Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Examined Life

Last night, Rachel and Mary took the subway down to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to attend a screening of a film called "An Examined Life." The filmmaker, Astra Taylor, was on hand to take questions afterwards, as was Peter Singer, a well-known philosopher interviewed in the film and pictured at left.

Oh, and by the way, Rachel ADORES Peter Singer! He teaches at Princeton, one of her top choices for grad school.

Here are some notable ideas and quotes from the film, which included interviews from several noted philosophers on such questions as meaning and morality.

Cornel West:
Philosophy is about exploring our finite situation: desire in the face of death, wrestling with dialogue, dogmatism, democracy, and power.

"A philosopher is a lover of wisdom."

It takes great courage to examine yourself and your life.

Truth (small "t") means allowing suffering to speak. The question is, how do I sustain my journey to truth once I surrender myself to my fallibility?

"I'm a jazzman in the world of ideas."

"I'm a Christian, not a Puritan. Pleasure has its place."

The whole notion of harmony, wholeness is a Romantic idea that we can never really reach. We have this idea that we can somehow create harmony, and when we can't, we suffer great disappointment. Forget this idea! "Ride on the dissonance. Begin with the wreckage, like a bluesman does." "The blues is personal catastrophe lyrically expressed."

"Why do you need the whole thing? You can't have it all, so just put that idea aside."

"Making sense of meaninglessness is a discipline in and of itself."

Avital Ronell:
Regarding the search for meaning: "I'm very skeptical of this promise of meaning, which has led to a quick grasp to things like God and religion." "The search for meaning has been socially devastating."

“Leave things open, admitting we haven’t understood. It’s frustrating, but necessary.”

Peter Singer :
Moral problem today: What should we spend our money on? (He has written a new book on this topic: The Life You Can Save.)

Applied ethics is an example of making academic studies more relevant to the questions of today. It's risky, though, because often it challenges common-sense morality and accepted ideas.

"We make life meaningful by connecting with a cause."


Here is a review of the film:

And here's a clip:

And finally, here is a list of the philosophers who appeared:
K. Anthony Appiah
Judith Butler
Michael Hardt
Martha Nussbaum
Avital Ronnell
Peter Singer
Cornel West
Slavoj Zizek

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