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Philosophy as a Guide to Living

Engage in a stimulating and accessible discussion of how some of the greatest minds of the past three centuries have pondered the mysteries of existence and meaning in this fun and interesting new take on philosophy.
Philosophy as a Guide to Living is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 61.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course, food for thought I enjoyed Professor Erickson's teaching style. This class touches on several aspects of philosophy as it's thought on the meaning of life progresses through time. Though some of the theories presented are rather abstract and hard to digest, the overall tone of the discussion is interesting and illuminating.
Date published: 2024-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the very, very best Professor Erickson entirely delivers on his promise to shed light on the meaning of life, by way of the journey of philosophy throughout the ages, and does so with grace, intelligence, and profound respect for all metaphysical positions - ten glowing stars out of the prescribed, but slender, five
Date published: 2024-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accurate description Excellent presentation.Clear and helpful and erudite.
Date published: 2022-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good lecturer This is not a "summer read". These concepts are complicated, but so important for me personally to try to round out all the deficiencies of knowledge I have in this area. Dr. Erickson is a patient, deliberate, gentle, lecturer. He reviews and come backs to topics and philosophers frequently as he lectures, helping the listener keep track of the evolution of philosophical thought. One would do well to read the accompanying chapters, and even get a generally summary through Wiki or Encycl. Brit., for each individual philosopher. This is a commitment for the listener, but don't give up. It is worth it.
Date published: 2021-12-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Limited Range and Depth; Mistitled This course offers a very limited range and depth of teaching, and is mistitled. Regarding range: The course covers a small number of European philosophers of the last 300 years. Very little is from primarily religious thinkers. (I'm not religious, but theologians have offered much insightful writing about how to live.) Essentially nothing is from the many great non-European traditions, and there is minimal discussion of the thousands of years of thinking before the 1700's. Also regarding range: 12 of the 24 lectures are made up of three each on Kant, Hegel, Freud and his close followers, and Heidegger. I'm admittedly a philosophical dilettante, but I have some interest and experience in this area, and these are hardly names that I would turn to for a "Guide to Living." (Remarkably, our professor does an excellent job of presenting Nietzsche's key teaching, that we are responsible for creating our own meaning if we want our lives to be meaningful. This happens to be my view as well.) Regarding depth: This is far more subjective, as can be seen from the differences among the reviews. But I found the lectures to be superficial, uninsightful, disorganized, unfocused, and rambling. Our professor repeatedly describes the ideas he treats as being "complicated." Well, no. For the most part either they are simplistic, and/or they use poorly defined language to give an illusion of complexity when little meaning lies beneath the words, and/or they present conclusions with little or no supportive evidence. Regarding the course title: Much (far from all) of the subject matter does treat the philosophers' ideas about human life. But describing, for example, how history unfolds (Hegel) or how the human psyche works (Freud) - and ignoring the fact that both are examples of imaginative ideas without adequate evidential support - has little relation to providing guidance for how to live our lives. In my view, much of the course, with the primary exceptions of the lectures on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, fails to treat the questions of life's meaning, and of how we may live our lives in a meaningful way. As others have noted, Professor Erickson comes across as a truly good person who cares deeply about teaching, about his subject, and about helping his listeners to achieve a better understanding of how philosophy may contribute to their lives. I am sorry that I cannot be as admiring and appreciative of the lectures themselves.
Date published: 2019-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and thought provoking I’m about halfway through the course and enjoying it very much. Learning a lot in the process. I was hesitant to purchase it because I’d already done another philosophy course and worried I might not find it as interesting, or learn anything different from the previous one, but it’s different from the other one, covering other philosophers and topics, and so provides different perspectives.
Date published: 2019-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A recent Guide As a prior review states this course is not really a physical guide, but rather an intellectual one. The first lecture covers Western thought from its inception to about the Enlightenment (termed in the course, the “Axial Model”). One would have thought from the title that Plato (among many others) might have had some ideas on how to live. Not that what is covered in invalidated, but rather, limited. After that we begin with several lectures on Kant. Professor Erickson then covers Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault and Habermas. Quite a list, excluding perhaps a few of some thinkers while at the same time including some who likely would not be on most list of important philosophers (e.g. Freud). I have no quarrel with the inclusion of Marx and others, as Dr. Erickson has chosen carefully so that his theme is logically constructed. While I’m not so sure that he necessarily always hits the mark with this approach, most certainly he presents some of the clearest brief explanations of Heidegger (and some others) that I have yet come across. And he presents these thinkers with their warts in full view. The lectures themselves, while well organized, suffer a bit from a lack of passion in their presentation. This might not be the case in a video version, although I felt no lack of information by taking the audio version. In the end, I thought this course interesting and worth my time but not important.
Date published: 2019-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Self, the elephant Self the Elephant While enjoying listening to these lectures, it reminded me of a song, ‘Let’s draw a picture, a picture of an Elephant, wouldn’t it be nice to draw a picture of an Elephant’ - Sesame Street inspired. An ancient Buddhist tale is of blind men (or perhaps philosophers in this case) describing different parts of an elephant. Each tells a different “story” depending on whether they feel the leg or trunk or torso, and then bicker among each other about what this “thing” could “really” be. The point of this tale is that though each may be describing some truth about it, they go wrong in claiming to have the whole truth. Likewise, the philosophers presented in this course, all attempt to draw a picture of an Elephant – called the Self. Though blinded and/or biased by their historical time, cultural conditioning, mental and/or physical health, ambition and/or vanities, etc., all felt they had found the whole truth, but it was only some truths, not a totality. Professor Erickson does a very good job with his slow and articulate presentation, which allows time for realization, idea formation and instantiation. The high quality and quantity of his presentations reflects the complexity of knowledge he has gained from years of study, analysis, and presentations. The professor’s backgrounds on these philosophers are deep, very interesting, informative, and provides a window into the ‘life and times’ from which their thinking was derived. But, it’s not their torments and/or acclaims that provide the true guidance that one seeks in constructing their own (drawing) understanding of Self. It’s the key insights, somewhat hidden in complexity of meanings that he provides, in his in-depth analysis of those he has chosen to lay out that point towards the realizations of Self - the Elephant. The guidebook is a good primer, but I would recommend the transcript of his lectures for a greater richness that allows one to add-clarify-validate, a wider and deeper awareness to their own thinking about Self.
Date published: 2019-01-31
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This course is a stimulating and accessible discussion of how some of the greatest minds of the past three centuries have pondered the mysteries of existence and meaning. Join Professor Stephen A. Erickson as he guides you along the intellectual road traveled by post-Enlightenment thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, and Camus. This course requires no background in philosophy; you can comprehend what each philosopher has to say equipped only with your own intellect, curiosity, and fascination with the course's central questions. Lecture by lecture, you'll encounter some of the most inspirational minds Western civilization has produced.


