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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/3/10

Not For Profit, Eh? Hold on There, Martha Nussbaum!

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So 2 + 2 = 4 (in a decimal-based system of counting). According to Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. But the examined life depends on understanding that which we are examining. According to Ong, we need both closeness (proximity) and distance to understand something, including our lives and our cultural conditioning. We have the closeness dimension by virtue of our American cultural conditioning. But liberal arts education, or humanities education, provides us with the distance dimension, so we need such education to lead an examined life.

Ah, but there remains the lure of the unexamined life, which is easily attained but at the price of losing our souls. But what profit is there, if any, of not losing our souls?

The profit of not losing one's soul is finding one's soul through living an examined life. The alternative to finding one's soul through living an examined life is to live one's life as a drifter drifting through life.

Arguably one of the most famous stories about someone drifting through life for about ten years of his adult life is the Homeric epic the ODYSSEY. But Odysseus is not happy about all his drifting. But does he live an examined life, or an unexamined life? In a certain sense he does examine his life because he recounts parts of his life on his journey. Yes, but does he profit from examining his life, and if he does, what exactly is the profit? He profits from recounting parts of his life because in the process of recounting his life he self-consciously appropriates his own life and thereby "owns" it as we say today. Thus the profit of the examined life is self-appropriation.

In a famous episode, Odysseus the drifter listens to a singer of tales sing the tale of the war in Troy. The singer is thereby providing the distance dimension for Odysseus. Odysseus is moved to tears of sorrow and sadness by the singer's song about Odysseus' lost comrades. Life can be like a war, and like a war, life can bring us many sorrows to grieve.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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