Pursuing the Excellent Life
July 21, 2021

Reflections on Season One and Preview of Season Two on Human Flourishing

Andrea and Craig reflect about some key moments and concepts from season one and shine a light on what listeners can expect in season two. They discuss the Aristotelian mean, arete, virtues and many ways to live an excellent life. Stay tuned for season two to get at the heart of the psychology behind wellbeing, Ben Franklin’s method for becoming the kind of person you want to be by developing your virtues, and what it means to flourish as a human being.


[Production note: We had a little bit of a late editing issue, so some of the time stamps may be a bit off. We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused.] 

Craig: 00:00

Well, Andrea, we made it through a full season without pod fading. So we've, we've had a number of episodes come out. We're wrapping up season one and we're getting ready to launch season two. And so what, what we're gonna do today is let's reflect a little bit about season one and that journey. And then maybe more importantly, let's give a preview of what people can expect for season two. So what do you think about season one? You're happy, you think we did okay?

Andrea: 00:30

I think season one was a lot of fun and, you know, I think that, um, it was a good balance between bringing on guests, which is something that we're gonna do again in season two and just having some conversations, um, between you and me. So I think we'll, uh, try to keep that balance going forward. 

Craig: 00:47

Yeah. I think it came together pretty well considering we had, um, some opportunistic guests. You know that, that, um, maybe we hadn't completely planned out in advance, but, uh, now I thought it was pretty good. We, you know, we learned some things along the way. Uh, you know, we, I think we maybe got better. I don't know. Maybe we got worse. It seemed better to me. 

Andrea: 01:05

Yeah, no. I mean, I think that we're both lucky enough to meet interesting people all the time. And I am opportunistic in that way. When I meet someone who's really interesting, you know, like Tara Zimmerman and her work on social noise. I mean, I think that noticing how the very medium of social media or being on Facebook changes what we say or changes, you know, the way we present ourselves because who is watching us. That's just a great idea. And I don't know that that is something that I originally thought of when I'm thinking about the idea of rational ignorance, but, um, I thought it was a great topic and something that our listeners would be interested in.

Craig: 01:45

I think you're right. We could say the same sort of thing about Amber Hinsley, you know, we started off talking about fake news and misinformation, but we had a pretty interesting diversion into the state of journalism and particularly local journalism. And I may not get this term right, citizen journalism. And so, you know, that was not where we started out. I don't remember that being in the run of show, but it ended up being pretty interesting, I think.

Andrea: 02:13

It is, I mean, I think citizen journalism, especially in this moment in time, I mean, a lot of people are using their cameras and their voices in really interesting ways. And, and plus, you know, Amber gave us the crap test. We can't forget that. So...

Craig: 02:26

That's right. That's right. And, uh, yeah, we don't want to forget the crap test. I'll be using that in the fall quarter. Uh it'll be interesting. So there was one kind of surreal moment that wasn't really in the episode, but you know, we had Robert Gale on our most recent episode to talk about alternative social media. And I felt like I was cheating when I started promoting that on Twitter. I mean, it just felt wrong to promote alternative social media on, you know, this big corporate iconic social media platform. Um, I I'm sure he would, uh, he would forgive us, but to, to our credit though, we also promoted it on Mastodon. So, uh, I've kind of gotten into Mastodon a little bit. It's interesting. Today, today is Caturday, by the way, hashtag Caturday. So, uh, Sasha and Taz had made their Mastodon appearance for Caturday.

Andrea: 03:23

Caturday. And is this an annual event or is Caturday every week? 

Craig: 03:30

I get this, I get the idea it's every week, you know, it's kind of like the throwback Thursday sort of a thing, but it just, you know, me I'll always share pictures of our, uh, four legged family. So it was, um, it was interesting, even my wife, Tracy, asked me about Mastodon after she listened to that episode. She, she gave us, um, some praise, by the way. It was a little bit of faint praise, but I think it was very sincere. She said, you know, even though we sounded like three professors talking to each other, she understood most of it. So… When you get into three PhDs and, and have a fair amount of, uh, geekism thrown in, I guess it could get to be a little bit much for, uh, for some people, but apparently we did a good job. She really liked that episode. 

