liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Lectures on Life and Death by Shelly Kagan at Yale

Saw this and had to repost it because I would really like to listen to these lectures! It's a free course from Yale online, from Professor Kagan, on Death from a Western philosophical perspective. It's 26 lectures in all, covering Plato, the soul and identity, suicide (the last three lectures) and the works.


Prof invites us to call him by Shelly. He's slim, bearded, salt and pepper, sitting crosslegged on a wooden desk, with a black board and erasers visible behind him. He's wearing a plaid shirt, jeans, and converse high tops. He's active and moves his legs and hands as he talks. He says the class will be about 1/2 on metaphysics and 1/2 on values. He mentions that there are some commonly held views, ie that we have an immaterial soul that survives after death, and that suicide is immoral and irrational, that he disagrees with. He says that he has a viewpoint that will be argued in this semester course. The rest of the lecture is devoted to nuts and bolts of attendance and grading. Three papers and a discussion class are 25% each of the grade, with later papers weighted more heavily on the later ones if there is improvement. Readings...I wonder if the reading list is online. He reads an assortment of student feedback about himself, trying to give all in attendance enough information to decide if they should take his class. I like the guy. I can understand how some students are not interested in engaging him or the subject at the level that he teaches it. I will watch another lecture. I am tempted to jump to the suicide lectures, #26-29 I think. If you have read this paragraph, you probably don't need to watch the first lecture.

OK, I made it only 18:34 into this lecture. The title is How to Live Given the Certainty of Death. He opens with a Vonnegut quote about "Most mud isn't so lucky" as to sit up, as to live. He mentions that prayer is at best an expression of gratitude. Then he digs into the question. We could blow it; we could live the wrong kind of life. This is true whether we are mortal or immortal. He acknowleges the appeal of immortality being in the opportunity to do things over, to try again. Our lifespan is short relative to life's complexity, richness and challenge. There are two kinds of mistakes we can make, those of choice, and of execution. We can make a wrong choice, or we can make a right choice but fail to complete the project. So we need to be careful, and pay attention, to choose and execute well. What to fill life with? CONTENT. He goes to the edge of this question and backs away. He says we have two strategies, based on our finite time, both with the central idea of packing lots of content into our lifes. The first is the Eat, Drink and Be Merry strategy, in which we choose to pursue things that are easy to get like food, company, and sex. The second strategy is to achieve more, to work toward loftier goals and possibly achieve something of high value in this life. This strategy has a higher chance of failure. The point is raised that there is a third choice, and that is to have a mixture of the two, and the mix is left undiscussed. That's where I bugged out. I have a bachelor's degree in philosophy and this guy is teaching an excellent first course in philosophy. I don't need it again. But it's interesting to see and to contemplate. I think I still want to hear him out about suicide. Later.
Tags: death, isms, life, philosophy, prayer, religion, suicide, values

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