Philosophy Shorts

Tight schedules don’t have to mean sacrificed depth.  That’s why we developed Merlin Shorts — a series of shorter “hoot-worthy!” gatherings ranging from Philosophy Drive-Ins and Read-In’s, to our newest series in the bunch “How Did We Get Here?”  Ranging from 1 hour 15 minutes in length to 2 hours, each of our shorts offers you a chance to dive deep and explore ideas together…no matter how much time you have to spread your wings.

Fall 2023 Shorts

Our take on written word and great conversation.

Exploring classic & contemporary ideas by reading together

Early in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, his teacher Seneca composed a short treatise, addressed to the emperor, on the subject of mercy or clemency. While none of us is likely ever to be the sole ruler of the civilized world, we might find analogues to some of these concerns for people in other, lesser positions of authority. In this evening’s session, we’ll examine Seneca’s account of mercy as a Stoic virtue: how it differs from vengeance, pity, and forgiveness, and how it’s closely related to the virtue of justice. And we’ll reflect on the profoundly unequal power dynamics inherent in Seneca’s theory of clemency.

Our “Short Reads” evenings explore a focused philosophical argument or theme, by way of a short (4–6 page) paper.  During the evening, we’ll step through the paper together, using it as the focal point for a lively and interactive conversation.  Papers are short and compact, and we’ll read many of the longer quotes aloud together as we go.

Themes vary, and are announced (along with sharing the paper) about two weeks prior to each session.  Participants are encouraged, but not required, to read through the paper in advance, to begin thinking about the topic before you arrive.  

There is a special kind of deep, focused learning that can only happen through close, careful engagement with the written word — and especially with the written words and arguments of thoughtful, rigorous thinkers.  To foster that engagement in a friendly, collaborative setting, our “Long Reads” series will focus on close reading of philosophical books, both classic and contemporary.  Throughout the series, we’ll be interested both in the specific arguments that various philosophers make, and in developing the skills and habits of reading in a specifically philosophical way.

We’ll approach the books in a philosophical mode, which means that we’ll focus on understanding the argument(s), and on opening ourselves up to change and transformation through our encounter with them.  In our reading, and in our conversation together, we’ll work together, first to understand the author’s arguments on their own terms, as deeply and charitably as possible, and then to evaluate those arguments and consider their implications for our own lives.

Because this is a reading group, all attendees should read the relevant material prior to each session, so that we’re all (figuratively and literally) on the same page, and so that the depth and richness of the book can structure our conversation.  We’ll be posting a few thoughts and questions, which you can use to guide your reading, a few weeks prior to each session.

Connecting the ideas of today to yesterday

An examination of the evolution of ideas

In addition to the intrinsic worth — and pleasure — of exploring the twisted history of our ideas, there’s a lot of be gained by asking “How did we get here?”  Consider:

  • Uncovering missed opportunities.  Sometimes the “road not taken” is still open to us, as a path to take now, even if it’s overgrown with weeds from neglect.  A wide view of history can help us (re)discover the forgotten paths.
  • Finding the hidden premises and assumptions, that lurk unquestioned behind our habits of thought.  This can give rise both to a deeper understanding of where we are now, and to some interesting points of leverage, if we want to make deep and lasting changes.
  • Gaining a sense of perspective on ourselves, our culture, and our historical moment.  It’s a commonplace that traveling or interacting with folks from another class, culture, or background — whether abroad or right here with our neighbors — can deepen our understanding of ourselves and our own place in the world.  The same thing can be said of the past: The past is like a foreign country, which, when visited, can have many of the same benefits!

This new series will take us on a tour of some neglected and forgotten paths of intellectual history, asking “How Did We Get Here?” for important philosophical, scientific, and cultural concepts like dignity, free will, science, and the nation.

Bringing ideas to life through film.

A night of short films & philosophical discussion for all ages.

"Why Are We Here?" Series: Spring 2023

Date(s): Dates TBD
Time: Doors @6:15pm/Film Shorts Start @6:30pm
Topic:  Meaning & the Nature of the Universe
Location: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)
Cost: Free ($5 suggested donation)
Facilitated by: Thomas Baumeister, PhD
Other: Snacks provided.  BYOB.

In this four-part documentary Oxford physicist Ard Louis & film-maker David Malone meet scientists, philosophers and writers to discuss questions about meaning and the nature of the universe.  At each ‘Merlin Drive-In’ gathering in the series we’ll watch one episode, followed by a group discussion led by Thomas Baumeister, PhD.  Watch the introductory videos for each below.

Meaning-Seeking Beings

If our universe is made up of nothing but atoms and particles, is any search for real meaning a delusion?

The Reality of Ideas

Are the only truths those that can be proven by scientific experiment, or are there other truths, perhaps like those of mathematics, that are not part of the material universe?

The Animal Within

How do we decide what’s good and bad? Can science help us decide? 

The Moral Compass

Where do our moral values come from? In a world of atoms and molecules what authority can our moral ideas really have?  introduction.

Visit our Merlin Shorts Archive page to access resources & photos from previous gatherings.

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