Philosophy Workshops & Outings

In these two 3.5-hour “philosophy as a way of life”-inspired workshops led by philosopher & Senior Mentor to Merlin Fellowship Scholars, David Nowakowski, PhD, we’ll look at what it might mean to live a life of virtue from various perspectives.  Select readings and activities inspired by numerous ancient (and some contemporary) thinkers will be examined and applied with the aim of introducing participants to a variety of philosophical perspectives on virtuous living and practical tools for living well.  For those who are inspired to continue these investigations further, a list of suggested readings will be provided.  No background or prior experience in philosophy is required or expected.  FREE. All ages welcome. $20 Suggested donation per workshop. Light snacks & tea provided. Space is limited.   

Philosophy Workshop: 
The Life of Virtue in Greek Philosophy

July 2019
Reeder’s Alley (Caretaker’s Lawn)

Access Resources & Photos Here!

Workshop Description

For the ancient Greeks, “virtue” was centrally connected to living the best possible life, making the most of our human existence. In this workshop, we will examine what exactly that meant, how it was supposed to work, and in what ways it might still be relevant to us today as we choose how to direct our own lives.

We will spend a good portion of our time in ancient Athens, with Aristotle’s classic discussions of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics, as well as Plato and the Platonic tradition, on how virtue applies both to individuals and to human communities. We’ll then take a look at how Greek theories of virtue were adapted to new philosophical and religious contexts in the Roman Empire and in Europe, before being handed on to us today.

By looking at virtue from all these perspectives, we will appreciate the foundations for modern thinking about virtue, in ways we may not fully have realized. This will give us a better sense of what options are available as we plan the course for our own lives, and why we might (or might not!) want to choose certain ones.  Some of the big questions addressed throughout the morning may include:

  • What are virtues? What do we mean in general when we talk about “virtue,” and what specific things count as virtues?

  • Why do we care about having virtue, practicing it, “being virtuous,” etc.? Is this connected to morality, or not? (Hint: it depends, but maybe not.)

  • Is virtue a requirement, or even a goal, for everyone, or just certain people?

  • Is virtue something we achieve through our own effort, or something we receive or are given?

  • Is living a virtuous life something we can do on our own, or does it require friends, neighbors, community?

Philosophy Workshop:  
Thinking Ecologically About Virtue & Value

Sunday, September 15th
(9am – 12:30pm)
Reeder’s Alley
(Interpretive & Convention Center)

(Alternatively, if the weather is nice out, we’ll hold the workshop in Caretaker’s Lawn)

Workshop Description

For many philosophers, scientists, and ordinary people, “species” are not only descriptive categories of how things are, but ideal models for how things should be. When we really stop to think about it, that’s a very loaded suggestion!

We will begin with a whirlwind tour of “species” from antiquity to the present, in order to better understand the hidden assumptions behind our own thinking today, asking:

  • How did we get here? Where did our idea of “species” come from?

  • What other options/possibilities have we missed, or left behind on the way?

  • How do different ways of thinking about species give us different guidance for what is valuable, excellent, praiseworthy, or virtuous?

Stops on our tour will include Plato, Aristotle, the Medieval “Ladder of Nature,” Charles Darwin, and John Dewey, as well as 20th-century environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold and 21st-century philosopher David Abram, whose work on animism has informed other recent events at Merlin.

We will then step back and apply our newfound historical perspective to questions in our own lives:

  • Who/what has moral value and worth?

  • In what ways do we humans fit into, or stand apart from, the rest of nature?

  • How does this impact our ideas about the best possible human life?

  • What hidden assumptions are at the roots of the ways we think and talk about nature, health, excellence, beauty, and purpose?

Answering these questions will begin in history and ecology, and take us well beyond!

About Our Workshop Leader

A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, 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 theJournal 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. 

After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to people of all ages and backgrounds.

A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts. David Nowakowski serves as a Philosophical Advisor for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program. We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.  David can be reached at [email protected]

An extended version of our philosophy walks, our “campfire philosophy” outings are 3-4 day “philosophy as a way of life”-inspired outings that involve overnight camping (either in campsite lodging or tents), hikes (and other activities), and philosophical discussion (led by guest scholars) over a campfire each night.  

Phi-Llama Campfire Outing: 
The Human-Nature Relationship
“A Philosophical Examination of Our Relationship with the Wild”
(Inspired by the Wolves of Yellowstone National Park)
Summer 2020
Yellowstone National Park
(Lamar Valley/Lamar Buffalo Ranch: A Llama-Led Backcountry Trip)

(A MerlinAccess Wild & Yellowstone Forever collaborative venture into the great wide open)

Phi-Llama Campfire Outing: 
The Human-Nature Relationship
“A Philosophical Examination of Our Relationship with the Wild”
(Inspired by the Wolves of Yellowstone National Park)
Fall 2020
Yellowstone National Park
(Lamar Valley/Lamar Buffalo Ranch:  A Llama-led Backcountry Trip)

(A Merlin, Access Wild & Yellowstone Forever collaborative venture into the great wide open)

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