Citizen Philosopher: What Would it Mean to be Perfect?

The latest Thinking Out Loud podcast, recorded last Wednesday, Sept 3rd, has been released. The topic was:

What would it mean to be perfect?

Participating were Deborah Martin, Steven Stokes, and Frank Ebbecke in cyberspace and Carole Abel and myself in the Charlottesville public library space. This represents a new milestone for Thinking Out Loud. We had, for the first time, more cyber guests than local participants.

I was especially pleased to see the return of Carole Abel and Frank Ebbecke, both veterans of our original philosophy group which formed many years ago. Frank has since moved to San Antonio, Texas, and Carole moved to the country but still works in Charlottesville. Neither of them had graced us with their insights for quite awhile and I am so please to have them back in the fold. Welcome back, Carole and Frank.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the live discussion, here are some of the questions we wrestled with:

Is it true that no one is perfect? Is perfection an impossible goal? Or are we perfect as we are? What does it mean or would it mean to be perfect? Does perfect mean to be flawless? Does it mean to be “suitable to one’s purpose”? How are we to know our purpose? Do we settle for mediocrity and decide not to strive for perfection because we are taught that perfection is not attainable? What would be on the list of “essentials” for human perfection? Is “carrying one’s own weight” an essential element? Is doing one’s fair share a subjective judgment or an obvious objective fact, when “all the dust has settled”? Does a virtue have to be objectively obvious to be an essential element of perfection? How about not laughing at the shortcomings of others and forgiving transgressions without hesitation? Are these essential elements of human perfection? Is it always appropriate to forgive? Is it wrong to have feeling of Schadenfreude (delight in another person’s misfortune) even if one does not express them outwardly? Can one and should one control one’s inner feelings, in order to be perfect? Does perfection also require making the most of one’s talents, pursuing one’s passions, and never selling out? What else might belong on the list? What can we say about physical perfection? How about perfection of temperament or personality? Aren’t we born with some imperfections that we cannot change? How are we to pursue perfection? Is it a simple act of will?

Is a personal transformation required? What are the roles of attitude, motivation, social context, support, and intervention in the pursuit of perfection? Isn’t service to others part of perfection, especially in helping others to achieve their own perfection? Wouldn’t a perfect person recognize that accomplishment, love, happiness and joy multiply in sharing? And even if perfection is not absolutely attainable, can we not strive in its direction? Does perfection not beckon us like a beautiful sunset on the distant horizon, perhaps out of reach, but guiding us and inspiring us nonetheless?

As always, your afterthoughts are most welcome. Please make use of the online forum for further discussions on this topic.

Finally, mark your calendars. The next Thinking Out Loud will be Wednesday, October 1st, at 7:00 pm, in the Central Library. We will select a topic at the beginning of the next session as usual. Hope to see or hear from you then, if not sooner.

Citizen Philosopher: What is Liberty?

The Citizen Philosophers met at the Central branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library on August 6, 2008, to discuss an important question of our time: “What is Liberty?”

Participating were veteran citizen philosophers, Billie Lagerwerff, David Rood, Deborah Martin, Derek Breen, John Tytus, Stephen Whiteman, Steven Stokes, Susan Patrick, and Uriah J. Fields. Also joining us for the first time were newcomers, Erica Jensen and Rebbecca Quinn from Charlottesville. All the way from some undisclosed location near Brighton, England, through the wonders of modern Internet technology, we had our first international guest, an insightful chap by the name of Luke. A hearty welcome to Luke, Erica, and Rebbecca.

As usual we had a wide ranging and thoughtful discussion that raised as many or more questions and than it answered. Here are some of the questions we wrestled with:

Is liberty just a quaint and outdated word for freedom? What is freedom? Can we talk about one without the other? Is liberty personal, social, or political? Who decides our liberties? Our government? Our culture? Our conscience? What are we to be liberated from? Who or what oppresses us? Can we ever be completely liberated? Can we ever be completely free? Are wild animals free? Was Robinson Crusoe free on the deserted island? Was he liberated? Can we be free if we must continuously struggle for basic necessities? Does society curtail our freedoms or enhance them by providing a structure that eases the burden of survival? To what extent is freedom a question of attitude? To what extent is liberty a question of law? Does freedom for one come at the expense of freedom for another? Is it right to suspend civil liberties in the name of defending freedom? Is fear the enemy of freedom? Do our fears enslave us or protect us? Is it possible to have too much freedom? Does absolute freedom corrupt absolutely? Is liberation always a good thing? Doesn’t national liberation lead to chaos? Doesn’t personal liberation lead to the anxiety of choice? If we don’t exercise the freedoms we have, do they matter? To what end do we seek freedom? Is liberation an ends in itself, or just another beginning?

The next Thinking Out Loud discussion will take place on September 3 at 7:00 p.m. at the same location.

Citizen Philosopher: “What are the essentials for a good life?”

The latest session of Citizen Philosopher was recorded at their new venue, the Charlottesville Public Library, on Wednesday, July 2nd. The topic was: “What are the essentials for a good life?”

Participating were veteran citizen philosophers, David Rood, Deborah Martin, George Garrett, John Tytus, Stephen Whiteman, and Steven Stokes. Also joining us for the first time were newcomers, Rachel Backburn and Susan Patrick. Welcome to the forum, Rachel and Susan, and thank you for sharing your philosophical insights. We had a most enlightening discussion.

I struggled a bit with writing the usual synopsis for this month’s podcast, because we touched on so many possible answers to our question. To simplify my task, I decided to separate the elements from the issues. Here is a list of short answers (possible essential elements) to our question, with which you may or may not agree:

1. Good health.
2. A sense of moderation.
3. Flexibility.
4. Passions.
5. Breyer’s ice cream.
6. Good relationships.
7. Peace of mind.
8. A sense of self.
9. A sense of purpose.
10. A feeling of gratitude.
11. Compassion
12. Patience.
13. Love.
14. Ability and willingness to be content.
15. Work.
16. Feeling one has the power to change things.
17. Hope.
18. Pleasures.
19. A forward looking capacity.
20. Appreciation of the present moment.
21. Confidence.
22. Mindful awareness.
23. A spiritual perspective.
24. A moral code.
25. Something to do and someone to do it for.
26. A philosophical attitude.

Here are some of the questions (issues) we wrestled with:

Are there any universal prerequisites to living the good life? Is the question totally subjective, or are there any objective measures? Is good health an essential element? Do physical impairments preclude living a good life? Do pain and suffering? How about impaired mental health? Must one have passions to live the good life? From whose perspective is one’s life to be judged as good? Are pleasures, contentment, and happiness reliable indicators of a good life? When a sexual predator is fulfilling his passion, is he living the good life? Might passion be necessary, but not sufficient to a good life? How do we distinguish the essential prerequisites FOR a good life from the hallmarks OF a good life? Is peace of mind essential? Is it a cause or an effect? Can one’s life be judged in progress, or must it be judged as a whole only after it has been completed, as one might judge a book or movie? What does it mean to be contributing to the goodness of the world? Are externally applied criteria any more objective than internal judgements? Can one have a good life by just appreciating the present moment? Is a spiritual framework necessary for a good life? Are the essentials for a good life the same throughout ones life? Is there a preferred or natural order to the unfolding of one’s life? What does it take to stay on one’s course, given that everyone’s path may be different? What role does gratitude play in living the good life? Are not most of us living far better lives than even the kings and queens of previous centuries?

Finally, mark your calendars. The next Thinking Out Loud will be Wednesday, August 6th, at 7:00 pm. We will select a topic at the beginning of the next session as usual. Hope to see/hear you then, if not sooner.