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Get-together discussion of Plato's "Protagoras"

People arriving at yet another Socratic philosophy event at Frederiks Bastion here in Copenhagen yesterday.

Taking turns in pairs as Socrates and Protagoras we read a section from Plato's Protagoras where Socrates and Protagoras try to demonstrate that there is no such thing as weakness of will. If we eat that cake it is not because we are overcome by desire for the pleasure of eating it but because we consciously decide that it would be a good thing to eat it. If it truly is a bad thing to eat it and we do so anyway, it's because we don't fully understand that it would be a bad thing to eat it. Not because we don't have enough will power.

After reading the text we had a great discussion with lots of interesting observations from real life. In particular, we were discussing the "art of measuring" which Socrates talks about in the text. If we consciously compare the value of eating the cake and the value of not eating it and decide that the value of not eating…
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Conversations about communities and friendship

Right next to Freetown Christania here in Copenhagen a small, floating community has emerged called Fredens Havn (Harbour of Peace). Yesterday, a philosophy group I participate in went to visit them and listen to their stories. It was a hugely enjoyable experience! As so many other alternative ways of life, the community has been much maligned by the surrounding society. To me, meeting people like this is as least as interesting and exciting as getting a chance to travel to Athens two thousand years ago and talk to the Cynics or the Epicureans :-)

More face-to-face philosophy!

Last Wednesday my friend, Di Ponti, and I held the first philosophy event in a series of three here in Copenhagen. The overall theme of the series is values and the goal is to inspire the participants to think deeper about values. Their own values, the values of society, what values are, how values are shaped - and similar questions. Each event is in the form of a Socratic group discussion.

Among the topics that turned up at the first event were: When can we say that we actually have a value? If we constantly act contrary to a value, does it then make sense to claim that we have that value? Why exactly  is it so important to us that other people share our values? Even small, relatively insignificant values. How tolerant is it possible to be before we de facto give up our own values?

It was great fun and we look forward to the next event next Wednesday!

Since some of the participants were uncomfortable with pictures being taken the picture below is a picture of Di and me planning the s…

A quick update from the author!

Apologies for the long silence. I have been busy working with face-to-face Socratic philosophy. 
The photo below is from an event at Freetown Christiania here in Copenhagen. At the 25 year jubilee for Danish grassroots organization Øko-net in late January a wide variety of participants were gathered for two days for shared reflection on various forms of activism. As the opening act philosopher and activist Di Ponti and myself facilitated a conversation about conflict and unity in activist communities. Powerful stories were told and wise things were said.
This coming Wednesday Di and I will be at it again - this time at Frederiks Bastion, Refshalevej 28, 1440 Copenhagen. This is the first of three events. The two others are at Wednesday the 15th of May and Thursday the 16th of June. All three events are from 4.30pm - 7pm and the overall theme is values and how we think about values. All thee events will be in the form of Socratic group discussions.
Come and join us if you're in Co…

A documentary about the relationship between Seneca and Nero

A few years ago PBS did a series in four episodes called "The Roman Empire in the First Century"

Episode 3 is about Nero's reign but they tell the story by focusing on the relationship between Seneca and Nero. They do a fairly decent job and mostly present Seneca as a Stoic who tries to play the part assigned to him by fate as well as possible. The text is very pompous, though (to say nothing about the music!). Sigourney Weaver is narrating and sounds like she's quite uncomfortable about the whole thing. Every time a person is mentioned or quoted they show a bust of that person - if one is available - and every single time Seneca is mentioned, they show the "pseudo-Seneca" bust from Herculaneum even though everyone now agree that it is not a representation of Seneca.

All in all a pretty strange experience. It's incredibly rare that anyone mentions Seneca in anything about Rome produced for television so they deserve lots of credit for that - and also fo…

How to win people over to virtue: Socrates vs Seneca

"To give a benefit is a social act that wins someone over."

- Seneca, On Benefits 5.11.5
One of the things I find extremely interesting about Seneca's thoughts on "winning someone over" is how radical an improvement it is to Socrates' ideas (as he is portrayed by Plato). As Socrates sees things, a wise person should try to persuade as many people as possible to become as wise as possible - by engaging in critical, philosophical discussion with them. Winning people over is done by challenging their assumptions vigorously and making good philosophers out of them. A major goal with this activity is to contribute to the best possible society since a society consisting of critical thinkers who have thought a lot about what is good for human beings - and tested their ideas in extensive critical debate with each other - will be the best society. Interestingly - and tellingly - Plato seemed to deeply doubt that it is possible to teach people virtue at all. Either t…

Aristotle on happiness and external goods

According to popular opinion both in ancient Greece and today, happiness requires things such as wealth, good health, good looks, friends, family and good reputation. In Plato's dialogue Euthydemus Socrates challenges those beliefs by claiming that none of those things are good, if they are not used wisely. In fact, Socrates claims that a person who has wisdom doesn't need any of those things at all since he or she can turn any situation into something beneficial for him- or herself.

"If wisdom is present, the one for whom it is present has no need of good fortune".

- Socrates in Euthydemus, 279E

In other words, Socrates claims that wisdom is a sufficient requirement for happiness (and a necessary requirement too, of course). Aristotle famously challenges that claim. But what exactly does he say? Let's have a look.

"we suppose happiness is enduring and definitely not prone to fluctuate, but the same person’s fortunes often turn to and fro. For clearly, if we t…