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Spring 2021 Course

The Fulfilled Life and the Life of the Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam: No Exam

What is it to lead a fulfilled life? This was the central question for ancient philosophers, in both the east and the west, for whom philosophy was not only theory, but was also a way of life, designed to assist the practitioner in achieving two related goals: to enable the identification and living of a fulfilled human life, and to achieve careful reflective analysis of concepts of central concern to human individual and social life, such as the concepts of justice, truth, knowledge, and fulfillment itself. Among the core questions raised in these philosophical systems of living are: What is the proper role for reason in a fulfilled life (and what is “reason,” and how is it related to – and healthfully related to — emotion)? What is the proper role for meditative equanimity in a fulfilled life? How is it possible to lead a fulfilled life at a time of great uncertainty in political, economic, and social life in a world fraught with the “post-truth” churn of politics (even the ancients were concerned about this phenomenon)? Among the philosophical ways of life we will explore are: use of the Socratic method to lead an “examined life”; use of skeptical therapy to achieve a life of serenity (Pyrrhonian skepticism); use of meditative techniques designed to enable a life of equanimity and awareness (Buddhist philosophy); cultivation of joyful wisdom (Nietzsche). We are interested in learning not only the theories of fulfillment that these philosophers and philosophical systems offer but also the specific practices they recommend for achieving fulfillment as they conceive it. We also consider throughout the course some of the rich suggestions or implications of these philosophical ways of life for leading a fulfilled life of the law, that is, the life led by law students, lawyers, judges, and others interested in administering, shaping, or living according to law.

Readings are from a variety of legal theorists and from ancient, modern, and contemporary philosophers. Course work consists of class participation and ten two-to-four-page response papers based on the weekly reading. Cross-registrants are welcome. Anyone seeking information about this course should feel free to contact Professor Scott Brewer at sbrewer@law.harvard.edu.