Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics, and the Modern Experience

Course No. 455
Professor Robert H. Kane, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
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Course No. 455
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Course Overview

What are true human values? What is worthy of our highest honor and love? What purposes should order our existence? Is there any objective way to tell right from wrong? If life indeed has a meaning, can it be known and stated? What form would that knowledge and statement take?

These are fundamental questions. And most of us have surely asked them of ourselves in one way or another.

Such introspection has been going on for millennia, as Professor Robert H. Kane explains. And the devoted search for answers to these questions—for wisdom about the human condition—has shaped cultures around the globe.

Yet today, the very possibility of such wisdom is being challenged.

A Challenge from Postmodern Thinkers

"Postmodern" thinkers assert that we can no longer seriously pursue questions of purpose and objective meaning.

Others may not go quite as far, but few would deny that a sense of profound uncertainty about basic human values haunts the modern age:

  • Our world appears to be a place of waning moral innocence.
  • Discord and confusion over both beliefs and behavior seem to be on the rise.
  • Fewer and fewer convictions are held in common.
  • Our public discourse suffers increasing fragmentation as subjectivism and relativism gain ground.

How and why have we come to this?

Is the postmodernist challenge correct? Do questions about objective values mark the limits of a dream that is now all dreamed out? Are we hopelessly trapped within our own partial and relative perspectives, doomed never to discover what is authentically true and good?

Or is it still possible to aspire toward objective standards of meaning in a way that takes into account the realities of pluralism?

And even if the need for a common ground is granted, must we not ask whose morality will be represented? Is there an ethics that we can all agree on without stifling pluralism and freedom? What would such an ethics look like?

What Should Guide Your Own Thinking?

Most important, how should you, as a thoughtful person, find your way among the moral puzzles of the modern world and its cacophony of voices and opinions? What criteria should guide your thinking about ethics and your stands on issues of the day?

These are some of the questions you'll tackle as you join Professor Kane in this thought-provoking examination of the problems surrounding ethics in the modern world.

The contemporary issues you'll consider include:

  • conflicts between public and private morality
  • the degree to which the law should enforce morality
  • the teaching of values in the schools
  • the role of religion in public life
  • the limits of liberty and privacy
  • individualism versus community
  • the loss of shared values and the resulting discontent about politics and public discourse.

Professor Kane's approach is as searching and comprehensive as any you could ask for.

His lectures range over a rich array of literary, religious, and philosophical sources representing thousands of years of civilization.

Discover the Riches of the Axial Period

You begin with the Axial Period (c. 800-300 B.C.) which the philosopher Karl Jaspers identified as the seedtime of many of the world's great religious and wisdom traditions.

Its many bequests to us include:

  • the Hindu Upanishads
  • the teachings of Buddha, Zoroaster, and the biblical prophets
  • the thought of Confucius and Mencius
  • the founding of philosophic rationalism in the Athens of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Professor Kane explains that modern thought has completely separated fact from value, and examines the consequences of this divorce. Modern science has especially contributed to this dissolution because it seeks explanations in causes, not intentions.

This threatened the older wisdom traditions and left modern thinkers with the challenge of finding a ground for ethics that could not be reduced to individual preference or social convention.

These thinkers included such influential modern philosophers as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, and John Stuart Mill, as well as more recent figures like John Rawls.

They rose to the challenge in a variety of complex and sophisticated ways, seeking a basis for ethics in common human feeling, reason, utility, or the notion of a social contract.

An Indispensable Companion to Contemporary Ethical Debate

These ideas all remain influential today, and are the subject of current debates that Professor Kane explores with great subtlety and insight.

For that reason alone, this course is indispensable to anyone who is serious about understanding the shape and origins of our current ethical situation.

Reflecting on Plato's prescient criticisms of democracy in the Republic, Professor Kane also asks how our society will fare amid this growing moral debate.

Viewed against the larger backdrop of human history and current world events, freedom and democracy appear as exceptional achievements, forged in an era of much greater moral consensus than we know today.

Can democracy's continued health be taken for granted if procedures alone hold it together while citizens increasingly disagree about basic questions of what is right and wrong, permissible and impermissible?

Rediscovering the Quest for Meaning

Most intriguingly, Professor Kane spurs you to ponder the possibility of recovering the ancient quest for wisdom and virtue in a way that respects the insights of modern thought and the achievements of modern pluralism.

This discussion is structured around a fascinating contemporary parable about a gathering of representatives from many different cultures and belief systems at a remote monastery high in the Himalayas.

  • Could these delegates agree on any common approaches to the search for meaning without compromising their distinct beliefs and truth claims?
  • What might their dialogue be like?
  • Could it bear fruit?
  • If so, what might those fruits be?

Does the vision sketched in this parable suggest a viable way of proceeding? Can thoroughgoing pluralism coexist with deeply held convictions about the best way of life? Do our current contentions over ethics mean that we are living through a transition to some new Axial Period?

