The Olive Press

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Getting out of bed with Marcus Aurelius

May 18th, 2021

This is a short reading and reflection on getting the motivation to get up and out the door - stoic style!

The Art of Living: The Dalai Lama

July 16th, 2020

This episode discusses sage advice from the Dalai Lama about how to be happy.  It is from the book "The Art of Happiness." (10th Anniversary edition) by The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler (2009).  We will discuss the Dalai Lama's idea that happiness involves mental discipline and the ability to make wholesome choices.  He also speaks of the necessity of compassion and friendship to be able to make the decisions which will make us happy.  We also look at some of the challenges he observes in Western culture to follow these ideas and to be happy.

"Self-satisfaction alone cannot determine if a desire or action is positive or negative.  A murder many have a feeling of satisfaction at the time he is committing the murder, but that doesn't justify the act.  All the non virtuous actions - lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, and so on - are committed by people who may be feeling a sense of satisfaction at the time.  THe demarcation b etween a positive and a negative desire or action is not whether it gives you an immediate feeling of satisfaction, but where it ultimately results in positive or negative consequences."  (p.28)

Dalai Lama and Cutler, Howard.  The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.  10th Anniversary ed.  Riverhead Books: New York) 2009

Happiness and Philosophy - The World Happiness Report, Part 2

June 28th, 2020

This episode continues the discussion on the significant conclusions and further questions posited by the World Happiness Report, as well as some comments and connections to Aristotle and others.  It also focuses in on the role of social media and its negative impact on happiness in people's lives.

The 2018 World Happiness Report:

Happiness and Philosophy - The World Happiness Report, Part 1

June 28th, 2020

This episode discusses happiness in light of an international publication called the World Happiness Report, which is published annually and rates nations based on the relative happiness of its citizens.  It is an interesting starting point in any discussion on happiness since it presupposes that the phenomenon can be quantified.  

Here is a link to the 2018 World Happiness Report:

The Art of Living: Aristotle

June 17th, 2020

In this episode we discuss Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.  In a nutshell, his idea is that to live a good life we must be the best at what we are.  What we are though is not so much a personal thing, as we might contemplate "Who am I?" type questions, but rather in a universal human nature way.  He holds that all people are fundamentally the same, and since we have a name for them - human - there must be something that is common to all instances of that title: hence "human nature."  That nature lies in reason, and the way to a good life is to make rational choices which instill in us virtues that keep us on an even keel and able to make consistently good choices which will ultimately allow us to flourish and be happy.  

Here are a couple quotes from the discussion:

Our purpose as human beings:

…the work of a human being is a certain sort of life, while this life consists of an activity of the soul and actions that go along with reason, and it belongs to a man of serious stature to do these things well and beautifully, while each thing is accomplished well as a result of the virtue appropriate to it – if this is so, the human good comes to be disclosed as an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue…” (1098a10)

The golden mean - arriving at virtuous choices:

First then, one must recognize this, that things such as virtues are of such a nature as to be destroyed by deficiency and by excess, as we see in the case of strength and health; for excessive gymnastic exercises, as well as deficient ones, destroy one’s strength, and similarly drink and food, when they come to be too much or too little, destroy one’s health, while proportionate amounts produce, increase and preserve these.  And it is the same way also with temperance and courage and the other virtues.  Someone who runs away from and fears everything and endures nothing becomes a coward, while someone who fears nothing at all but goes out to confront everything becomes rash…so courage is destroyed by excess and deficiency but preserved by an intermediate condition.”  (1104a15-20)

The role of habit in arriving at happiness:

…argument and teaching are perhaps not powerful in all people, but it is necessary for the soul of the listener to have been worked on beforehand by means of habits, with a view to enjoying and hating in a beautiful way, like ground that is going to nourish the seed.  For someone who lives by feeling could not hear words that would turn him away nor could he even understand them; when someone is in that condition, how is it possible to change his mind?  And, in general, feeling seems to yield not to reasoned speech but to force.  So it is necessary for a character to be present in advance that is in some way appropriate for virtue, loving what is beautiful and scorning what is shameful.  But it is difficult to hit upon a right training toward virtue from youth when one has not been brought up under laws of that sort, for living temperately and with endurance is not pleasant to most people, and especially not to the young.”  (1179b20)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Joe Sachs.  Focus Publishing; Newburyport, 2002.

