Philosophy as a Guide to Living

Course No. 4244
Professor Stephen A. Erickson, Ph.D.
Pomona College
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Course No. 4244
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Course Overview

Is there meaning in human life? All of us have asked ourselves this question. But for philosophers through the ages, it was the first question of many, for they needed to know whether such a question was even answerable by philosophy. And if it was, they needed to ask whether any positive answer could be pursued through the practice of philosophy itself.

Today, these questions remain as timely and controversial as ever. But following the pathway of proposed answers on anything other than a level surface—no matter how fascinating we find the subject—can often be difficult for those untrained in philosophy and the profound rigor of its arguments and language.

Provocative, Accessible Lectures

What a delight, then, to be able to offer Professor Stephen A. Erickson's Philosophy as a Guide to Living—a thoughtful, stimulating, and most important, accessible discussion of how some of the greatest minds of the past three centuries have pondered why we are here and what journey we might be on.

It's a chance for you to take your own journey, as Professor Erickson guides you along the intellectual road traveled by post-Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and other European philosophers. These ideas persist to the present day, as contemporary philosophers have taken up the intellectual route so irresistible to the likes of later intellectuals—Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, and Habermas.

Each one, says Professor Erickson, "speaks in important ways to the time in which we now find ourselves. They are concerned with exploring the limits of human reason and are focused on the likely course of history. These philosophers tend also to pay close attention to our lives in the world, enmeshed in culture and questing after significant opportunities for self-understanding and personal development."

Most important, you can comprehend what each has to say equipped with your own intellect, curiosity, and fascination with the course's central question. Professor Erickson has designed a course that requires no prior background in philosophy and avoids the often-intimidating language in which serious philosophy can be expressed. And he has done so without diminishing the extraordinary intellectual depth that each of the philosophers included here bring to the debate.

Anyone who has ever studied philosophy at length will understand what a remarkable achievement this course is. From his first lecture, when he removes any threat of confusion about the "axial model of understanding"—one of the few technical terms used in these lectures—it is clear that this is a different kind of philosophy course. Professor Erickson clearly explains that the term is the basic model of understanding life that has dominated philosophical and religious thinking in the West for 3,000 years—the idea that life is a process or journey between two different orders: from darkness to light, from bondage to liberation, from experiencing the world's appearance to understanding its reality.

A Comfortable Approach to Theory

This clarity soon becomes evident as the norm of the course; it is the result of an award-winning teacher's relaxed and contemplative style, free of jargon, and favoring the concrete over the abstract. Professor Erickson is also skilled at weaving in quick summaries of what preceding philosophers had to say about the topic being covered, so it is always clear exactly where each new thinker fits in. The course is an ideal way to become comfortable with philosophical ideas. And it's an approach that brings to life the beliefs and arguments of these great thinkers, as well as the philosophers themselves.

Lecture by lecture, you'll encounter some of the inspirational minds that have helped humankind probe what is perhaps its most fundamental question, including:

  • Karl Marx, whose horror over working conditions in 19th-century England and contempt of the ways of the privileged would ultimately alter the political landscape of the world
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, whose own brand of Existentialism represented a dramatic detour from Kierkegaard's, and who left a lasting imprint on philosophical thought, even though he became hopelessly insane the last 11 years of his life
  • Sigmund Freud, whose impact on the field of psychology cannot obscure the relevance his work has for philosophers grappling with questions about meaning and the foundations of self-knowledge