Whatever your thinking on such questions, you can rest assured that it will be immeasurably enriched by the harvest of reflection you glean from Professor Kane's compelling lectures.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Values and Modernity
    The Axial Period is discussed: It was a time of spiritual awakening from 800 to 300 B.C. that still is felt in the modern age and seems to be recurring. Pluralism and uncertainty are two challenges to modernity. They and others lie behind many of our current moral confusions and disagreements. x
  • 2
    An Ancient Quest, A Modern Challenge
    This lecture explains the nature of the ancient quest for wisdom and meaning in life that is threatened by the modern era. It uses as an example one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient Axial Period, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said that by expelling final causes or purposes from nature, modern science has sundered fact from value and scientific inquiry from practical inquiry about the good. x
  • 3
    Pluralism, Religion, and Alien Cultures
    In this lecture, we turn to aspects of the Western world's confrontation with pluralism and uncertainty. Developments at the end of the Middle Ages conspired to undermine many beliefs and certainties of the medieval world and shattered its religious unity. The lecture explores confrontations with cultural and religious pluralism, the religious disputes and wars that consumed Europe after the Reformation, and the reaction to the discovery of alien peoples and cultures in the new world. It also considers the growing interest in Eastern civilizations, such as China and India.


  • 4
    Are Values Subjective?
    Are there objective values, or are all judgments about good and evil, right and wrong, merely subjective expressions of personal feelings or attitudes? This lecture considers two opposing ideas that have led many to subjectivist views about values: positivism and Existentialism. One emphasized science as the source of all knowledge, the other emphasized personal experience. We focus on two influential philosophers of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell, the British logician and philosopher, and Jean-Paul Sartre, the French Existentialist. x
  • 5
    From Experience to Worth
    In this lecture we consider the case for objectivity. Reference will be made to modern thinkers not yet discussed and to some ancient figures to suggest a distinction between four dimensions of human value: the experiential dimension, the dimension of purposive activity, the dimension of meaning and excellence in forms of life, and the dimension of nonrelative worth transcending particular points of view. x
  • 6
    Hume and the Challenge of Relativism
    In this lecture we consider the "project of modernity," the ethical project undertaken by modern philosophers from the 17th century on who address the problem of relativism within the conditions of modernity. We consider how this project was carried out by modern philosophers. We start with the sentimentalist option, beginning with 18th-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume. His views are compared to those of Adam Smith, one of the founding figures of modern economic theory, and to two Chinese thinkers of the original Axial Period, Confucius and Mencius. x
  • 7
    Cultural Diversity, Human Nature, and the Social Sciences
    In this lecture we follow debates about sentiments in ethics and value theory from Hume's time into the 20th century. These debates lead to a discussion of social sciences to current debates about cultural and ethical relativism. Early on, anthropology alerted people to the amazing diversity of human cultures. A concern in 20th century social sciences raises the topics of human uniformities and cultural universals. We discuss relativism and modern appeals to human nature and common moral sentiments, like those of Hume, Adam Smith, and Mencius. x
  • 8
    Kant’s Appeal to Reason
    In this lecture we turn to the appeal to reason. Another major figure of modern philosophy and the 18th-century Enlightenment is Immanuel Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant demonstrated the limitations of theoretical reason in science. Science is successful within its own domain, he argued, but only because it stays within the limits of possible experience. x
  • 9
    Bentham, Mill, and the Appeal to Utility
    This lecture is devoted to utilitarianism, the third option of the project of modernity. We discuss the central principles of utilitarianism, the principle of utility, or of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Through a discussion of Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, and John Stuart Mill, its greatest 19th-century representative, we deal with its central issues: defining and measuring happiness, pleasure and pain, alleged conflicts between utility and justice, theories of punishment, and issues of social reform. x
  • 10
    Social-Contract Theories (Part I)
    In this lecture and the next we turn to the fourth alternative of the project of modernity, the appeal to a social contract. Two ideas of contemporary social contract theories are considered. The first were posited by Thomas Hobbes and are often called Hobbesian theories; the second, "ideal theories," stem from John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Emmanuel Kant. We also begin discussing ideal social contract theories—to be continued into the next lecture—using John Rawls's theory of justice. x
  • 11
    Social-Contract Theories (Part II)
    This lecture considers the criticisms of Rawls's contractarian theory of justice as a barometer of the ideological and value debates of our times. Rawls's controversial second principle of justice is discussed. The lecture considers communitarian and social-conservative critics of Rawls, including Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre, who object to the individualism of Rawls's theory and its failure to address virtue, personal identity, and the needs for community. x
  • 12
    Some Critiques of the Modern Project