The Art of Living: Epictetus

June 13th, 2020

In this episode, we talk about the first passage of Stoic philosopher Epictetus' "Handbook."  In it, he asks us to think about the difference between what we can control and what we can't and how this fundamental distinction can help us to live a happy life - or at least reduce our anxiety and negative thoughts.  We are in control, ironically, of how we understand what is in our control and what is not, and how we conceive of this has consequences in the satisfaction with which we live each day. As you read the passage and listen to the audio, you may be reminded of the Serenity Prayer:

"Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And Wisdom to know the difference."


Here is our quote from Epictetus:

"Some things are up to us, and some are not up to us.  Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions - in short, whatever is out own doing.  Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or that is, whatever is not our own doing.  The things that are up to us are by nature free, unhindered, and unimpeded; the things that are not up to us are weak, enslaved, hindered not our own.  So remember, if you think that things naturally enslaved are free or that things not your own are your own, you will be thwarted, miserable and upset, and will blame both gods and men.  But if you thin that only what is yours is yours, and what what is not your own is, just as it is, not your own, then no one will ever coerce you, no one will hinder you, you will blame no one, you will not accuse anyone, you will not do a single thing unwillingly. you will have no enemies, and no one will harm you, because you will not be harmed at all."

Epictetus, The Handbook.  Translated by Nicholas White, Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis, 1983


The Art of Living: Marcus Aurelius (II)

June 11th, 2020

In this episode we discuss #13 of Book II, in which Aurelius explains that we should not chase after many things at once, but focus.  We discuss our rational nature in this regard and the way that the passions, emotions and desires pull us in many directions.

Here is today's quote:

"Nothing is more wretched than the man who runs around in circles busying himself with all kinds of things - investigating things below the earth, as the saying goes - always looking for signs of what his neighbors are feeling and thinking. [think here about Facebook and social media!  :)]  He does not realize that it is enough to be concerned with the spirit within oneself and genuinely to serve it.  This service consists in keeping it free from passions, aimlessness, and discontent with its fadte at the hands of gods and men.  What comes from the gods must be revered because of their goodness; what comes from men must be welcomed because of our kinship, although sometimes those things are also pitiful in a sense, because of men's ignorance of good and evil, which is no less a disability than to be unable to distinguish between black and white." 

Aurelius, Marcus.  The Meditations.  Translated by G.M.A.Grube.  Hackett:Indianapolis, 1983

The Art of Living: Marcus Aurelius

June 8th, 2020

In this episode we will engage a passage from Aurelius' Meditations about how to begin the day by realizing the true nature of the world we will face, and how to prepare ourselves for a realistic expectation.  Often, we delude ourselves with unrealistically optimistic or pessimistic expectations for things, and hence our own perspectives on how things should be undermine our happiness and set us up for failure.

Here is today's quote:

"Say to yourself in the morning: I shall meet people who are interfering, ungracious, insolent, full of guile, deceitful and antisocial; they have all become like that because they have no understanding of good and evil.  But I who have contemplated the essential beauty of good and the essential ugliness of evil, who know that the nature of the wrongdoer is of one kin with mine - not indeed of the same blood or seed but sharing the same mind, the same portion of the divine - I cannot be harmed by any one of them, and no one can involve me in shame.  I cannot feel anger against him who is of my kin, nor hate him.  We were born to labour together like the feet, the hands, the eyes, and the rows of upper and lower teeth.  To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature, and to be angry agains a man or turn one's back on hims is to work against him."

Aurelius, Marcus.  The Meditations.  Translated by G.M.A.Grube.  Hackett:Indianapolis, 1983

What the Olive Press Means

June 20th, 2019

This episode explains the "olive press" story about the ancient Greek philosopher Thales who was one of the first people in that culture to think philosophically - and for which he was scorned and alienated as a follower of a useless past time.  Thales is the inspiration for the effort behind "Philosophy Works"

The Olive Press - Introduction to the Project

June 20th, 2019

This is the first episode here at The Olive Press!  In it, we explain what the title means - it is a reference to an ancient Greek philosopher named Thales - and what its intent is.  We also talk about Philosophy Works - and the original project of philosophy which was to improve peoples' lives.

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