course was great & interesting - very satisfied.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous class! I thoroughly enjoyed this class! The professor was engaging and knowledgeable. This is a class I wish I had taken in my twenties. The section on Aristotle was especially good as well as the Taoist and Buddhist lectures. I ordered the class on The Nicomachean Ethics because I found the Aristotle classes so fascinating.
Date published: 2018-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I’m glad that I bought this class. The best is the first 4 chapters, although the others are also well presented. I’d love to see a future class devoted solely on Nietzsche
Date published: 2018-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The world of Meanings I loved the historical background on each subject and the review of the prior lectures at the beginning of each new lecture. Loved the presentation of professor Jay L. Garfield, his passion for Philosophy, his dedication to learn all this, his knowledge, and humbling presentation. Inspired me to learn more about it.
Date published: 2018-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I wanted. Excellent presenter.Opened my mind.
Date published: 2018-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from and well worth a dollar Assuming you don't already have a PHD in philosophy and theology, there is a lot here worth hearing. Prof. Garfield is easy to listen to, and engaging. I have attended about 15 of the Great Courses sets, and I think this is my favorite.
Date published: 2018-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A smorgasbord with a few very tasty dishes The main complaints about this course, that it ignores much that one would expect from something entitled “Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions” are well founded. But, they are not enough for me to withhold my recommendation. I thought that Professor Garfield was interesting and engaging in his way of lecturing. I thought, for example, that the lectures on Aristotle, which had to be an overview, were clear and helpful in an understanding of that important part of the Western tradition. I would only add for those hesitant about purchasing this series that although it is like a bit of a smorgasbord that tends to favor the Asian and South Asian intellectual cuisines, it is done well. And if one wants the meaning of life theme to be more Western and more meticulously developed from lecture to lecture, then I would strongly recommend Robert Kane’s compelling series entitled “Quest for meaning." But, give Professor Garfield his due. Smorgasbords sometime have a few very tasty dishes that are worth the price.
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Going for Breadth Rather Than Depth First: no, you don't get a certificate at the end of the course that you have now learned the meaning of life. Nor do you hear pontificated, the "true meaning" of life. This course is perhaps best understood as a fairly wide survey of philosophical and religious views of life (and its meaning) from a great diversity of traditions. I counted basically 16 such traditions (some might quibble, adding or subtracting 1 or 2 from that count). The most critical reviews complained that this lecturer is biased: against a monotheistic view of the world and much in favor of Eastern philosophies and religions. It's a fair point to observe that there isn't any lecture devoted to either a Christian or a Moslem understanding of the meaning of life. I would defend the series by observing that at least in Western countries where this course is most often going to get an audience, the monotheistic view of the meaning of life, certainly from a Christian view, and even to a large degree, the Moslem view, is pretty well understood. I think the lecturer wants to present as many new viewpoints to his audience as he thinks he can convey, and I also think that unless you are a professional scholar, some of these are bound to be new to you. From the Bhagavad Gita to Aristotle, from Nietzche to a native American, there's a lot of diversity here. It's true that some views receive the attention of only a single lecture and others as many as four, but I think perhaps there's a correlation between how great an impact that particular movement still has today, or how comprehensive its world-view is, and the amount of time spent on that movement. In the end, covering 16 differing world-views in only 36 lectures is bound to seem a rather superficial coverage, and yet inevitably there will be cries about why even more weren't included too. Nevertheless I'm glad that I went through the whole thing; I did get a broader perspective than I had beforehand. As usual, some of the stories are more memorable than the intellectual superstructures. It is the stories of lives lived that lend a feeling of vividness and reality to the concepts. Naturally I do not find myself in agreement with every viewpoint, or even with the Professor's understanding of some of the views, but then--why should we accept such matters unthinkingly? I doubt Professor Garfield would advocate that either.
Date published: 2018-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title describes the content and essence of the tal Very useful and fascinating ideas. Enjoyed every minute of the talk!
Date published: 2017-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses here. I have had the pleasure of listening to many courses here and can honestly say that this course by Dr. Garfield is one of the best, if not the best.
