Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) “Sidecar”


This course is a synchronized supplement to a parallel reading of Robert Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) and Plato’s Phaedrus. As such, it functions something like a sidecar to a motorcycle. The core sidecar readings include (selections from) works on Zen/Buddhism, a “guidebook” to Pirsig’s novel, the book whose title was the model for Pirsig’s title, and the philosophical text that first introduced Pirsig’s narrator to the “classic and romantic modes of reality and probably shaped these terms in his mind more than he ever knew.” Two bonus readings and a film are the subject of a separate stand-alone session several weeks after the completion of both the primary readings and the core sidecar readings. Continue reading

How to Read Plato’s Dialogues as Literature


Like its counterparts in the “How to Read Classic Texts” series, this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read Plato’s dialogues as “philosophical dramas,” the full appreciation of which requires attention to each work’s dramatic and philosophical dimensions (sometimes referred to as “form” and “content”) — as well as (sometimes) to its connections to other dialogues in Plato’s canon. Discover what folks who read Plato’s dialogues as thinly-veiled manifestoes are missing! Continue reading

Reading Plato’s Republic … Twice!


Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of Plato’s Republic by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to both the dramatic and the philosophic features that Plato interweaves to create a Socratic “one man show” (think Fonda as Darrow or Holbrook as Twain) “on justice”. Whether you’ve attempted the Republic before or never cracked the cover, this course is for you. Please skim Books 1-4 of the Republic before the first class session. You may also want to read Adler’s How to Read a Book before or during the course but that is not required.
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The True Value of Money: Retail Investing as a Gateway to Wisdom


In a capitalist society, retail investing can play the role that sexual love plays in Plato’s Symposium: the blunt, material force that can lure us onto a path towards subtle, ethereal wisdom. For, analogously to the ”ladder of love”, investors’ initial ”wealth focus” often evolves into a ”wellness focus” (as we re-discover the ancient truth that money is a means and not an end in itself) and then into a ”wisdom focus” (as we re-discover the ancient truth that wisdom is needed in order to live a good life). From this perspective, therefore, lust – be it for sex or for money – turns out to be something of a ”noble lie” that delivers something much better than it promises – and something we probably would not have sought at all if lust had not started us on our journey in the first place.
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The Nature of Knowledge: Plato’s Theaetetus and Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy


In an age of “alternative facts”, it is perhaps worthwhile to revisit the foundational texts that have helped establish a longstanding conviction that some “facts” are more equal than others. This course will be devoted to a close consideration of two such texts: Plato’s ancient dialogue Theaetetus and Descartes’s modern monologue Meditations on First Philosophy. In the first, Socrates and his interlocutors examine three different notions of knowledge (and Socrates proclaims himself a “midwife of the soul”). In the second, Descartes claims to demonstrate the indisputable truth of (a) the existence of God and of (b) the existence of the immortal human soul — not to mention of (c) the existence of himself (because he thinks). In addition to seeking to understand each text on its own terms, we will compare and contrast them as alternative approaches to “certain knowledge”. Continue reading

Pirsig’s Progress: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a Modern Spiritual Journey


Since its publication in 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM) has been widely hailed as a modern classic as well as a work that defies conventional characterization. Part novel, part diary, part manifesto, ZAMM relates the thoughts and experiences of a philosophically-oriented unnamed middle-aged narrator as he progresses along a number of simultaneous personal journeys, all of which facilitate an overarching spiritual journey toward wholeness and wellness. Overall, though, ZAMM appears to be a special kind of “Chautauqua” designed to induce analogous journeys in readers. This course will undertake the ZAMM journey through close reading and discussion of this modern masterpiece along with related Platonic dialogues that lurk in the background. Continue reading

The Trial and Death of Socrates


The trial and death of Socrates is perhaps one of the most (in)famous events of philosophical martyrdom in Western history. As such it bears and repays close and repeated study in order to understand exactly who and what Socrates was, what happened to him, and what (if any) lessons the ancient event holds for our time. With such goals in mind, this course is devoted to a close reading and discussion of the four Platonic dialogues that revolve directly around the momentous events: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Continue reading

God’s Gadfly: A Socratic Method Seminar on Socrates


Because Socrates called his practice “philosophy” (love of wisdom) and because philosophy is nowadays widely considered to be a “secular” enterprise, Socrates is often assumed to have been a secular figure. According to Plato’s famous Socrates’ Defense (or Apology), however, nothing could be further from the truth. In this short Socratic Method seminar, participants will carefully read and discuss passages from Plato’s text in a collaborative effort to meet Socrates on, and in, his own terms: as an annoying gadfly on a divine mission to educate Athens; as a gift from God whose death would hurt the Athenians more than it would hurt him. No prior knowledge or experience of any kind is required. All reading and discussion will be in English. Continue reading

On Human Excellence [1]: Plato’s Meno as ‘Philosophical Drama’


“Can you tell me, Socrates — is virtue something that can be taught? Or does it come by practice? Or is it neither teaching nor practice that gives it to a man but natural aptitude or something else?” With this provocative four-part question begins one of the most compact meditations on human excellence ever composed: Plato’s Meno, a “dialogue” (mostly) between the great philosopher Socrates and his acquaintance Meno. This course will be devoted to a close reading and analysis of Plato’s short text in order to understand both the work’s philosophical elements and its dramatic elements — as well as the interaction between the two — as we seek to comprehend Plato’s ultimate response to Meno’s initial question. No prior knowledge or experience of any kind is required. Continue reading