course description

What does it mean for a life to go well? What would it look like for a life to be lived well? In short, what shape would a life worth living take? We will explore these questions through engagement with the lives and visions of founding figures from seven diverse traditions of imagining a good life: the Buddha, the Torah and the Hebrew prophetic and wisdom writers, Jesus of Nazareth, Muhammad, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The course will also feature visiting lectures by contemporary individuals who understand their lives to be shaped by the traditions in question.

Semester Overview

01. Introduction

Course Week 1  
Course Introduction (seminar)    
  • Rob Riemen, Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal, 83-96
Implicit and Explicit Visions of the Good Life (seminar)
  • James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 19-27, 93-103
  • David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
The Tripartite Structure of the Good Life (lecture)
  • Robert Nozick, “The Experience Machine,” Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 42-45
  • Martha Nussbaum, Therapy of Desire, 359-366, 386-401
  • Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, excerpts
  • “The Tripartite Formal Structure of Human Flourishing: A Hypothesis”
Course Week 2
What is a Tradition? (seminar)
  • Philip J. Ivanhoe, “Being in and Learning from Tradition,” Confucian Reflections: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, 1-16
  • David L. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism, 28-31,36-39
  • Saba Mahmood, The Politics of Piety, ix-xii
The Tripartite Structure of the Good Life (seminar)
  • Robert Nozick, “The Experience Machine,” Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 42-45
  • Martha Nussbaum, Therapy of Desire, 359-366, 386-401
  • Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, excerpts
  • “The Tripartite Formal Structure of Human Flourishing: A Hypothesis”
Course Questions (lecture)

02. Utilitarianism

Course Week 3
Utilitarianism & Happiness (seminar)
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  • Peter Singer and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, “The Good Life—A Utilitarian Perspective”
Effective Altruism (seminar)
  • Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save, 3-41
  • Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 1(1972): 229-43
A Life Shaped by Utilitarianism (guest lecture)

03. Judaism

Course Week 4
The Tanakh (seminar)
  • Genesis 12:1-7, 17:1-17, 21:1-5; Deuteronomy 5-6, 28; Leviticus 19:9-18; Job 1-7, 42; Psalm 100, 119:1-16; Amos 5:1-6:7; Isaiah 57:14-61:11    
The Rabbis (seminar)
  • Pirkei Avot, selections
A Life Shaped by Judaism (guest lecture)
Course Week 5
Judaism, Work, & Rest (seminar)
  • Genesis1-3; Exodus 1-3, 5, 12, 14, 20; Lev 25
  • Susannah and Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, vii-xvi; 1-32; 95-101
  • Jonathan Sacks, “If I Ruled the World,” Prospect, July 18, 2013
  • Jonathan Sacks, Radical Then, Radical Now, 130-135

04. Yale’s Vision of a Life Worth Living

Yale and the Good Life (seminar)
  • Dan Schawbel, Me 2.0, 1-22
  • Pascal Bruckner, Perpetual Euphoria, selections
  • “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness,” New York Times, Jan 26, 2018
  • William Dereschewitz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League”
  • Hartmut Rosa, “Two Versions of the Good Life and Two Forms of Fear,” selections
  • Marina Keegan, “The Opposite of Loneliness”
  • Peter Salovey, “Repair the World!”
  • The Mission Statement of Yale College
 Yale and the Good Life (guest lecture)

05. Expressive Individualism

Course Week 6
Origins of Expressive Individualism (seminar)
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher, Soliloquies, 9, 26–48, 69–88
  • Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” selections
Authenticity (seminar)
  • Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 13-53
Expressive Individualism in Popular Culture (lecture)
Course Week 7
Self-Reflection, Self-Realization, Self-Expression (seminar)
  • Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” 247–53
  • ––––––, De profundis, selections

06. Christianity

New Testament (seminar)
  • Mark, Matthew 5-7, John 14-17, Romans 5-8, Revelation 21-22
A Life Shaped by Jesus (guest lecture)
Course Week 8
The Human Place in the World (seminar)
  • Miroslav Volf, “Epilogue,” Flourishing, 201-204
  • Marilynne Robinson, “Psalm 8,” 227-244
  • Alexander Schmemann, “The World as Sacrament,” For the Life of the World, 217-227
Christianity & Forgiveness (seminar)
  • Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 74-109
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, 90-107
  • Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway, 3-19, 141-157
Secular Faith (lecture)
  • Martin Hägglund, This Life, selections  

07. Nietzsche

Course Week 9
Friedrich Nietzsche (seminar)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, selection from “Letter to His Sister”
  • ———, The Gay Science, ## 125, 140, 143, 343, 353, 377
  • ———, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue” (## 3-5), “On the Three Metamorphoses,” “On the Pitying,” “On the Tarantulas,” “On Redemption”
  • ———, On the Genealogy of Morality, 1.13-14, 2.24-25
Nietzsche and Overcoming (seminar)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, ## 22, 36, 259
  • ———, The Gay Science # 349
Nietzsche’s Vision of a Good Life (lecture) 

08. Buddhism

Course Week 10
The Buddha (seminar)
  • The Story of Gotama Buddha (selections)
  • Life of the Buddha, 5.1-39, 14
  • Wheel of Law (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)
The Self and the World (seminar)
  • Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, 123-126
  • Milinda Pañha, 32-34
  • The Dalai Lama, How to See Yourself As You Really Are, TBA
A Life Shaped by the Buddha (guest lecture)
Course Week 11
Buddhism and Compassion (seminar)
  • The Dalai Lama, How to See Yourself As You Really Are, 32-38, 49-59, 67-73, 175-184, 201-208, 223-236

09. Islam

Muhammad (seminar)       
  • Martin Lings, Muhammad, 43-55, 58-69
A Life Shaped by Islam (guest lecture)
Course Week 12
The Way of Islam (seminar)
  • Asad Tarsin, Being Muslim: A Practical Guide, 1-35, 155-163,217-225
  • Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, Agenda to Change Our Condition, 1-2
  • Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittack, The Vision of Islam, 120-131, 175-181, 267-288
Islam & Prayer (seminar)
  • Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, Agenda to Change Our Condition, 40-46
  • Asad Tarsin, Being Muslim, 44-73

10. Conclusion

Course Week 13
Transformation & Commitment (seminar)
What Is a Life Worth Living? (seminar)
  • Presentations and discussion of student visions
Visions of Flourishing Life (lecture)
  • Student presentations of their visions of flourishing life.
"I saw in my classmates, from Christian to Atheist to Muslim to Jew, from the agnostic middle to the free-will-denying scientists, a capacity for wonder, love, curiosity, deep reflection, argument, and serendipity."

Yale Student / Life Worth Living 2018

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