Andrea: 04:17

Well, I'm glad I did too. I really enjoyed meeting Robert Gale. And you know, I'm thinking a little bit about you promoting that episode on Twitter and his comment that, although he's not a fan of excessive regulation, he thinks that maybe, you know, this is a place for, uh, more government regulation. Um, so I bring that up because I think that these, um, these companies have so much power and control right now. Right? If you didn't promote this on Twitter, where, where would you promote it? I mean, on Mastodon, which is great that we've done that. But to reach, um, to reach an audience. I mean, you almost have no choice, but to go out on traditional social media. And so until we have some sort of, um, government regulation, um, the, the odds that alternative social media is really going to be a platform that will allow you to reach a significant audience is probably not great.

Craig: 05:18

Well, but I hope it does come to be, I mean, we'll, we'll see, you know. The way those kinds of things often work is if they reach a critical mass, then they tend to explode because there's a network effect. So if you, and if I'm the only person on Mastodon, what's the point? But now if you're on Mastodon, now we can connect. But if Tracy gets on Mastodon... You know, it's this, I think the formula is N times N minus one or something like that, but it starts to go, the value of the network starts to go up exponentially. If it can reach a certain point, it will explode. Um, or, or if it doesn't, it can die. So it'll be interesting to see how that turns out.

Andrea: 06:59
 Okay. Well, I think Tracy and I still need to get on Mastodon and for our listeners out there, if you're not on Mastodon yet, here's another reminder to give it a try. 

Craig: 06:07

That's right. Mastodon.social is one of the ones that a lot of beginners get on and remember Caturday, hashtag Caturday. So you've got a reason. Um, you know, I, as much as I enjoyed, uh, talking with our guests and kind of digging into the topics that they brought to the table, I also enjoyed the conversations that the two of us had. The “what is rational ignorance”, I think a lot of people found interesting because it's such an intriguing concept that's not very widely known and by the way, If you do a web search for rational ignorance, we're like in the top five or six results. So yay for us. I've never, you know, other than searching for a very specific version of my name, I've never been the top five or six on anything, any kind of a Google search. So that's or, or Duck Duck Go or whatever you use. So that's pretty exciting. Andrea does not look as excited by that as I am, so...

Andrea: 07:03

No, I'm, I'm intrigued by that. I think rational ignorance really is a topic for our time. And even though we're taking it out of its original context, which was applied to voting and really, you know, how knowledgeable you should be about, um, public affairs. The amount of information that is available to people right now is overwhelming. And so I think really getting clear about where we can just limit our intake of information and the number of things that we don't need to know about is becoming oddly increasingly important and desirable. 

Craig: 07:42

Well, that is a perfect transition into, uh, Was a pretty popular episode that's tuning out to tune in. I think that could be a pretty evergreen episode that we might want to rerelease, you know, a couple of years down the road or once a year or something like that. I don't know. Maybe, maybe we'll do that every new year's. Um, but, but that was interesting to think through that with, with you to kind of see where, you know, how can we do this? What are the benefits of it? So that, that was a pretty intriguing episode. 

Andrea: 08:11

Right. And we talked about some alternative strategies for that, that people might not ordinarily think about like mucking horse stalls as a form of meditation. 

Craig: 08:22

Right. And if you are in the, the northeastern Louisiana region and you want to tune out by mucking a horse stall, just, just email me at rationalignorance@pm.me. And we can work something out, especially in the summertime. So we have fans, we have fans in the stall, so it's not as bad as it could be. Yeah. I can help you with that. Uh, yeah. And I think, I hope with that episode, that as much as I thought our advice was sound, if it got people thinking about how they can work, uh, tuning out time into their own lives. You know, using some of the examples we came up with because it may not be mucking, but you know, 

Andrea: 09:07

That's right. And I mean, I think what you're offering there is very generous, right? This isn't just like a concept for people to think about, but you're offering a full experiential way of tuning out. Uh, so. 