    In this lecture we consider contemporary thinkers who believe the project of modernity has failed. Some argue for a return to ancient and medieval ways of thinking about values and ethics that emphasize traditional virtues and notions of the good life. Postmodern critics are inclined to embrace relativism and agree with traditionalists, but do not think we can go back to premodern ideas. We must go forward to a new postmodern age. x
  • 13
    Retrieving the Quest for Wisdom
    In this lecture we focus on the "quest" for wisdom and meaning by beginning to explore how the ancient quest for wisdom and meaning in life can be revived, given the intellectual challenges of the modern era. The goal is to find convergences between ancient and modern wisdom and apply them to a host of contemporary moral problems. x
  • 14
    Wisdom, Ancient and Modern
    This lecture considers traditional moral commandments of the religious and wisdom traditions of East and West, modern notions of human rights, ethical theories discussed in previous lectures, as well as their exceptions. Two versions of the Golden Rule, forms of which go back to the Axial Period, are distinguished and their merits considered. We take another look at Kant's "Categorical Imperative" in light of earlier discussions of exceptions. x
  • 15
    Dilemmas of Might and Right
    This lecture considers ethical dilemmas of force and nonviolence, guilt and innocence, war and peace. We begin with examples of two extreme positions: pacifism and its opposite. The utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number is considered. General ethical questions of guilt and innocence, and conflicts of interest lead to a discussion of heroism, lifeboat situations, and other dilemmas. x
  • 16
    Public and Private Morality (Part I)
    In this lecture and the next, we discuss contentious moral and social issues that result from life in pluralist societies, where people have different values and views about how to live. We consider the merits of John Stuart Mill's "Harm Principle" in light of contemporary examples of public harm, offensive behavior, censorship and pornography, free speech, and other topics of law and morals frequently debated in modern free societies. x
  • 17
    Public and Private Morality (Part II)
    In this lecture we discuss principles needed to define public morality in modern free and pluralist societies. We consider an alternative "public morality principle" that might provide shared beliefs. We discuss teaching values and moral education in schools, paternalism, liberty, and privacy in public morality, and the limits of government interference in the private lives of individuals. x
  • 18
    Plato on the State, the Soul, and Democracy
    In this lecture, we look at modern political problems through Plato's criticisms of democracy. For Plato, the condition of the state (polis) and the condition of the soul (psyche) are related. Flawed states rot the souls of those who live in them, and he feared democracy was flawed in this regard. His alternative, authoritarian rule by philosopher-kings, rulers who love wisdom, may seem worse to us moderns, but if we love democracy and wish it were better, we do well to heed his criticisms. x
  • 19
    Democracy and Its Discontents
    Can the search for wisdom and the common good, the goal of Plato's philosopher-rulers, be carried on amid the discordant voices of today's pluralist culture? In this lecture, we consider various responses to this question, and we consider reforms that try to combine the ancient quest for political wisdom of Plato's philosopher-rulers with the necessities of modern democratic politics. x
  • 20
    The Parable of the Retreat
    This lecture explores deep philosophical motivations behind the quest by introducing a modern "parable of the retreat"—a story about a gathering at a remote Himalayan monastery that brings together people who represent different cultures, religions, and ways of life. The quest for meaning and attempts to retrieve it under conditions of modernity are discussed in terms of "aspiration"—the idea of the spirit expanding beyond its limited perspective to find truth. x
  • 21
    Searches in the Realm of Aspiration
    The lecture begins by talking about searches, with examples to introduce a special notion of "searches in the realm of aspiration." Mythical images are used, like the search for the Holy Grail. Such searches are called quests in the myths and legends of humankind. But searches in the realm of aspiration are exemplified in other than mythical ways, for example, in the scientists' search for the final truth about nature. x
  • 22
    Love and Glory, the Same Old Story
    This lecture turns to the notion of objective worth. We consider two dimensions of it: worthiness for glory and worthiness for love, which are related to two aspects of the self. Glory is related to the outer or public self, of roles, projects, achievements, and accomplishments. Love relates to the inner self of conscious experience—what poet Gerard Manley Hopkins calls our "inscape." These two dimensions are also explored in an example using Johann Sebastian Bach and some mysterious crystals capable of producing beautiful polyphonic music like Bach's. x
  • 23
    The Mosaic of Value
    How could anyone know what has objective worth—what is truly worthy of glory and love? How should we aspire to know whether anything is truly worthy of glory or love? We consider the relations between the two—glory and love—by exploring the Faust legend and other examples that can be traced to deep questions about the meaning and worth of life. x
  • 24
    Meaning and Belief in a Pluralist Age
    Two trends—a plurality of religions and the pervasive secularization of everyday life—tend to undermine the sense of sacredness, which historians of religion tell us is essential to religious ways of viewing the world. There is a tendency in religions for the highest value and highest reality to converge, providing clues for finding objective truth in religion and how it relates to objective worth, to ethics, to the sacred, and to searches in the realm of aspiration, or quests. The lecture concludes with reflections on religious belief in a potential new Axial Period. x