The avenues opened by these thinkers, and by all the minds explored in these lectures, do not, of course, explain the meaning of life. Or even if such a meaning exists. But they do take us further along a journey that will almost certainly never end.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Axial Model
    The philosophical and religious understanding of life in the West has been axial for almost 3,000 years. This lecture explores how axial thinking, the understanding of life as a journey, came into being and how it has shaped our belief systems. x
  • 2
    Kant’s Hopeful Program
    We review some examples of the axial model at work in Western philosophy before turning to the beginning of its collapse during the Enlightenment c. 1750, most notably in the writings of Immanuel Kant. x
  • 3
    The Kantian Legacy
    We look at Kant's claims regarding both human nature and the limits to our knowledge, particularly his account of how a moral life ought to be led in the face of our irremediable ignorance of ultimate things and the consequences of this understanding for religion. x
  • 4
    Kant and the Romantic Reaction
    Kant becomes subject to criticism for comprehending the trajectory and ideal of human life too restrictively as a battle between moral duty and personal inclination. In reaction, a philosophical agenda that we now call Romanticism emerges, which glorifies the individual and the exceptional. x
  • 5
    Hegel on the Human Spirit
    Enlightenment philosophers pay little attention to human history, focusing on a future in which reason, science, and education overcome tradition and superstition to achieve human equality. Georg W. F. Hegel dramatically alters this picture and seeks to undermine its assumptions. x
  • 6
    Hegel on State and Society
    Hegel understands human history to be the progressive, though problematic, journey to human freedom. His notion of freedom and of human rights in general is different from and more inclusive than our Anglo-American versions. x
  • 7
    Hegel on Selfhood and Human Identity
    We examine Hegel's seemingly counterintuitive conception of Self, which involves relational elements, and we consider Hegel's three dimensions of our selfhood. x
  • 8
    Schopenhauer’s Pessimism
    An unusual figure in philosophy, Arthur Schopenhauer offers an account of our nature that is most bleak, earning him the title of pessimist. We see how his own life makes his pessimism understandable. x
  • 9
    Schopenhauer’s Remedies
    Optimally, a guide to living delivers us not only from something, but also for or to something. The latter is lacking in Schopenhauer. In the end there is nothing, and the solution cannot be found in philosophy. We look at the four suggestions he offers. x
  • 10
    Alienation in Marx
    For Karl Marx, it is not our reason but socioeconomic forces that constitute our fundamental relations with the world. He asserts that not thought, but the concrete—the work activities we engage in—reveal, determine, and distort our natures. x
  • 11
    Marx’s Utopian Hope
    We examine Marx's belief that we belong to history and that we will find the meaning of our lives through it. We also study his claim that revolution, not philosophy, is necessary to overcome our alienation and transform our spirit. x
  • 12
    Kierkegaard’s Crises
    For Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, often called the father of Existentialism, the large and pervasive phenomena that preoccupy Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Marx fall away, and an intense focus is placed upon the individual. x
  • 13
    Kierkegaard’s Passion
    We look at Kierkegaard's argument for a passionate commitment to an ethical life devoted to the discovery and becoming of who we really are, which in turn leads to a direct passage toward religious salvation. x
  • 14
    Why God Died—Nietzsche’s Claim
    This lecture examines Nietzsche's indictment of both philosophy and religion as contributions to human decadence and analyzes his claim of the "death" of God, heralding pervasive disorientation, the arrival of a time of potentially courageous nihilism, and the power of human creativity. x
  • 15
    Nietzsche’s Dream
    There are no facts, says Nietzsche, only interpretations, especially in the realm of morality. He offers a fundamental and provocative distinction between a slave morality that conforms to assumed norms and a master morality that creates values through its activities. x
  • 16
    Freud’s Nightmare
    Is making shrewd compromises the best we can do with life? The philosopher in Sigmund Freud asserts that such compromises are both highly costly and terribly necessary. We focus on Freud's two pivotal means of achieving what he considers salvation: work and love. x
  • 17
    Freud on Our Origins
    Freud declares that raising metaphysical questions about our origins and destinies is symptomatic of illness. Part of the reason for this bleak view came from what he understood of those origins. x
  • 18
    Psychoanalytic Visions in and after Freud
    Some say that through psychoanalysis, sin is converted to guilt and the soul is replaced by the unconscious. We look at different perspectives on fundamental human drives that power us as Freud and those who followed him sought to understand and come to terms with those drives. x
  • 19
    Heidegger on the Meaning of Meaning
    Has our era become so misguided that we no longer concern ourselves with questions of meaning but only calculate costs and practical, material benefits? The man considered by many to be the 20th century's most influential philosopher claims this is the case. x
  • 20
    Heidegger on Technology’s Threat
    Heidegger claims that art can perhaps replace a Nietzschean world in which God is dead and the gods have fled, and puts the source of our core problem—dehumanization—in technology. x
  • 21
    Heidegger’s Politics and Legacy
    However great a philosopher, Heidegger was also a National Socialist in Nazi Germany—and for far longer than he later chose to admit. We examine the key turning points of his life and the implications of his politics. x
  • 22
    The Human Situation—Sartre and Camus
    Is isolation to be considered a means of liberation or estrangement? Is freedom a goal to pursue or a sentence to avoid? Two French philosophers raise provocative questions about our human situation. x
  • 23
    Power and Reason—Foucault and Habermas
    This lecture examines the theories of two of the 20th century's most challenging thinkers as they explore relationships among institutions, power, communications, and reason. x
  • 24
    Today’s Provocative Landscape—Thresholding
    The final lecture looks at the ideas and questions explored during the course and reflects on the role of philosophy in bringing us closer to answers about the meaning of life. x

