The Stanford Humanities Center was overflowing with eager listeners Wednesday evening as John M. Cooper, a professor in the department of philosophy at Princeton, delivered the first of two talks as this year’s Tanner lecturer. Students sat on the floor near his lectern as Cooper discussed ancient philosophies as ways of life, focusing primarily on the work of Socrates. Thursday evening Cooper delivered his second talk on the work of Plotinus.
Cooper is the author of “Reason and Human Good in Aristotle,” which was awarded the American Philosophical Association’s Franklin Matchette Prize, and of two collections of essays, “Reason and Emotion: Essays on Ancient Moral Psychology” and “Ethical Theory and Knowledge, Nature and the Good: Essays on Ancient Philosophy.”
The Tanner Lectures are presented by the Center for Ethics and Society, in collaboration with the Office of the President. Stanford is one of nine universities that hosts Tanner Lectures.
Cooper specializes in ancient Greek philosophy, focusing on metaphysics, moral psychology and ethics.
“Philosophy is not only uncovering ancient knowledge,” Cooper stated. “But is also understanding what the ancients thought was true.”
According to Cooper, the field of philosophy as a way of life gives it three essential roles: informing people how to live, or what to do and what not to do; steering a person’s whole life, or manifesting in a person’s every choice and action making up life; and telling people that philosophical study is a good thing and should be included in life.
Throughout his lecture series, Cooper discussed the ideas of philosophers and the role and value they attributed to the act of philosophy itself.
During the first lecture Wednesday evening Cooper discussed historical divisions of philosophy and noted the inclusion of ethics in all major frameworks.
“Virtue is wisdom,” Cooper said, rephrasing one of Socrates’ ideas in philosophy. “Virtue makes one’s life fulfilled and happy, and is necessary for complete human fulfillment and happiness.”
Cooper continued to lecture about happiness in his second lecture, in which he mostly focused on philosopher Plotinus, discussing Plotinus’ theories of the human person, the human good or happiness, and the character and role of human virtues which enable us to attain our good.
“Philosophy illustrates a way of life, and we should consider living by and from it,” he concluded. “Our life lies in the activity of pure thinking, which we all do to some extent whether we are conscious of it or not. Our task is to become as self-conscious of this activity as possible and focus on it.”
Cooper will be hosting a discussion section to follow his second lecture Friday morning at 10 a.m. in the Landau Economics Building.
According to the program’s website, The Tanner Lectures are “a collection of educational and scientific discussions relating to human values.” The lectures are organized and funded by the humanities department of the University of Utah.