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Your professor

Robert H. Kane

About Your Professor

Robert H. Kane, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Robert H. Kane is University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin. He earned his B.A. from Holy Cross College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University. In his three decades on the UT faculty, Professor Kane won no fewer than 15 major teaching awards. These include the Friar Society Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the President's Excellence Award, the...
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Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics, and the Modern Experience is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thougt Provoking, Truly A Great Course I found my self replaying lectures as I contemplated the implications of the approaches of the thinkers who tackled the 'Quest for Meaning' throughout the ages. Be prepared for a rigorous journey with an able guide through a forest of ideas to the 21st Century. The point of any good course should be not only to inform and present new ideas and information and skills, as wells as to refine and deepen knowledge already acquired, but to challenge one to confront and examine one's assumptions. This course can succeed at all three task for those willing to embark on the Quest.
Date published: 2013-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An engaging presenter, A painless learning experience. I wish I'd listened years ago. I'm listening for the 4th time and still learning things about life quests.
Date published: 2013-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Persuasive Some parts of Professor Kane’s lectures have substantial interest and intellectual merit. I am referring in particular to the initial comparison of the ethical theories of Bertrand Russell and Sartre, as well as the ethical implications of the novels Perelandra and Solaris. Unfortunately, much of the course, particularly when the professor is laying out his views, is redundant and is, to me at least, unpersuasive. I know that this may seem to be an odd evaluation, given the nearly universal acclaim that this course has produced. I think that the reason for this is that few of the reviewers have any substantial philosophical background. Also, it is natural to favor the idea that there are objective truths in ethics, which is a key theme of the course. Here are a few objections that I have to these lectures: 1. In discussing social contract theory, Robert Nozick is mentioned. Listening to the relevant lecture it seems that he is some sort of ‘run of the mill’ libertarian, like a more intellectual version of Ron Paul. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nozick, in his most important book ‘Anarchy, State, and Utopia’, which the professor references, as his principal argument has taken a very specific strand of social contract theory (our rights in a state of nature) and extrapolated it into a full blown political philosophy. Professor Kane does mention a secondary concept of Nozick’s, that of legitimate transfer of property. One may not be completely convinced by Nozick, as I am not, but to mention him and not give an account of his principal theory is hard to understand. Giving the outline of Nozick’s main argument would have taken only one or two minutes, so time is not an issue. Is professor Kane unaware of Nozick’s political philosophy, or does he simply choose to misrepresent him? 2. Professor Kane claims to have resolved the problems of skepticism and relativism. Really? These problems have plagued western philosophy for a few thousand years. Good work professor!! A key argument of the professor’s is that many different points of view can all be correct. His main example involves New York City. Thus the weather report can be correct, as well as the society page, as well as reports from the Sanitation Department, etc., etc. These are simply different ways of looking at the same thing, New York City. This argument breaks down because it fails as an analogy to different views of ‘the world’. Different word views are often not be compatible; they tend exclude each other, as the different views of New York do not. Does anyone actually think that the world views of a native Triobrand Islander, an indigenous Eskimo, a born again Christian, and an attorney in Los Angles are compatible? 3. Another key concept in the lectures is that of considering ‘all points of view’. How about the point of view of a 13th century French peasant? Or that of a current devout Muslim? What does ‘considering’ mean here? What would I do, read a book or two? Obviously, as a product of modern American secular culture there is no way I can ‘get in their skin’. To think that I can consider their ‘points of view’ violates common sense, as well as the disciplines of sociology, psychology, linguistics, intellectual history, sociology of knowledge, etc. I could go on with objections to professor Kane’s concepts of ‘moral sphere’, ‘respect for other points of view’, ‘searches in the realm of aspiration’, ‘quest for wisdom’, etc., which, although appealing on first glance, are equally weak upon serious analysis. In sum, I am hesitant to recommend this course. If you plan on buying Professor Kane’s lectures for an elucidation of some interesting ethical and political points of view (and don’t mind some wordiness)- OK; but if have any serious background in philosophy and/or you expect some help navigating your way around skepticism and relativism- This is not the course for you. Still, I think that the professor makes some interesting points, I like his speaking style, and I admire his effort to make a sustained argument for his philosophical position.
Date published: 2013-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most Meaningful Great Course I've Taken Professor Kane takes us on a voyage through the major philosophies, ancient and modern, that strive to fathom the great questions of truth, worth, and aspiration. He shows us ways to approach the task of defining ethical behavior in a world where faith-based certainty has been profoundly challenged by science and cultural diversity. His style of lecturing is clear, direct, interesting, and loaded with insights. This course should be taken by anyone who is really trying to find some clarity amid the widespread chaos and confusion in the world's rapidly changing cultures. In a word, this course is superb.
Date published: 2013-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Quest for Meaning, Values, Ethics, and the Mod I have this course on video tape. I found it to be one of the best college courses I have ever taken, and that includes on campus and home study.
