New course brings 'The Art of Living' to Stanford and to the airwaves

Philosophy Talk and Stanford Continuing Studies team up to create a unique course that combines philosophical wisdom with a radio broadcast experience.

Steve Castillo John Perry and Ken Taylor

Philosophers John Perry and Kenneth Taylor will bring their Continuing Studies course on 'The Art of Living' to their 'Philosophy Talk' radio show.

The definition of a well-lived life may vary from person to person. One may find particular fulfillment through faith and duty, while another may opt for a life of reason and knowledge. But whatever the path, our lives are in some sense a product of the choices we make.

The problem of how to live well – how to live an authentic and meaningful human life – is a familiar one for Stanford philosophy Professors Ken Taylor and John Perry, co-hosts of the long-running, nationally syndicated radio program Philosophy Talk.

"Our choice of a life emerges from a life of choices. A large part of philosophy is devoted to helping us make such choices, that is, to the art of living," Perry observed.

"Our lives are given to us as a series of questions," Taylor said. "To live well and authentically, we have to set about answering questions such as 'Who shall I be?' and 'What allegiances shall I cleave to?'"

"A human life is given as a problem to be solved and as a potential project to be undertaken," added Taylor.

So how does one approach such an existentially challenging "project"? Taylor and Perry are bringing their philosophical insights about the examined life to Stanford's Continuing Studies program in a new five-week course called The Art of Living.

One part college course, one part radio show, The Art of Living will introduce students to the various ways in which it is possible to live well, and what it takes to implement one's values, as well as what happens when those values come under pressure from inside and out.

Known as the show that "questions everything, except your intelligence," Philosophy Talk has, over 10 years and more than 300 episodes, explored a broad range of subjects from science to religion, popular culture to politics, to the fate of humanity.

Stanford's acclaimed Continuing Studies program will, in partnership with Philosophy Talk, present the course as part of its spring quarter 2013 program. Five classes over a 10-week period will equip students with insights from great works of literature and philosophy, as well as new research from guest thinkers at Stanford and around the country. Enrollment opens on Feb. 25.

By illuminating certain invariable features of "the human condition," Perry said the course, will help students with "the process of reflection and decision involved in the art of living."

"We'll look at what morality requires. We'll ask what faith offers and reason demands. We'll face the challenge of finding meaning in a world that seems to be basically matter in motion. We'll see what the ancients have to offer. And we'll ask if one's life can be a work of art," Perry said.

Learning how to navigate a distinctively human life

The format is in two parts: following a traditional lecture on issues of morality, faith, reason, meaning, ancient wisdom and life as art, Perry and Taylor will be joined by a distinguished guest for a live taping of Philosophy Talk that will expand on the topic. Students will be able to clarify key ideas covered in the lecture or take issue with particular points of view by joining the recorded conversation, which will ultimately air on over 100 radio stations across the country.

Each such episode of Philosophy Talk will introduce students to the ideas of some of the finest contemporary thinkers, including Stanford philosophy Associate Professor Tamar Schapiro on "The Demands of Morality." Owen Flanagan (Duke University) will examine the prospects for "Finding Meaning in a Material World," Melissa Lane (Stanford and Princeton) will furnish students with "Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times" and Howard Wettstein (University of California-Riverside) will survey the contrast of "Faith vs. Reason." The episodes will culminate with Stanford philosophy Associate Professor Lanier Anderson's insight into the idea of "Life as a Work of Art."

To some, life and art may seem like irreconcilably different categories. "For most living things, there's not much of an 'art' involved in the basic act of living a life of the relevant kind," said Taylor. "With autonomy comes decision making, and that's where things get tricky for us humans. But a human life isn't given as something always and already fixed and determined."

Taylor continued: "No dog is forced by its nature to sit and wonder whether it should be a hunting dog or a herding dog. It is what it is, fixed and determinate. The art of living is about the art of navigating a distinctively human life, a life in which you must choose the self that you will be and live as."

And there can be no question of avoiding the choices that make us who were are. As Perry elaborated, "Turn left, turn right? Fish or meat? Beer or Wine? Most of our choices pertain to the near future. Sometimes we make longer-term plans: We choose a college, take a job offer, get married. And the choices we make are usually the most important influence on the kind of life we have."

Visit the Continuing Studies website for enrollment information and course details.

Dave Millar is the marketing and outreach coordinator for Philosophy Talk.

Corrie Goldman, director of humanities communication: (650) 724-8156,