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Your professor

Stephen A. Erickson

About Your Professor

Stephen A. Erickson, Ph.D.
Pomona College
Dr. Stephen A. Erickson is Professor of Philosophy and E. Wilson Lyon Professor of the Humanities at Pomona College, where he has been teaching for more than 40 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University. Professor Erickson has received awards from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Earhart Foundation. He is the recipient of Four Wig Awards for...
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Philosophy as a Guide to Living is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 57.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have seriously mixed feelings about this course. On the one hand, there are some excellent discussions of Kant and Kierkegaard and some others. On the other hand, the professor gives three lectures to Freud, whose work has been rejected by people with knowledge of the subject,. For one thing, Freud says that relations with the opposite gender are the primary human drive; he could say that because none of his patients ever went hungry. If he worked with the people typical of his time, he would have realized that the drive to eat is much stronger than the drive he put in first place. Professor Erickson also gives two lectures to Marx, whose conclusions likewise have generally been repudiated as out of touch with reality.. I particularly am dismayed by his endorsement of Marx's idea that all work should be a satisfying exhibition of our personal creativity. This idea would make it impossible to create anything one couldn't complete on one's own, and my mother-in-law would have spent her whole life scrubbing the clothes for her husband and 10 children on the washboard she started out with, even in a Michigan winter, because there would have been no assembly lines to build inexpensive washing machines. As the period of the Soviet Union amply demonstrated, Marx's views are some of the most toxic ever spewed out by philosophers. I also was disturbed by the professor's waiting until his third lecture on Heidegger to mention that he was a Nazi. He was an important one, and that should not be downplayed. So you will learn a great deal about philosophy of recent centuries; you will spend a fair amount of time on men who aren't worth it.
Date published: 2015-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A history of philosophical thinking This is a very though-provoking set of lectures by an eminently knowledgeable philosophy professor in Dr. Erickson. While the course might not at first seem to be the guide to living that its title suggests I do believe that the course lives up to its name because of the in-depth look at so many different European philosophers and the general focus on identifying a tradition of philosophical thinking from the 18th century onwards and then seeing how that thinking can potentially make sense to our own views on the meaning of life. First of all Prof. Erickson outlines for his listeners (I listened to the audio version, and I think that's all anyone needs) a very accessible way of considering how to regard philosophy in the first place, primarily as a kind of journey of the mind. What follows in his lectures becomes itself a journey, as we consider predominant ideas related to philosophy from about the 18th century onwards. Sometimes the lectures can seem quite dense with information. Particularly, if one is new to this subject, there is a lot to retain. Not only do listeners need to know the various philosophical positions described by Prof. Erickson, but they also need to place these philosophers in their proper historical contexts. However, I was impressed by the way Prof. Erickson would return to key ideas as a way of catching up to a presently considered philosophical position. That is, we don't simply encounter Kant at the beginning of the series when he is introduced and his ideas outlined, but we frequently return to his ideas as a way of providing some background for subsequent positions. In this way, the lectures return again and again to key concepts as they relate to and inform later ideas. I found that this was a great way to help reinforce ideas as they were presented and make them relevant to subsequent developments in the history of philosophical thought. What Prof. Erickson does, rather brilliantly in my opinion, is to try to help us understand how each of these selected philosophers attempts to grapple with the question of "What is the meaning of life?" The answer to this question is not simply a prescription for how to live our daily lives but instead becomes something of a meditation on the history of European thought. That is, in order to consider the question of the meaning of life from a philosophical perspective, Prof. Erickson wants us to consider how significant ideas and approaches came about. This involves not only an examination of some of the important ideas put forward by some well-known philosophers, but also a recognition of the historical influences on those individuals. In this way, Prof. Erickson seems to be working with the notion put forward by Peter Drucker that as time passes we become unable to recognize the ways of thinking of those from past eras. In other words, Prof. Erickson wants us to try as much as we can to recognize those ways of thinking and to see how they have led to subsequent philosophical positions, including those of the present day. This is a challenging endeavour, but it is what kept me own interest in the lectures. I must confess that I did become concerned as the lectures continued because of the close connection between the philosophers under consideration and the general idea of philosophy as a guide to living. That is, the