Stephen A. Erickson

Philosophy can be construed in our time not just as a technical discipline; it can also be construed as guidance in the art of living, the pursuit of the very meaning of life, and the means for attaining this meaning.


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 excellence in teaching at Pomona College. Dr. Erickson is the author of several scholarly articles and books, including The Coming Age of Thresholding. He has also held several prestigious American and international positions. He has been a guest faculty member at a number of psychoanalytic institutes and a visiting scholar at several universities, including Cambridge University in England, and he serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy in the United States.

By This Professor

The Axial Model

01: 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.

33 min
Kant’s Hopeful Program

02: 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.

30 min
The Kantian Legacy

03: 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.

31 min
Kant and the Romantic Reaction

04: 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.

31 min
Hegel on the Human Spirit

05: 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.

32 min
Hegel on State and Society

06: 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.

31 min
Hegel on Selfhood and Human Identity

07: 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.

31 min
Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

08: 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.

31 min
Schopenhauer’s Remedies

09: 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.

31 min
Alienation in Marx

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.

31 min
Marx’s Utopian Hope

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.

30 min
Kierkegaard’s Crises

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.

30 min
Kierkegaard’s Passion

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.

30 min
Why God Died—Nietzsche’s Claim

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.

30 min
Nietzsche’s Dream

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.

31 min
Freud’s Nightmare

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.

30 min
Freud on Our Origins

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.

30 min
Psychoanalytic Visions in and after Freud

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.

30 min
Heidegger on the Meaning of Meaning

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.

30 min
Heidegger on Technology’s Threat

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.

31 min
Heidegger’s Politics and Legacy

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.

30 min
The Human Situation—Sartre and Camus

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.

31 min
Power and Reason—Foucault and Habermas

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.

31 min
Today’s Provocative Landscape—Thresholding

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.

31 min