Date published: 2017-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title is precise and accurate This course, one of dozens of my courses, is my favorite. Dr. Jay Garfield is enthusiastic, professional, and always seems eager for me to grasp the many great concepts and multiple ideas he is presenting. I am already planning on taking Dr. Garfield's course again and again for the joy of gaining a vast array of fascinating knowledge and share his enjoyment in the process. The persons who gave this course a lower rating maybe forgot to take the whole course, or read the course outline before hand?
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why philosophy should be studied by everyone This is an excellent example of why people should study philosophy. It has often been fashionable to dismiss philosophy as being unnecessary in the modern age, but Professor Jay Garfield certainly dispels this notion. Indeed, the title Meaning of Life strikes at the very core of our reasons for living. I doubt that this subject will ever be unimportant in reality. Professor Garfield follows the subject from early Indian culture to modern Buddhist thought, stopping to examine Aristotle, the Dao, Hume, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Gandhi and Lame Deer on the way. I recommend this course to anyone who is introspective enough to think critically about why we are here and where we are going.
Date published: 2017-09-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I enjoyed this course very much, and found the professor's enthusiasm for the subject matter very engaging. The inclusion of viewpoints from both philosophical and religious/spiritual traditions is, I think, the best aspect of this course. Also, the professor's style of presentation involved lots of summary and comparative comments, which tied the material together very nicely. My only disappointment with this course was a lack of content surrounding the transcendent or mystical aspects of finding meaning in life.
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lives up to its name I'm just about finished listening to the full course and have thoroughly enjoyed every lecture. I plan on listening to the whole course again.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from relevant and highly accurate This course is so fantastic that I am wondering why I ever actually attended classes on campuses for so many years. This is very high quality instruction that keeps my mind limber and allows me to study and learn areas in which I have great interest. As a result, the caliber of my overall knowledge has expanded as I become more learnered.
Date published: 2017-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from clear, accurate I've only listened to 5 lectures so far, but can tell this course is a winner. The teacher is engaging and presents the rather challenging subject matter clearly and with a quiet kind of passion that draws you in.
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Inquiry into Life's Most Important Question I found this course to be a deep and thorough treatment of the question - "What is the Meaning of Life." The professor was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I learn a lot and came to challenge my own assumptions.
Date published: 2016-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you have time for self reflection . . . this is an outstanding course to audit. The presentation is insightful, inclusive, and thought-provoking. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three lectures on discs one and two. However, the fourth lecture on disc two would not read on my Bose machine. It just happens to be about my favorite scripture, the Gita. So I would like to have you resend either disc two or another complete set, whichever is easier for you. Admittedly I have not tried to listen to the discs that followed disc two.
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Expansive yet limited look at global traditions This course made me think - a lot, which is a good thing for a philosophy course. However, one thing I thought about throughout the course was the way it skittered, slithered and slid among different formulations of its central question. Sometimes the question was "What is the meaning of life?" Sometimes the question was "What is a meaningful life?" And sometimes the question was "What is a good life, the kind of life we should strive for and applaud?" These are distinct questions, not the same. Yet even with the vagueness of the central question, there was one question never broached: "What would be a meaningful life for me?" or "How can I lead a life that is meaningful to me?" Clearly there are ways for me to lead a meaningful life that would not have meaning for others. Throughout the course, Prof. Garfield discusses the meaning of life or the meaningful life only in a universal sense - as if once we figure it out for one person, it's the same for everyone. I don't agree with that. In addition, he hardly ever broaches the question of what it would be like for one to choose one of the options he presents in the course - for one as a unique individual having grown up in a certain culture and perhaps also a certain religion before encountering these ideas. He seems so concerned that we take each tradition seriously, yet what would be involved for a 21st century American woman, for example, to adopt Confucianism or a Nietzschean point of view for living a meaningful life - or even to follow the Dalai Lama's philosophy of life, which he presents as the apotheosis of all the views? Excellent lectures, for me, were the ones on the Stoics, Daoism, the Buddha, Nietzsche and Gandhi. The weakest lecture was on the Bhagavad Gita. Prof. Garfield seemed terribly insistent that we understand the Gita as personally relevant to us. He explained this work as focused on duty and on being part of a cosmic whole. However, duty is not part of my everyday life, and the examples he gave were by and large duties that one could escape by resigning a certain role. In the Gita, though, Arjuna could not escape duty because it was a caste duty. There is no analog to that for those of us living in America today. As for being part of a cosmic whole, he didn't explain that either in a way that I could relate to and that would explain why Emerson, Thoreau, Robert Oppenheimer and many others were so taken with the Bhagavad Gita. For me, that lecture was a total failure, though I got something valuable from almost every other lecture. I wish he had included Socrates' view that "the unexamined life is not worth living," the Judeo-Christian-Islamic idea of living a life of faith and the Wittgensteinian idea that when you know the meaning of life, you do not have an answer to the question but rather the question has disappeared. Prof. Garfield has a slow-moving, repetitive lecture style that is also highly conversational and informal. For my taste, too informal at times, such as when he called Siddhartha "Sid." On the other hand, he clearly has engaged deeply himself with all the texts he discusses. On the whole, I can still recommend this course to someone who wants an overview of philosophical traditions around the world, with some connections made amongst them. Maybe it would be best to engage with the course in some kind of discussion group where you could discuss with others the relevance of each thinker for you in your present and future life.
