Life Is hard. Can Philosophy Help?

by Dwight Furrow

Does philosophy have anything to tell us about problems we face in everyday life? Many ancient philosophers thought so. To them, philosophy was not merely an academic discipline but a way of life that provided distinctive reasons and motivations for living well. Some contemporary philosophers have been inspired by these ancient sources giving new life to this question about philosophy’s practical import.

The problem with the contemporary discussion about philosophy as a way of life is that answers to questions about how to live are too often drawn directly from these ancient sources. Aristotle, the Stoics, or Epicurus are treated as sages bestowing wisdom on us blinkered moderns. While there is no doubt great wisdom in this ancient literature, one might question the relevance of their commentary. We live in vastly different circumstances confronting problems of which they never dreamed. Furthermore, there has been a flood of philosophical water flowing under the bridge during the past 2000 years. Is that just so much effluent to be drawn off while we contemplate the Stoic logos or Plato’s forms?

This literature needs input from contemporary philosophers who can apply their considerable analytic skills to problems in living as they emerge in modern society without being freighted with ancient ideologies. Hence the import of Kieran Setiya’s new book, Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way. It is a paradigm of what is needed in current discussions about philosophy as way of life. Read more »

A Cynic’s take on the games

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse


Diogenes met Kikermos, the Olympic pankration champion, on the road. Kikermos was followed by a cheering crowd.  Diogenes asked Kikermos why these people were so enamored with him.

“I beat everyone at the pankration,” Kikermos replied.

“Oh! So you beat everyone at the pankration, even Zeus?” Diogenes asked.

“No! I beat all those who entered the pankration”

“Hm.  So you beat the little boys who entered the junior division?”

“No!  I bet all the men who entered the pankration, in the men’s division.”

“Oh, so you beat them all in one giant brawl?

“No! I beat all the men in one-on-one contests.”

“Oh, so since you beat all the men, that’s how you beat yourself?”

“No! I only beat all the others.”

“Oh, so were they stronger than you?”

“No! I was stronger than them!”

“Hm. So why is it such a great feat for you to defeat all these others that are weaker than you?”


Diogenes watched the Olympic races, hoping to see examples of excellence.  Upon seeing a heat of runners finish, he crept up to the winner’s stand and stole all the prizes for first place. He hustled to the woods nearby and deposited them there.

He returned and announced what he had done, because he had determined that though there are runners at the games that are faster than others, none are faster than the deer that live in the wilds.  So none here should be allowed to claim the prize for ‘the fastest.’ Read more »