Friedrich Nietzsche was born in October 1844 in Rocken, located near Leipzig in Germany. He is the subject for next week’s two discussion groups in my local U3A Group. In preparing my research I came across the following advice from Nietzsche on how to write a novel! Was he serious? I will fill you in on our discussions after the classes next Wednesday!
This is how hard one should try to write a novel: The recipe for becoming a good novelist … is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says ‘I do not have enough talent.’ One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes every day until one has learnt how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one’s eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer … one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop … will be fit to go out into the world.
de Botton, Alain. The Consolations of Philosophy (pp. 216-217). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in Danzig, Germany. He was the topic of two philosophy discussion groups that met today. We have been reading a book called The Consolations of Philosophy, written by Alain de Botton and published by Penguin.
Group members were on the whole of the view that he was a miserable man who had nothing to offer for us in consolation of any kind. A few of us (me included) disagreed. It is difficult to get to the core of the man in a two hour session. His thesis, The World as Will and Representation was hailed as a masterpiece (not at first but later in his lifetime).
He certainly paints a dark view of life full of pessimism however I felt a sense of fellowship with him. I have known some dark times in my life and it is as though he could put my experience into words. He also emphasised the strength of our will to live in that the survival of our species depends upon it.
I can’t do justice to the complexity of the man but I do know that he certainly got our group members fired up about some of the things he said and his attitude toward women (not good)!
One of the female members of the group suggested he may have had more success with women if he had a better hair cut.
The two discussions on philosophy on Wednesday were very interesting and enjoyable.
The quote below provoked a lot of debate. It wasn’t difficult to see that the impact of humans on nature has often been detrimental. But then nature can be fierce and destructive too. We agreed that the advances in knowledge and application of science can enable us to have a more positive impact on our environment.
A lot of our discussion was about how ‘down to earth’ Montaigne seemed and that made him likeable. Even though he was rich, educated and talented (and wise) he wrote about life in a way that anyone can relate to what he said. His references to bodily functions surprised and amused us – we still sometimes feel uncomfortable with subjects such as flatulence and sexual anxieties today but he didn’t hold back!
Montaigne had travelled quite a bit and put a good case about withholding judgement on the differences we encounter in different countries and their customs. That had us talking about ‘culture shock’ and the fear that can arise when suddenly faced with a culture we don’t understand. He made us realise that what is normal for us may be very strange to someone in another setting.
Tomorrow our two U3A Philosophy Groups will be exploring Montaigne. I must say it has been challenging trying to pin him down as to what he is about. A little more reading led me to see that he is a Sceptic (Skeptic) and so that explains things a little.
Another interesting aspect about him is that even though he is rich and of noble birth he speaks plainly about everyday things. One can almost feel like he is a friend.
In one of the articles I read they suggested that he could be the world’s first blogger! Now that got my attention! I can understand why though. He, in his Essays, writes about whatever is on his mind in an interesting and entertaining style. Incidentally, I checked on Amazon and was able to purchase The Complete Essays on Kindle for $1.03!
Anyway, I will write some more about Montaigne after our two classes tomorrow!
Today our U3A Group looked at Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was born in 4BC and died in 65AD. He was a Roman Philosopher known for his Stoic philosophy. He was also a Statesman and Magistrate. Stoics get their name from Stoa (below) where they met and discussed their ideas. The dictionary definition of Stoicism is ‘An Ancient Greek School of Philosophy which taught that it is wise to remain indifferent to changes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.’ Seneca wrote his philosophy in Latin and therefore it was more accessible to the Romans as up to that point it was all recorded in Greek.
Seneca suggests that we best endure those frustrations we can anticipate and also for the frustrations in life that we weren’t expecting and cannot understand. We noted that much of his philosophy is similar to what we know of as the Serenity Prayer (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference).
We looked at some of his quotes and discussed what we thought he meant. We speculated about the last part of the quote below as perhaps an early reference to euthanasia. We didn’t come to any great conclusions but we enjoyed the mental stimulation and each others’ company!
Surely peace of mind and a clear conscience are well worth pursuing. After all, our level of happiness is only increased for a little while with the acquisition of new purchases and possessions. It is only a matter of time when our happiness level returns to where it was in the first place.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher born in February 341 BC. A great deal of what he wrote has not survived. His philosophy was to acquire a happy and tranquil life, free from worry and absence of pain.
His School, named The Garden has the distinction of being the first philosophical Greek school to admit women.
The basis of his beliefs can be summed as:
- Don’t fear god
- Don’t worry about death
- What is good is easy to get, and
- What is terrible is easy to endure.
Our group found lots to discuss about the above four points – particularly the last two. For example, what does he mean by “good” and how “easy” is it really? We found it hard to get our heads around the suggestion that terrible things/circumstances etc. are EASY to endure.
One of my personal favourite quotes from Epicurus is about the importance of friendship as seen in the quote below.
Of all the things which wisdom acquires to produce the blessedness of the complete life, for the greatest is the possession of friendship.
This one had us thinking about the characteristics of a child:
- full of energy
What do you think the quote is getting at?
As part of our group last week we looked at some of Socrates quotes and discussed what we thought they meant.
I had no difficulty with the above quote. It immediately brought to mind relationships in crisis.The sense of devastation if you have been rejected and deprived of the object of your desire. Someone suggested that love and hate are two sides of the one coin and how easy it can be to flip from one to the other.
I was surprised that many members of our group had difficulty relating to these words. The other interesting aspect was how much difficulty people had with the word ‘hate’.
We might say we hate the summer or the cold etc. but to express and acknowledge hate towards another person is a different matter. I cannot think of anyone I hate. There are some politicians that would come close!
Another thought is that while we experience these emotions, with restraint, as long as they are not acted upon the damage caused will mostly be to ourselves.
Please feel free to disagree with me! One more Socrates quote tomorrow and then we move on to Epicurus!
Last Wednesday I held two classes (morning and afternoon) where we are studying six philosophers and guided by a book called Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton (published by Penguin).
It was Socrates turn.
We talked about the importance of being aware of what is happening in our lives and the world around us. We could really relate to the idea of getting in a rut and working, eating and sleeping as is so often the case when you are in the workforce and paying a mortgage etc.
When we live like that we sometimes do things we don’t want to do; don’t find time for the things we do enjoy; take on board others’ demands on our time and energy; become distant to what is really important in our lives and find little satisfaction in life.
We saw that Socrates believed so strongly in his philosophy that he was prepared to die for it. It was interesting that some members of our group saw Socrates as a trouble maker in how he kept asking/testing the young men in Athens to show them how little they really knew.
He said he was the only wise person as he KNEW that he knew NOTHING!
We also talked about what wisdom really is and tried to think of someone wise. We struggled with that. We had lots of suggestions for the opposite!
I will write some more about Socrates tomorrow 🙂