Date published: 2012-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good discussion starter Our local Philosophy Discussion Group used this course as a discussion starter, one session per week for 24 weeks. It worked very well in that capacity, as Kane is an engaging and very knowledgeable speaker and a very clear thinker. His style is lucid and his ideas insightful and occasionally provocative. We ended up with a much greater appreciation of the range of philosophical justifications for ethical positions than we had before we took the course. And we had a lot of fun discussing them.
Date published: 2012-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! I used "Superb!" for the review title because "Extraordinary!" was already taken. Many of the Teaching Company courses are surveys, and they are very valuable, particularly for the uninitiated. Some are more interdisciplinary and attempt to synthesize a variety of topics. When the courses in the latter category are good, they can be very, very good; when they're bad, they can be very, very bad. This course is better than very, very good. Almost 35 years ago, I was an eager philosophy major in one of the best departments in the country, and I miss the intellectual stimulation. This course took me back to that experience.
Date published: 2012-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing and Original As a physician inundated with technical material, I often find myself longing for the humanistic stimulation I received in my philosophy courses in college. I thus purchased the Great Minds of the Western Tradition course from the Teaching Company in which Dr. Robert Kane was one of the twelve distinguished lecturers. His contributions to the Great Minds series were so engrossing that I was led to his own course, "The Quest for Meaning." It is one of the oldest TTC courses and now available only for download, which is a shame, because it is an incredible course that I have recommended to many friends. For anyone interested in navigating their way through contemporary disputes and confusions about ethics and values, and their historical background, I can't think of a better guide than this course. Dr. Kane exhibits the rare ability to blend intellectual rigor with an infectious enthusiasm for knowledge and his lectures captured my interest to the extent that I sometimes found myself driving further or exercising longer just to finish a lecture. The most impressive feature of this series is the combination of original argument with informed historical accounts of philosophy. Many courses fall short of their potential by simply summarizing the subject at hand and not venturing into provocative original thought. Kane accomplishes both tasks with considerable charm, proving that intelligent philosophical discourse can also be pleasurable. This is a terrific course that I've recommended to many others.
Date published: 2012-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course I am a graduate student in philosophy, with a special interest in ethics and values, who hopes to teach the subject someday. This is the most illuminating set of lectures I've encountered on these subjects. Kane is a distinguished philosopher who is known for his work on free will as well as on ethical and value questions. He has a deep knowledge of the history of ideas, but also a knack for presenting difficult ideas in a clear and accessible way. It's a model I'd like to emulate in my own teaching. When studying philosophy, it's easy to get lost in the welter of fine distinctions. These lectures have helped me step back and see the larger picture. His notion of the moral sphere clarified a number of problems I had in my studies and is a marvelous teaching tool for discussing practical ethical issues in daily life, including questions about when exceptions to common moral rules might be justified. A number of other strikingly original ideas in the lectures helped to clarify my thinking about what objective values might be and how we might approach them, including the idea of viewing value in different dimensions, the parable of the retreat, and the idea of a mosaic of value. The lectures also have original things to say about how one might find common ethical ground in a world of conflicting beliefs, an issue that has long troubled me as it does others. I've listened to these lectures several times over and have recommended them to fellow students. They are the most enlightening lectures I've encountered in my studies on these topics. An outstanding course.
Date published: 2012-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good If Not Completely Convincing Regardless of whether one accepts his arguments, one has to admire Professor Kane. In a day when the idea of objective values is largely out of favor, he dares to tilt at windmills by making a case for them with verve, affability and humor. Then again, he is old school - 2,500-year-old school, that is. I agree with many of the ideas that Professor Kane presents (openness as a fact-finding step rather than a destination, values as a result of consensus, virtue ethics). However, his arguments for the attainability of "objective truth" (good for all from all points of view) I cannot buy. His methods for establishing such truth are often oversimplified (a magical "moral sphere" arrived at by a coalition of the willing) and flawed (making a faulty equation of scientific and ethical proofs). In addition, his characterizations of opposing arguments (post-modernist in particular) come across as straw men. This is not to say that this course is without merit. Professor Kane presents many intriguing ideas; I liked hearing about the philosophy of Alasdair McIntyre, practices and traditions. I agree that we should aspire to find truths and respect each other in the process. However, I cannot get past a basic agnosticism regarding the "God's eye view" of good for all and don't know why Professor Kane is so stuck on it.
Date published: 2011-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary As far as I know, this is the only Teaching Company course that the company’s founder openly described as “extraordinary”. Drawing on the entire history of thought and culture, and quoting Rainer Maria Rilke at one turn and Mae West at the next, Professor Kane urges us not to give up on “searches in the realm of aspiration” for what really matters. For students, if you fully absorb these lectures, you will be able to dazzle your teachers. For everyone else, if nothing here captures your attention or provokes you, then either you already possess the erudition of an excellent philosopher, or, I’m sorry to say, you don’t know what life is about at all.