more Prof. Erickson insisted on looking at these philosophers in the context of their lives and the world around them, the more alarming became the prospect that we could learn about the meaning of life from these deeply flawed individuals. The more I listened to the lectures, the more I considered that philosophers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre were men who seemed to have exceptional difficulties living in their own worlds and did not seem enamored of life at all, let alone convinced of its inherent value. This seemed to detract from their credibility as philosophers, particularly as we were trying to keep a close connection between philosophy and its application in our lives. This is not a flaw in the course or in Prof. Erickson's approach, but rather simply a topic worthy of further discussion and consideration, and Prof. Erickson hardly ignores this problem, but I don't feel we got much of a resolution from it. I did find some relief when Prof. Erickson introduced the ideas of Jurgen Habermas whose philosophical position seems to be much more salutary and integrated with the notion of a healthy, democratic society in which citizens can be full participants. But then maybe that is just because this is characteristic of the world that I myself live in and see as ideal. Having listened to this course, I am now interested to know if there is a companion course on the same topic but outlining Eastern approaches to the questions around the meaning of life. I listened to this course on my phone while walking to and from work. I looked forward to each new lecture, and it certainly made my commute more contemplative.
Date published: 2015-01-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Title didn't represent the content I tried to stay interested in these lectures, but was really put off by this professor's presentation. It seemed he was reciting a prepared speech from memory rather than teaching. I didn't think title of the course represented the content. It was really just the professor's summary of several philosophers, but he didn't apply any of their philosophies as a guide to living. I'm donating this course to the library, as I know I wouldn't watch it again.
Date published: 2014-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hypothetical brother and fish Hypothesis is how philosophers or theologians can make a living by teaching rhetoric. Does life have a collective or more aesthetically ‘universal’ meaning? If it does why haven’t we found it over the past 6000 years since the creation of universe? As society transforming from religious to secular since the enlightenment, who we are and the meaning of life becomes an ever seductive spiritual or mental black hole. We’re compelled to seek answers to this metaphysical (supernatural) question until the end of our physical life – ‘cause our true life is believed to start in the higher realm. Why not just wait and see? It’s the over-evolved sense of fear and human unique curiosity that drive us nuts. Yes, every life has their subjective meaning just not any so-called universal meaning. We’re all born unequal and live different lives. Why there has to be a universal destination? Philosopher or layman, your purpose or meaning of life is entirely your private experience and yours alone. It’s up to you to find or figure out. It’s worthless to others and can be harmful to discuss or even preach to others what’s the meaning of life based on your speculation or logic hallucination instead of on facts. It’s the way of how we treat (or not treating) others that matters to others, and is more pragmatic in this physical world and more meaningful at the end. That ought to be the scope of philosophy, or philosophy becomes Heidegger’s “If you had a brother, would he like fish?” I give 5 stars for what you learn from this course can come in handy in case you want to impress your date – philosophy for a meaningful living. We’re just a part of the nature and ought to do the way of the nature. It’s a fact. Perhaps we have been asking those philosophical questions in the wrong order. A better order should be what we do, followed by what we are or who we are. It’s what we do (or not doing) that defines us what and who we are, not the other way around.
Date published: 2014-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and challenging for the open minded I thought this overview of Western philosophy's view of the meaning of life was absolutely riviting at first, but that it became somewhat less sweeping and profound as it progressed. Perhaps what really happened is it became less theoretical and more experiential, mundane and practical, and left more for us as individuals to figure out as it became more modern. Professor Erickson doesn't go into a lot of detail, but he does create a vivid structural outline that covers a wide range of thoughts, proposals, solutions and dilemmas, and does so in a calm, knowledgeable and clear way. He reminds me of a grandfatherly cross between Mr Rogers, Diane Rehm (from NPR) and John Stossel, methodically explaining the inner most questions we all have. Like a wise elder transmitting his tradition to a young student he presents what others have said and thought, and leaves it up to us to fill in the gaps with our own experience and questions. The content was limited to fairly recent European philosophers (from Kant to Foucault, and even included some rather dubious yet influential thinkers like Marx and Freud), and so left out the rather large and complimentary and more synthetic body of philosophy from Eastern cultures. But it also seemed to be a really skillful presentation of these thinker's main ideas, how they built on, rejected or synthesized what had come before, and so covered a diverse spectrum of European thought. Several times I was left thinking I'd seen the clear essence of a philosopher's work that I'd previously thought I knew, but obviously didn't. I didn't always agree with these famous and influential thinkers by any means, but it was very helpful to be confronted with their ideas and see where they fit into the larger process of philosophical inquiry; my cultures and my own. Professor Erickson's approach is to present each of these thinkers somewhat uncritically from their own point of view so to speak, leave a lot of space around them and their ideas, and not overly analysis and define what they were often just hinting at and talking around. In this way he gently challenges us to discern and differentiate what we find meaningful. The overall result is a course that is much more than merely an academic survey or intellectual experience, and I enjoyed it very much.