Craig: 09:18

And I'll go even one further. If you mention that you're a listener of the podcast and bring a trash barrel, you can take the horse poop home with you for your garden. It's excellent fertilizer. We've we, it really is. Tracy used it, uh, in her garden. She, she pulled 27 pounds of cucumbers out of the garden yesterday. And that's about the fourth harvest she's done so far. So really it's a bargain. It's a bargain you have to pay for that kind of stuff, if you go to the garden store. 

Andrea: 09:47

Okay, well then just so our listeners.. It's just going to say, just so our listeners know they have options. If they don't want to muck horse stalls in Northeastern Louisiana, they can also come to Sedona, Arizona, and go hiking with me. So that's another alternative for an experiential strategy for tuning out.

Craig: 10:09

Way to work in a plug for the Sedona philosophy experience. Matt would be very proud of you. It was very, very well done. Andrea is on fire today, folks she's on fire and she hasn't even had her first pot of coffee, but she's working on it.

Andrea: 10:23

Working on that. 

Craig: 10:24

So I liked the way that we were able to kind of uncover some interesting concepts and, and I think there's a lot more to uncover with the paradox of uncertainty, anxiety, and information. But there's a lot more to be thought about there, but I, I found that pretty interesting because I've not read that anywhere before. Um, so digging into that was kind of fun. 

Andrea 10:50

Yeah. That's, you know, an idea. I think you came up with, in the course of, you know, talking to Amber Hinsley and Tara Zimmerman, and some other folks, we were thinking more about information and, you know, you uncovered this paradox. And I think that that gets at the heart of what we're trying to do, um, with this podcast too. It’s just as we bring people on or explore topics, we think that this process of dialog will lead to new types of discovery. And so one of the things that we hope to do is we hope people will tune in and listen to us, but we hope that this is also a kind of model for conversations that people will have in their own daily lives. And, um, you know, part of rational ignorance is the idea is, okay, you can take so much information in, but then what we want to do is not just take information in, but think it over, talk about it and come to our own conclusions. And so, yeah, I think one of the most interesting conclusions we came to is this, um, really you came to this, uh, uncovering this paradox between anxiety and information. 

Craig: 11:54

Well, I appreciate you. I appreciate you saying that. But I think it's probably more accurate to say that we uncovered it because it was uncovered through the process of dialog. You know, there's an idea here about something, and then you, you have a conversation with somebody that you respect and somebody that's willing to listen to you and together you kind of refine that idea and get to it and get to it. And, and hopefully, you know, from time to time come up with something that's really interesting, but it. You know, knowledge creation can be solo, but that's limiting, you know, it's hard to come at it from a lot of different angles if you're by yourself, but, um, doing it with somebody else or with several people I think can end up with a much richer outcome. Um, but that's just me. What do I know? Well, I was just going to say what to me, the best thing about season one is the fact that I got to explore some of these interesting things with you. You know, ever since we’ve become friends, I've always really liked the conversations that we've had, even when we don't agree about something, you know, because I do learn new ways to think about it. And you know, you aren't judgy about a dumb idea or something that might disagree withyour position. And I think that idea of developing that idea about developing interesting concepts and, and digging into them together. You know, it has been to me by far the best thing, uh, season one, and I, I suspect it will be the best thing for seasons to come. You talk now.

Andrea: 13:27

That's right. We really aim to be a model of friendly disagreement. We certainly need more of that in the world today. Um, you know, something else I just wanted to mention when you were, we were talking about this act of knowledge creation and this gets back to the idea of rational ignorance. I mean, rational ignorance has to do with limiting the information that you take in, but not the state in which you want to be. So actually at some point limiting the information that you're taking in and then engaging in a critical and creative dialogue will result in knowledge production, right? Will lead you to new insights and new ways of viewing the world. So that's something I think that we probably need to be explicit about is that we're not, um, necessarily endorsing the state of ignorance as, as it's commonly conceived, but we're really talking about rationally, limiting the information you're taking in stopping to sort of explore topics or ideas that we think are interesting. And then seeing how we can be, uh, creatively produce, write our own ideas. 