Date published: 2011-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Diamond In the Rough This course is extraordinary. I've spent most of my adult life in the legal profession, but have had a long-standing interest in the philosophical questions. This course has strikingly original things to say about many questions that have troubled me for a long time. For example, people's values usually arise in and are deeply rooted in their feelings and emotions, which is why disagreements about values are often so intractable. And many people, including some philosophers, have concluded from this that values are merely subjective and not objective. Kane suggests how it can be that while values are, and must be, deeply rooted in our feelings and emotional life, this fact need not and does not mean that they are merely subjective and cannot also be objective. He also has original things to say about how one might find common ethical ground in a pluralist world of conflicting values and beliefs, one of the most deeply troubling issues of the day. On these and many other questions that have troubled me for years, there are insights in these lectures I've not encountered in anything else I've heard or read. This is one of the older TTC courses that might easily be overlooked in the welter of new offerings, but it is one of the very best I have encountered, and I'm glad I discovered it. I've listened to it several times and have enthusiastically recommended it to friends. A real diamond in the rough.
Date published: 2011-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Paradigm Buster I received both Parts I and II of Quest as a gift and was excited to listen to it, as I had never read or taken any philosophy courses, in spite of the fact that I had always been curious about the subject. The first thing that impressed me was Dr. Kane’s style of delivery; he is easy to listen to, witty and personable, and includes his own personal stories and anecdotes to make his point... and equally important for oral delivery, Dr. Kane has a marvelous speaking voice. Next, what impressed me was that he started at the beginning, vital for novices. He began with the root of the word, philosophy (love of wisdom); then he takes us through the ages, introducing the great classical philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; then goes on to the likes of Descartes and Liebniz; and moves on to the twentieth century philosophers, Russell and Sartre, among many others. At the same time, Dr. Kane explores basic philosophical ideas, such as pluralism, relativism, and subjective-objective values, and finally moves on to the modern theories of philosophy. Third, I was impressed by the thought provoking discussions in last section of Part I, the Social Contract Theories, Lectures 10 and 11. Particularly memorable were the ideas of the greatest happiness for the greatest number [of people], reciprocal altruism, and the “veil of ignorance” (what place, or status, would I take in the world if I had no knowledge of my talents and possessions)… I could, at this point, see the relevance of philosophy for our time and the social issues we face; AND I began to see things from a new perspective; Dr. Kane was successfully moving me out of my paradigms, some of them at least. Finally, I was enthralled with the Parable of Retreat and the idea that, if it were possible, rising above our own limited perspectives …. what would be the ultimate “right” thing, value, way of life, etc. Quest is just that, a quest, a wonderful expedition. Thank you Dr. Kane for taking me along with you on this most magnificent pursuit, it was well worth the trip!
Date published: 2011-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important implications for psychological counselin This course was a welcome surprise. I am a psychologist who has wrestled with ethical and social issues for many years in the context of my practice and teaching. These lectures are the most illuminating I have ever heard on these issues. The comprehensive review of modern views of values and ethics and the dimensional account of values presented in them has, I believe, sweeping implications for psychological counseling in a world where the daily presence of conflicting values and points of views so often leads to moral confusion. The lectures are communicated in a personal and authentic way, yet with admirable depth and clarity. I plan to recommend this course highly to my patients, students and colleagues. It is truly a marvel.
Date published: 2011-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quest...still holds up best! Dr. Kane's Quest for Meaning was one of the first courses I purchased from the Teaching Co. My college experience had been heavy on math & science and light on the humanities. Philosophy? Why not, I reasoned. So I took the plunge, and I'm so glad I did. This course is perfect for those seeking an introduction to philosophical schools of thought as they relate to values, ethics and the human condition. Over the years, I probably listened to this course at least a dozen times; and each time I discovered new insights. It remains one of my favorites. Dr. Kane is an excellent lecturer. He achieves clarity through his fluent style backed up by his use of numerous lucid and accessible examples. Quest for Meaning turned out to be the first step of my own personal quest to learn more. I've purchased other philosophy courses from the Teaching Co., and on balance I've been highly satisfied. In my opinion, Quest still holds up best.
Date published: 2011-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Outstanding I possess more than 20 Teaching Company courses, and this is definitely one of the very best I have encountered. Few days go by when I do not find myself wrestling with the kinds of ethical and moral issues discussed in these lectures. The pressing events of the day often tend to cloud the ultimate issues, but this course has put them in perspective for me. Kane has a deep knowledge of the history of ideas, but also a remarkable ability to clarify complex ideas and relate them to daily life. He uses examples from literature, film and other sources to throw light on issues that have often confused me. For example, he uses a science fiction novel about a mysterious planet together with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins to show how values can be very personal and deeply felt and yet at the same time can be objectively true. I think the ideas of the course would be very helpful in discussing ethical and value questions with children and in general for teaching values to young people. I plan to recommend the course to friends and colleagues alike. It is simply outstanding.