Date published: 2013-11-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from "The Journey" Started Nicely But Ended Aimlessly This course showed real promise - engaging title, well credentialed professor, and the mission of taking a journey through a study of philosophy to find deeper meaning to human life. The professor's choice, though unconventional, to begin with Kant and his Romantic critics seemed smart to me. By introducing the course with these differences, Erickson set the table well. Of course, it made sense then to go to Hegel, and the professor did a commendable job in the lectures on Hegel and Schopenhauer. But somewhere in the lectures on Marx, I began to think we had gotten badly off track. I had no problem with coverage of Marx, but the lectures on him were repetitive and uncritical. Axial thinking somehow here began to be over generalized as "not of the world" (I can't see the Hebrew prophets, Confucius, or Aristotle agreeing with that!). By contrast and without contest, Marx was taught as being a philosopher who gives guidance for living in the world. I certainly don't want to get into a political issue with our philosophy professor, nor do I want to oppose his bringing economics, politics and ideology through Marx into the course. But once he did that, he should have shown in his teaching an awareness and criticality as to the problems in Marx's thought, especially with respect to economic, political, and historical matters where he erred badly. As to Freud, there were similar problems. Freud was clearly a major force, but was he a philosopher? Whether he was or wasn't, Erickson shouldn't have cited as Gospel truth many of Freud's largely cultural views and other speculative thoughts that have since been debunked by subsequent research and science. The next stops were Kierkegaard, Nietzche, and Heidegger. It was during these lectures that I just wanted to be "let out of the car." The struggle against nihilism that led to nihilism and the philosopher as Nazi were the end of the road for me. Actually, I stayed on to the end, wishing a bit that the good professor would have spent more time on Habermas. Lo, it was just a few good moments. The conclusion was sad. The journey ended aimlessly. I realize there's much wrong with the modern world, its fascination with technology, and its being fraught with all the other ills identified by the philosophers taught in this course. But, having taken this journey, I now well understand why common men and women these days look less and less to philosophers for guidance on how to live a good life and find meaning in life.
Date published: 2013-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Underrated Course! I have taken about twenty-five courses from The Teaching Company and have enjoyed them all. This is one of my favorites along with Stephen Tuck's Visualizing Rome and Thomas Noble's Late Antiquity. It is not really a course in philosophy because there is no logical critique of the great modern thinkers that are covered. It is really rather a history of ideas with a constant eye to the meaning of life. I am familiar with most of the people he analyzes and find his critical interpretation to be right on target. This course is a must have for those who feel that modern philosophy has drifted away from its original intention which has been to guide us in living more meaningful lives!
Date published: 2013-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stimulating course Dr. Erickson has a very appealing approach to lecturing. I listened to the course while driving and found his voice quite sonorous. His approach to the topic was quite linear with each lecture building on the previous one. I do not have a background in philosophy but any thinking person would be stimulated by the ideas presented in this course and likely find philosophers and ideas which they would like to study in further detail A great introduction for a neophyte in philosophy.
Date published: 2013-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great exploration of European philosophers I greatly enjoyed this course - in my second attempt to follow it. The course title does not make it clear, but the lectures examine the stance of only European philosophers from the 18th century until our current time on the meaning of life, and that is my only point of criticism, because there surely are interesting views from philosophers of other parts of the world. Professor Erickson's talks are very eloquent. He presents the subject matter free of any visual aids for himself and does so without hardly any slip of the tongue and any "hms" or "eehs". The only interruptions are an occasional sip out of his mug, and you simply have to like him as a speaker. However, philosophy is not an easy topic to listen to, so even though the presentation is excellent, and important people and terms are shown on the screen, one has to find his or her own way to follow the