My brother-in-law told me about an article with this title in the weekend issue of The Wall Street Journal.
Since both my vocation and my avocation are wedded to the idea that that great literature, art and music can and should help teach us how to live well and wisely, I immediately called up the article on my computer.
The author turned out to be Alain de Botton (b. 1969), a Swiss writer, television presenter and entrepreneur resident in the UK. His books and television programs discuss various contemporary subjects and themes in a philosophical style, emphasising philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. Perhaps his best-known book is his first non-fiction work, How Proust Can Change Your Life, published in 1998.
De Botton’s most recent project is the School of Life – a new cultural enterprise based in central London aiming to offer instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with metkere.com de Botton said:
The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities rarely give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.
Here are some course descriptions with the required readings.
HOW TO MAKE LOVE LAST
Is love something we’re destined to fall in and out of, or can it be sustained over time? Is sexual desire the essential lubricant…or a pale companion compared with friendship and trust?
Readings include Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; The Iris Trilogy by John Bayley; The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm.
HOW TO FACE DEATH
Is there such a thing as a good death? How might we best mourn the loss of those we cared about?
Readings include Consolation in the Face of Death by Samuel Johnson, My Last Sigh by Luis Bunuel ; The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
HOW TO FILL THE GOD-SHAPED HOLE
In what ways might peole who are disinclined to follow a partucular religion nuture their spiritual side?
Readings include Confessions by Augustine; Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume; selected poems by Emily Dickinson.
HOW TO FIND A JOB YOU LOVE
What would a meaningful working life really look like?
Readings include Walden by Henry David Thoreau; The Protestant Work Ethic and the Sprit of Capitalism by Max Weber; The Conditions of the Working Class in England by Frederich Engels.
One might quibble with the choices of readings, but I would like to know what you think about de Botton’s essential premise, that “we should look to culture as a storehouse of useful ideas about how to face our most pressing personal and professional issues.” Do you believe… “Novels and historical narratives can impart moral instruciton and edification.reat paintings can suggest the requirements for happiness. Philosophy can probe our anxieties and offer consolation.”…? I invite you to share a personal example, perhaps from a Classical Pursuits experience.
Here is a link to the School of Life.