08.13.18 | Applied Philosophy

You may never have heard of the philosopher Diogenes Laertius. Some of the heavies e.g. Hegel and Nietzsche dismissed this third century wanna-be as a lightweight (or worse) when it came to philosophical reasoning. Yet by some quirk of fate, his "Lives of Eminent Philosophers," newly translated from the original Greek (see Lovers Of Wisdom), serves as the remaining link to a great portion of Greek and Hellenic philosophy now that much of the primary source material has been lost to antiquity. 

But there is something even more intriguing to note: his (alleged) fuzziness when it came to philosophical rigor ("logos") might be somewhat attributed to his seeing his subjects primarily as social types ("bios"). Philosophy was, to him, more than a body of propositions. Real lives are tempered by hypocrisy and absurdity. He tended to favor his subjects as public exemplars rather than for the precepts they embodied -- as if seeing the figures, not as some Greek marble statues, but as characters in People magazine. Plato is weak-voiced but mocked for his long-windedness; Aristotle had thin calves and small eyes and spoke with a lisp. Inquiring minds want to know.

So viewed the study of philosophy somehow sounds more approachable, relevant, and meaningful i.e. what does it actually mean to lead a good life? Last year's Member Monday (10/2)/Chasing Epicurus discussion provided some helpful material on one philosopher's take on the good (or at least happy) life e.g. the value of friendship, perspective on death, avoidance of romantic entanglements, reduction of wants/desires. 

Compare that to the Hegelian view that philosophical importance is measured not by how one lives one's life but how the philosopher fits into the evolution of human consciousness toward truth. Really? That makes it sound like the good life can be reduced to the pursuit of an abstraction that only some ambitious graduate student could love. Even Nietzsche finally came around on the side of bios as the ultimate test of logos.

In any event, the Laertius work consists of ten books featuring no less than eighty individual figures from which one might develop one's own philosopher-designer life. But don't be intimidated. The focus article is but a short overview of the longer work and there is no test. Our real interest is determining what role, if any, philosophy plays in your own lives. The answer to that will guide the extent to which future Member Monday discussions might feature some "real" philosophers.

- Steve Smith.

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