thoughts given. First, I tried to listen only, but found myself frequently spacing out or getting tired easily. In my second attempt, I read the scope of the lecture in the course guidebook first, and then used the guidebook during Professor Erickson's presentation to follow the structure of the lesson. That worked very well for me. What I like very much is that it seems that the guidebook was written after the talk was given, and not like the presentation was read from a script. I saw some criticism in other reviews that the course does not offer any solution to its question about the meaning of life. I think what Prof. Erickson wants us to understand is that there are many different aspects to this question, that with the change in our world perspectives change, and that eventually, a student has to find his or her own ideas. In this regard, he gives a neutral presentation with objective criticism of the respective philophor he is talking about, but does not push us in any particular direction to answer the question. While some may find it disappointing to finish this course without an answer, I found it very inspiring and thought-provoking to see different ideas and try to use it in my personal life.
Date published: 2012-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Intermediate Course If you have dabbled in philosophy and have even a modest understanding of the philosophers, this is an excellent course of choice. Not intended for beginners or those just putting their toe into the water of philosophy. There are other introductory courses you can take. On an intermediate level, few courses will have content this good and a professor this engaging. Professor Grim for example, who also has philosophical related courses, does not engage, he pontificates and has an unpleasant way of pounding his point home. Professor Erickson, on the other hand, is never dogmatic or truly in love with any one point. He comes across as a bit of a skeptic and circumspect. He fully admits he doesn't have the answers and is every bit as bewildered about the meaning of life as is everyone else. But he does find excitement and exuberance in trying to discover the meaning nonetheless. Upon completing this course, I highly recommend you listen to it again to hear the things you missed the first time around. Once you feel you have a good grasp of the content, I strongly recommend you move on to Professor Garfield's course The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions. The two courses make a wonderful and thought provoking combination. The only caveat may be that you should have the foundation Erickson's course provides before moving on to Garfield. Plus Professor Garfield is every bit as engaging as Professor Erickson if not more so. I am giving this a five star rating as an Intermediary Course just as I am giving Garfield's course a five star rating as an Advanced Course. Thank you.
Date published: 2012-01-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Educational but not inspiring I think my expectations for this course were too high and unrealistic. At the end I did not feel that my approach to life or interpretation of it had changed. The lectures are interesting on their own and teach much on individual philosophers. However, there were no cohesive themes and at the end, I felt that I did not really gain much from this course. I think Professor Grim's TC course "Question of Value" or some of the Greek Philosophy courses (as Greek philosophers continuously pondered what is a "Good Life") achieve these goals slightly more adequately, but they have their shortcomings as well. Surprisingly, this course did not cover Greek philosophy! In the final analysis, I think any course that bills itself as a guide to living is likely to come up short in the end. Take the course if you are interested in what the individual philosophers have to say, but don't expect any revelations.
Date published: 2011-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course, Great Journey! I really enjoyed this course by Dr. Erickson. It was an excellent overview of several philosophers who were influential in how we currently perceive the world. I now understand the axial model and subsequent challenges to that model by post-Enlightenment philosophical viewpoints. It was especially helpful the way Dr. Erickson compared and discussed the differences between the philosophers. I also enjoyed the way he integrated Freud and his ideas into the course. It was very instructive when a single philosopher was discussed in two or more lesson modules. However, when only module was dedicated to a single or multiple philosophers it was more difficult to grasp their philosophical viewpoints. If you like philosophy, you are going to love this course. It is easy to understand and will leave you wanting to learn more about specific philosphers presented during the course. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2011-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Live a little better... Like most Philosophy courses, this is not a walk-in-the-park. The Professor has a nice lecturing style, and this certainly helped me grasp the finer points. I enjoyed these lectures. You will too.
Date published: 2011-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to follow and understand I thoroughly enjoyed this course. The lectures kept my attention; I didn't find myself wandering off thinking about other things. I learned a great deal and would recommend this to others.
Date published: 2010-12-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A tough one As a scientist, I found this course very hard to follow. I don't blame the (excellent and pleasant to listen) lecturer. Maybe my level was too low before starting this course. It was hard at time to stay focused from lecture to lecture but overall my learning experience was very positive. I intend to start over with this course once I'm done with the 3 other TC courses waiting to be completed...