Date published: 2011-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics, and the Modern Relates classroom and real life I am an ex-military officer now doing graduate work in philosophy. When my wife showed me these lectures from the Teaching Company, I became completely wrapped up in them. The author is a distinguished philosopher with a deep knowledge of the history of ideas. But more than that, he is also able to relate these ideas to daily life and the moral confusions of the times. As a one-time military officer, I see the importance of teachers being able to relate ideas in the classroom to real life. I hope to teach some day, and this course has provided perspective for my philosophical studies. I believe the ideas developed in it-- for example, about the moral sphere, the parable of the retreat, and the mosaic of value-- have important implications for teaching values and ethics to young people. So many of us are often troubled and confused by the conflicting beliefs and points of view we daily encounter in our pluralist society. My wife and I have found the course helpful in teaching values to our own children and we have recommended it to friends and teachers for the same purpose, as well as for their own enlightenment.
Date published: 2010-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Quest for Meaning Professor Kane's Teaching Company course, “The Quest for Meaning”, is truly extraordinary. To mention just one gem among many, his lecture on the Golden Rule was the best take I’ve ever seen. He has deepened my understanding of a profound concept. Kane has a unique gift for discussing moral ideas with a long human history, illuminating them with a fascinating discussion of their history and present day significance. I have listened to “Quest for Meaning” three times now and will be listening again if I can wrest it back from friends who have borrowed it.
Date published: 2010-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best the Teaching Company Offers I recently viewed the " Quest for Meaning" course. It was very enjoyable and groundbreaking and siginficant. The "Quest " course is about a search for objective values and wisdom in our diverse complicated world. The task is not only noble but of ultimate importancee for our mutual survival and spiritual well being in our shrinking Global Village. Professor Kane begins with the Axial Age ( approximately 800bc to 300 bc) when there was a flourishing and convergence of wisdom, value and meaning across the cultures of the world. He then speaks of the modern challenge to objective value and meaning and the philosophical and religous response to this challenge. Professor Kane makes the case that there is objective value, wisdom and meaning and provides the philosophical and practical framework on how the world can find this objective truth and how we can enter a new " Axial Age" where humanity can share this objective truth. This Course was wonderful in its presentation and content in its search for truth, purpose and meaning in a complex world. Its a hopeful learning experience for those who are in search of meaning and truth in their lives. I highly reccommend it. JimH
Date published: 2010-12-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Skip This One I have bought dozens of TTC courses and this is one of the very few that I have returned. There is no rigor and no substance in these lectures. We hear Mr. Kane musing about a wide range of topics, supported by heartfelt assertions of personal belief. This might find a receptive ear among impressionable undergraduates, but TTC customers deserve better. If you're looking for a substantive and philosophically well-grounded series on ethics and values, I would recommend Patrick Grim's lectures on "Questions of Value."
Date published: 2010-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine and Idiosyncratic Lectures AUDIO TAPES I found this course in a used bookstore on cassette tapes before I decided to try the audio downloading that TTC offers. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have downloaded. Downloads are great, especially if you use iPod in your car. The iPod downloads can be done where each lecture is a single track, which is better for scanning to the lecture you want. Anyway, this is a very good course. The professor does a fine job of taking you through his personal journey in quest of how to live with values and ethics in the modern world. He makes a great case for his views. I give this four stars only because I reserve five stars for courses I know I will repeat. I may not repeat this one, but I still recommend it. Prof. Kane's style includes much humor (some contrived) and a kind of folksy East Coast accent that goes down fairly smooth. Recommended when on sale.
Date published: 2010-04-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Subjectively Silly from Some Points of View I found this course, by turns, interesting and annoying. In the end, the annoyance predominated. Modernity, for Prof. Kane, is a problem. Subjectivity and relativism are problems, ideas that one might "succumb" to. OK, fine--this outlook sometimes makes him sound a bit cranky, but I'm not hostile to the idea that there are absolute truths and absolute values, and I'd like to hear his argument. This seems a long time coming, but arrives suddenly in lecture 5. To prove that there are objective truths, he simply mentions--I kid you not--figure skating. It turns out that by "objectivity" Prof. Kane means something that most others would call intersubjectivity. Now, I'd be interested to hear an ethical theory based on intersubjectivity, but by insisting that what he's talking about is really objective truth, he misses the opportunity. Now, you could forgive this silliness if he had simply gone on to explore the ramifications of his assumptions for ethical decision making. And, to some extent, he does--the best parts of the course are those in which he begins to talk about issues like the use of force and the protection of minority interests. On these topics, he's obviously a thoughtful and highly ethical thinker. But whenever he gets near real issues he quickly pulls back, and starts droning on again about how darned objective he's being. What he's doing, it seems, is engaging in a "quest for wisdom", and if you don't like it, well, you must not care very much for wisdom. I'm a bit mystified by the unqualified praise bestowed on this course by other reviewers. I suppose I'd be a bit more favorably disposed toward the course if I shared the instructor's anti-modernism and his political conservatism. But even with a more compatible outlook, I find it hard to believe that a critical listener wouldn't be put off by his sheer pretension.
