Philosophy Workshop Series: “What is Philosophy?” (Responding to the World)

For philosophers in many times and cultures, philosophy has involved specific, practical guidance for how best to respond to the world that we find ourselves in.  This practical, applied branch of philosophy—“ethics,” in the broadest sense of the word—will answer questions like:

  • When have we behaved well? When have we lived well?
  • How can we flourish as human beings? How might we make the most of our lives, with all their capacity and potential?
  • What are the optimal approaches to human life, both as individuals, and in communities?

Our goal in this workshop was not to present some single, definitive answer to these questions.  Rather, we explored the terrain: How have philosophers (over the millennia, in various corners of the globe) approached the problems of ethics, and what kinds of answers have they proposed?  By focusing in this way, we hoped to expand our sense of just how rich and varied philosophical approaches to ethics can be.

As we made this map together, one central issue was: Where are we even looking, when we talk about what is right or good?  Are we looking at external outcomes, consequences, or results?  At individual choices or decisions?  At habits and character?  Or in some other direction altogether?

As we considered that major question, we defined and classified some of the major approaches to ethics: views like consequentialism, deontology, and virtue theories.  This (hopefully) helped us to make sense of the vast array of proposed options, and provided a foundation for future discussions of specific views, in the depth and detail they deserve.

We also reflected on the account of ethics many of us were given as young people: a set of rules which we need to obey.  From the perspective of human flourishing, are concepts like duty, obedience, and rule-following helpful?  Or can they sometimes get in the way of living well, as full, thriving, mature human beings?


(Workshop Introduction & Session Recordings )


(Workshop Handout & Reading Recommendations)
~ Click on the pdf image to view/download ~

About the Workshop Leader...

David is as a philosopher and educator whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives.  A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, David is currently building his own consulting practice and serves as a Philosophical Advisor and Consultant for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.

David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy; as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts. We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.

Thank You’s

Thank you to Humanities Montana and P.L.A.T.O. (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization) for helping support our philosophy in the community programs and making events like this possible!  This workshop was part of our “Thinking as a Community” project.

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