Date published: 2010-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but not great I've listened to many TTC lectures and most of them have been excellent. Only a few made me feel that my time was not well spent. This one falls in between. I hesitate to criticize the professor because he seems so likable and avuncular, but those are the very qualities that diminish his presentation. This is a broad topic that's covered in very similar terms in other TTC courses, usually without much success. They all seem to be unfocused and almost desultory, possibly because the topic is so hard to specify. Professor Erickson is very pleasant and low-keyed, but the topic demands more analysis than he provides.
Date published: 2010-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific One of my favorite courses. I have gained such an appreciation for thinkers I only half-understood before. For example, Schopenhauer makes sense to me now. I say this as a compliment--I am listening to most of the lectures twice in a row just to absorb all the details. If you like dense (and I do) this course is for you.
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a course well worth buying An excellent summary of innovative post-Enlightenment ideas. The lectures on Mark and Freud, two men not usually associated with philosophy, were particularly insightful. I have already listened to Dr. Solomon's course on Existentialism, but this course still had new information to be learned about these individuals (Nietzsche, Sartre, etc). Just recognizing the significance and limitations of the axial approach to life is intriguing.
Date published: 2010-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Discussion of Nietzsche !!! This course has one of the best discussions of Nietzsche for beginners I have ever seen. Professor Erickson coherently relates many ideas in Nietzsche, that previously seemed disjointed or superficially narcissist, to profound issues in society. This has given me a new appreciation for Nietzsche, the many profound layers in his philosophy, and the crucial role he has in Western philosophy. Most of the criticisms this course has received is either over the name or are misplaced. The course should be a given a name like *Philosophy: A quest for a liberating truth* because it isn't meant to tell people how to act in their daily lives. Some viewers say this course is hard to follow but that is because it is dealing with complex subtle topics. This course becomes much easier to follow if one reads the outlines and transcripts, which are vital in most of the Teaching Company's courses.
Date published: 2009-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I believe that you have brought philosophy as a guide to living "home" to the attention of students of human nature in a way so definite and inescapable that it will be impossible henceforward to overlook or ignore it....But my total reaction to your lectures, my dear Sir, is that it is an addition of first rate importance, and that you are a benefactor of us all."
Date published: 2009-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In a word: WONDERFUL! This course deserves the highest praise I can give it. An absolutely wonderful experience. Give it time. After the first few lectures the course starts to build on you and then you can love it for what it is: a calm, magesterial presentation of extremely complex ideas. You come away smarter for it. I'll watch it again and again. It is that good.
Date published: 2009-08-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exploring the Meaning of Life We are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are pilgrims on an journey through this world to a different final destination. There is no other world than this, and even this world is ultimately absurd. History is God's autobiography. These are a few of the various views discussed in this course. This course explores the big questions of philosophy, specifically metaphysics, although it was not really a guide to living (i.e. exploration of personal ethics or utilitarianism). Rather, the course is an exercise in comparing and contrasting different thinkers in regards to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" Of course, this question is fascinating in its own regard, but there are several teaching company courses that more than adequately explore this topic. Therefore, this course is somewhat redundant with "Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, "Religions of the Axial Age," and "Philosophy of Religion" (all are worth completing, especially the first two). The lectures which are best done here and least redundant with the above mentioned courses are those on Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Not all philosophers are given much attention, and even though certain lectures purport to cover Camus and Habermas, they are given only 6 and 4 minutes respectively! While I did enjoy this course, I feel that it could have accomplished a more unique and interesting goal if Professor Erickson had actually explored the practical ramifications of these various philosophers' belief systems for how one may choose to live his or her life. Of course, as it is often said, philosphy is about asking the right questions and not necessarily providing the answers, and this course does just that.