Date published: 2010-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TTC Classic I recently watched again the VHS version of this course, originally purchased in 2001, and I was struck by the extraordinary standard of this course. This review is an appeal to TTC to revive the video version of this course, which is no longer available. (Only audio versions of "Quest for Meaning" are available at this time.) Robert Kane is from the stock of teacher that led TTC to create the Superstar Teacher Series back in the 90's. In seeing Kane live again, I immediately recalled why the "Superstar" label fit. A superstar teacher is more than merely a great communicator giving lectures that he's spent decades mastering in the classroom. In also communicating his own authentic, personal relationship to the material, the audience is brought into the personal sphere of this kind of teacher. Kane has this sort of "superstar" persona. The search for universal values and meaning in modern life interests me a great deal, and TTC has several fine, more recent offerings in this area, my favorites being Francis Ambrosio's "Philosophy, Religion and the Meaning of LIfe", Stephen Erickson's "Philosophy, A Guide to Living", Dennis Dalton's "Power Over People" (although an overview in political philosophy, this excellent course also quests for persistent modern values). But I'd offer Robert Kane's 10 year-old "Quest for Meaning" as the best of the bunch. Highly, highly recommended...even if you can only obtain the audio version. But Kane is one of those teachers that must be seen to be truly appreciated.
Date published: 2010-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good stuff If you like philosophy, there is a good chance you will like this course. Very good discussions. Just a very enjoyable course.
Date published: 2010-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth More than a Single Hearing When listening to Professor Kane’s lectures, I found myself in the unusual position of being at the edge of Ockham’s razor. They came to me beautifully sharp, eloquently simple, and remarkably comprehensive. In his presentation, Professor Kane offers ideas that sound and feel organically coherent. They seem to grow together naturally in a way that felt completely satisfying, as if I had known all of what he offers before but had never given it language or voice. In that way, Professor Kane’s lectures resonated as completely coherent, ideas that came together because they belong together. It felt wonderfully comfortable to listen to something flawlessly constructed and, at the same time, sounding incredibly spontaneous. That spontaneity must stem from Professor Kane’s enthusiasm and commitment to his material. I sensed a wonderful authenticity to what he had to say. Unlike many philosophical treatises, Professor Kane rejects detachment and involves himself deeply in the ideas that he presents and in the meanings that they offer. Professor Kane speaks to us not in aid of philosophic abstractions he means us to admire for intellectuality. He speaks to us of a practical and immediate response to the confusions of our time. Relativism haunts us all not only in the academic world but in our everyday lives. Most of us feel some quality of unease and even despair over our general loss of a clear sense of value and meaning in the way we live and perceive life itself. Our inner guidance seems as if it has failed. Professor Kane offers us a way to regain that guidance on our own terms and not solely on his terms. We can take possession of his ideas and act on them as we see fit. We become the active agents or our own moral sphere. These lectures speak often of what Professor Kane calls “a quest of aspiration.” The lectures themselves form just such a quest. With the professor’s guidance, we venture forth and seek meaning we have seemingly lost and yet deeply if not achingly feel the absence of. As constituted in these lectures, this quest becomes one of liberation, a joyous conclusion to any journey. If we accept the observations and results of this quest, we must also accept the responsibility for action that comes with such recognition, with such acceptance. After listening to these lectures twice, I’d gladly accept the liberation and the responsibility that they offer. Aside from all the above, I found Professor Kane’s lectures delightfully engaging and remarkably entertaining. I have never experienced profundity quite so painlessly. Along with the Teaching Company’s guarantee of satisfaction, I offer you my own.
Date published: 2009-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly remarkable accomplishment in ethics I just finished this course and the book that is it's base, "Through The Moral Maze, The Search for Absolute Values in a Pluralistic World" for the 8th or 9th time. I have re read and relived the book and course every 3 months or so over the past 4 or 5 years and am amazed at what an unbelievable accomplishment this is in the search for truth. Ultimately, all the best ideas are simple and clear, easy to understand and rugged, being able to survive even the strongest attacks from all manner of assailants, both fair and unfair. I believe Dr. Kane has created something in the search for truth that is entirely new, and he has made it out of some of the most commonly known and historically significant ideas that have existed for a very long time. Not only is this book a clear and concise text for understanding the differences between belief systems, it is a simple yet precise tool to apply to all manner of ideas, situations and moral dilemmas that face us every day. This book alone is the best reason to participate in the Teaching Company offerings.
Date published: 2009-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps the best... I have 20+ Teaching Company courses and this marvel by Dr. Kane is my very favorite. It starts with the basic but deep question of "What is objectively right?" and then covers approaches by many of the great minds of history to the issues involved. By the time you get to Dr. Kane's contributions, he revives his quest for what is objectively right in a marvelous and inspirational fashion. Top of the mountain good. Really.
Date published: 2009-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In a subject such as philosophy it is easy to get lost among the conflicting viewpoints. This course provided a clear perspective, and drew together many strands of thought.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of the best courses I have listened to yet. I've gone through it twice so far.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I believe this may be my all-time favorite of all the wonderful courses I've listened to - and Prof. Kane is outstanding!
Date published: 2008-10-17
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