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too narrow view on meaning of life The course begins with the Bhagavad Gita and points out some interesting aspects, but misses the big picture that this work is a blatant attempt to justify discrimination against lower caste people. Unfortunately, the course goes downhill from there. It is also clear that the instructor dismisses the teaching of Jesus, which deserve at least one lecture.
Date published: 2016-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Lecturer so far Thank you Mr. Garfield. I can not tell you how much I enjoyed your lectures. If I was in the vicinity I would certainly take your classes. You have opened my eyes to a world of Ideas....Please. If you record any other lectures for The Great Courses let me know...
Date published: 2016-05-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misses The Meaning of Life Pros : (1) He did a passable job of explaining the concepts of the books he covered. (2) He clearly had a personal appreciation of and passion for the ideas that he covered. (3) Emphasis on source material, including actual readings. Cons: (1) Terrible coverage of Judeo-Christian tradition. Seriously - the book of Job represents the meaning of life for ~4 billion Jews, Christians, and Muslims? I think not! (2) Insufficient coverage of existentialism and western post-modernists (3) Many of his observations about eastern religions seemed simplistic and overly influenced by a desire to turn them into something that a westerner could learn to like in a semester course on the meaning of life. (4) WRT modernism and post-modernism, to little personal and too much political and economic. He made it sound like the whole history of modern and post-modern philosophy should be understood as a backdrop for the culture wars. Gandhi, Lame Deer, and the Dalai Lama all come from oppressed populations and it is natural that they should complain against the politics and economics of modern first and second world nations. There was no voice from one of those modern societies - the closest in time and place was Nietzsche. (5) I really, really wanted to hear him talk more about the significance of choices (which he alluded to a lot) against a deterministic context. (6) Everything was beautiful or elicited some other positive emotion. Actually, I began to wonder if he ignored the Judeo-Christian tradition because he couldn't find anything beautiful in it. Or if the stark determinism of modern scientific naturalism was too much for a course where the significance of choices was a primary topic. Perhaps it's inevitable in a course like this, but I felt more like I was looking at a vision of the lecturer's soul than a relatively even-handed academic treatment of the topic, and in that sense it felt more like listening to a set of religious lectures than academic ones. Maybe that's what he was shooting for.
Date published: 2016-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meaning of Life: perspectives etc. Engaging professor, who very skillfully ties ancient philosophy to lessons for modern day living.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Watching it again! This is definitely one of the best of the Great Courses that I have watched. Professor Garfield is not only knowledgeable, but an excellent speaker who makes complex topics make sense. His enthusiasm for the topic, and teaching, comes through in every session.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meaningful Topic--Inspiring Lecturer Casts a fairly wide net and yields a bountiful harvest of ideas. Animated, passionate professor that distills subject matter down to an engaging 1/2 hour lecture on each topic. I hope we can find him teaching additional courses in the future.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Meaning of Life Excellent course, love the content and how it inspires to learn more in this area of importance in ones own purpose.
Date published: 2016-01-21
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