Craig: 14:34

Right. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And, you know, I equate it kind of to the idea of investing. You know, you don't invest in everything, you know, you, you want to put your money or your, whatever your resources are to their highest good. And you don't always know what that is. So sometimes you go down paths that maybe aren't as productive as you would've liked, but that's okay. Uh, but you know, picking, you know, what, where you want to invest your time and attention is kind of at the core of rational ignorance, even though the payoff isn’t political in the way we're talking about it. The payoff is really in the extent to whether or not you live your life well. You know, some, some seeking information and having dialogue and, you know, reflecting on things that are going to affect the excellence in your life. Those are good investments. You know, which, which TV is better? I dunno, pick one that looks okay and be done with it. So, you know, it's really about being purposeful, intentional in what you do. And, and I saw that as one of the common threads that ran through season one, even though it was ironically an unintentional thread. I think there was a thread of intentionality that went through all of the episodes, you know, even with starting with rational ignorance, you know, be intentional about where you seek information. Try to try to think about whether or not the information is going to have a benefit to you. And then even with alternative social media, you know, what is it that you want out of social media? You know, what, what is it that you're willing to give up? So be intentional, don't just go on Twitter because everybody else is on Twitter. Or don't go on social media at all, just because that's what a lot of people do think about it. What's it bring to your life? What are the costs? What are the benefits? Um, and so I think that was an ironically, that is irony, right? If the intentionality was not an intentional thing, is it kind of, is that irony? I don't know how many of you have Alanis Morissette running through your heads right now?

Andrea: 16:30

I, I think that's just, just a lucky outcome. I'm not sure if it's ironic, but, um, I think that, but I think, but I think it is a fortunate outcome and I think that it's, um, something that we, we do really have to be intentional about where we're seeking our information because other people are certainly being intentional about targeting us and trying to get us to consume their, their information. Uh, you know, marketers, advertisers are very intentional about trying to pitch you information. And so if you want to, you know, steer your own, um, You know, steer where you would like to get information and what you spend your time thinking about, then you absolutely have to, um, be strategic about it. 

Craig: 17:15

And you are on fire this morning. That brings us to the other theme that I think ran through. And that's the idea of control, you know, chart your own course. And so don't just let, don't just accept what you see on the news. You know, take control, take control of what you consume, take control of how you think about it. Don't be easily influenced by these people that want to sway you one way or another. And even the idea of rational ignorance itself, you know, is the idea of taking control of how you invest your time and attention. And so I really think that was a second theme, by the way, maybe serendipitous is better than ironic for the intentional bit. 

Craig: 17:58

I agree with that. 

Craig: 18:00

Yeah, that's a word I can say, but not spell. So, um, did you see that as well? The idea of taking control? 

Andrea: 18:07

Definitely. Um, I think that, you know, look, we know that. The news that we see is driven by ratings, right? So these aren't necessarily the most important topics. These aren't necessarily the things that we should care about the most, this, the news that we see is largely whatever will get people to tune in and stay tuned in. Not to say that what, you know, is broadcast on the news isn't sometimes relevant and isn't what we should care about. But we shouldn't think that these are the things that someone has thoughtfully chosen because they should matter most. These are topics that are chosen because they will keep viewers on screen. And so just knowing that, um, yes, we have to be intentional and strategic about where we focus our information. And again, know that people are definitely being strategic when they're putting information out there. And in a way that's monetized, right? It's not, I mean, I, I do think that that's why, you know, public journalism, if you do watch PBS or public journalism definitely has a different, um, mood. Uh it's, it's definitely less urgent. And I think that you could, I mean, not that they don't also care about ratings, they do, but they're not driven by advertising dollars in the same way that the major networks are. And I think that that comes through in the style in which they report the news. 

Craig: 19:24

Yep. I think you're right. Yeah. We should never lose sight of the fact that we live in a clickbaity world. You know, it's all designed to get your eyeballs and to keep your eyeballs. And so, you know, fight the power. Fight the dark algorithms. 