Date published: 2009-07-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Handbook for Living? Maybe. Maybe Not. As usual, I purchased the audio version. I found Dr. Erickson's voice fairly clear, but not especially dramatic or interesting, and occasionally soporific. As a fan of Heidegger and Nietsche, I especially enjoyed those lectures. Hegel was more clearly described than I've ever heard or read before because Professor Erickson tries to avoid scholarly philosophical jargon. While most of us just want to be left alone, we learn that Hegel wanted our 'rightful needs' met by (government) institutions. Personally, I want to write my own Guide to Living. No thank you, Mr. Hegel. Heidegger saw the time coming when we will 'view ourselves as resources more than as people.' Maybe that time has already arrived. I'm not sure the professor is wholly successful in wrapping 300 years of philosophy inside the 'handbook for living' metaphor, but there is plenty in these lectures to think about.
Date published: 2009-07-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Loses Something in Striving for Accessibility I felt that this course, in trying to make moral philosophy (mainly of the existentialists) more accessible, only ended up making the subject more difficult to comprehend. I liked the idea of the course, but by stripping each discussion of technicalities and terminology, I ended most lectures thinking "exactly what was he trying to get accross, there?" It's similar, in a way, to what Stephen Hawking tried to do for cosmology in "A Brief History of Time" - a simple equation or technicality will often be much clearer that a 1000 words trying to avoid such. I'd recommend Prof. Robert Solomon's course on Existentialism (an excellent course), which covers much of the same ground, over this one.
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Essential Introductory Lessons I agree with other reviewers that Professor Erickson's delivery can be difficult to listen to at times. Lecture 1 in particular is grueling in the pace and excessive care of his language, and I'm sure it has inspired a few unscheduled naps. But that is the only criticism I have of this course. After Lecture 1 things become much more interesting. This course might be best thought of as an introduction to the philosophy of ethics since the Enlightenment, although that is also a loose definition. The problem is that philosophy doesn't have any answers to the question, "How should I live my life?" It only poses provocative questions drawn from various realms of philosophy, ethics being the most prominent. Professor Erickson follows this train of thought in the work of several great western thinkers and studies their relationships. For me, as a casual student of the history of thought, his lectures were extremely effective. This is a course I will likely listen to periodically in order to refresh my understanding.
Date published: 2009-06-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Almost turned me off to Teaching Company This was the first course I purchased, I listened to almost half of it, and just found it difficult to follow. I actually had a co-worker of mine (who is my intellectual superior) listen to it and he confirmed that it was more the teachers mode of rhetoric that confused the issue, not the subject matter. I have since tried a few other courses by various professors, all have been significantly easier to follow. Basically, I would not recommend for a first course. A shame it turned me away from such a fantastic learning experience for so long.
Date published: 2009-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Insipid - Only Couse I've Ever Returned A professor is supposed to PROFESS something. This instructor was insipid, effete and feckless. A Guide to Living? He could only restate ancient philosophical questions, with no insight of his own. A wasted 12 hours of viewing time, sad to say.
Date published: 2009-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but can be improved If you are looking for a place to get an account on the meaning of life, this is not a bad start but you will have to look elsewhere for a more comprehensive view. The bad parts are that he spent one lecture on Sartre and Camus combined (whom are the fathers of the modern Existentialism philosphy) and spent a whole lecture on whether Heideger's philosphy is tainted since he was a Nazi for a brief period of time. I flet this last lecture and his last lecuture on Folcult were meaningless and could have been used on other topics or to expand on Sarte and Camus. Otherwise not bad at all.
Date published: 2009-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thanks prof Erickson I agree that he is not always easy to follow, but philosophy is not either. When you listen to what he teaches as carefully as he talks (and sometimes better listen twice), you get the essence of what great minds like Kant (and Hegel, and ...) thought. It can be exhilarating sometimes, and sometimes aweful, and always grist for the thinking mill. Excellent ... and challenging.
Date published: 2009-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Change the name When I think "guide to living" I'm thinking about practical, everyday advice not cultural analysis the way these philosophers present it. Now maybe guide to modern continental philosophy would have done it. Its a good course on those philosophers and they are very important thinkers in Western culture. The presentation was good with some appreciation of the fine distinctions made by these philosophers, however, I wouldn't say that the Professor had a tremendous energy level with respect to any of the topics. I would say that his style is respectful, even somewhat deferential, to the ideas and thinkers. Since he is somewhat in awe of them, he doesn't pit their ideas against each other as much as he might have done. I didn't really see the relevance of the axial model he introduced in the first lecture to the course as a whole.
Date published: 2009-01-24
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