Andrea: 19:40

I think. Yeah. I think that's something that Robert Gehl said, it's like, “the best minds of our generation are getting people to click on ads.”

Craig: 19:48

Yeah. That's not ironic either. That's just sad. I think I don't know, sounds sad to me. Yeah. Well, you know what, we'll try to move out of that mood. 

Andrea: 19:57

But, you know, as long as we're cognizant of that, then we can act accordingly. And I think like, you know, this gets to another point, like there are some things about which it's rational to be ignorant and other things about which it is irrational to be ignorant, right? And so that's, that's another thing that we're trying to get clear about is what do, not only what can you let go, but what should you know, and what you should know is that everything that you see online is strategically, um, presented to you by people that are competing for your attention. 

Craig: 20:27

Right. Right. And you know, it's not always nefarious, but it's always, um, manipulative to some extent. I repeat fight, fight the fight the dark algorithms don't don't give in. So let let's, uh, shift to a brighter topic. If you don't mind, anything else you wanted to say about season one? 

Andrea: 20:50

No, I think that that sums it up.

Craig: 20:53

All right. So we're going to close the page on season one and let's talk about season two. 

So in season two, our goal is to get to the heart of what it means to flourish as a human being. We’re going to try to tease out the most important bits about what it means to live well, while also giving you plenty of things to ponder.

Craig: 21:26

What we're going to try to do is tease out the most important bits about living well. Um, but we're not, we don't want you to expect that we're going to give you pat answers. We're gonna also give you some things to think about.

Andrea: 21:40

Because I think one of the things that, uh, we'll uncover is that what it means to live well unsurprisingly is different for every person. And so we'll recommend some strategies and some things that you can think about as an individual, but ultimately, um, the conclusions that, uh, you reach for your own life will be, um, you know, relative to you.

Craig: 22:03

Yeah, that’s right. You know, there are some broad conceptual elements to what it means to live a flourishing life, but the instantiation, you know, the, the way to actually do it in practice is going to vary widely, I think, from person to person. So, so, uh, that's an excellent point. So Andrea, you have much more expertise in this topic of flourishing than I do. Maybe you can help us understand a little bit more about it. So what does it mean to live a flourishing life? So when you say that, what, what does it mean? 

Andrea: 22:42

Well, the idea of a flourishing life is really an idea that's borrowed from Aristotle. And, um, whenever we bring up this word, flourishing, people usually really love the word. They're like, oh, that's a nice word! And it is right, right? You know, Aristotle in ethics, we all know ethics often has often a not great connotation. People think of ethics in terms of compliance or what we have to do, and rarely think about it as being something fun. But when Aristotle was thinking about ethics, he was really thinking about um, how to live a good life, right. And how to really be happy, right? How to have the most meaningful and fun and delightful time that you can, right? How to be happy yourself and how to contribute to society. And so in this way, he was recommending ethics as a way to lead a flourishing life or your best life. So that's where the phrase comes from. 

Craig: 23:39

Well, and didn't Aristotle believe that, uh, flourishing was kind of the highest good that humans can endeavor towards? 

Andrea: 24:50

He thought, you know, it's interesting. He describes flourishing as, um, an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. And so I think like this is, uh, this is a pretty interesting definition actually, because we think of, um, it definitely presupposes that we have a soul, right? That there is something more to our lives than our physical beings or even our mental activities, that there is an essence of us. Something about us that is soulful and that it animates the way that we are. Right? So it's, it's not something stable. It's not like, oh, you've got, you know, this much money or this much career success, or, you know, you've reached this state.

And so now you're flourishing, but it's something about the way that you are, right? An activity that's in your soul, right? And in accordance with virtue. Well, what is, what is virtue. Um, for Aristotle that's really arete or, um, excellence, right? It's an excellence and there are many kinds of virtues. There are virtues of character, they're intellectual virtues and, you know, courage or friendliness or generosity. We could name our own virtues, but basically if you are excellent in many ways, right? Which is which you can achieve through habituation, then the overall condition of your soul, the activity, right, will reflect that. So it's, uh, so it's really kind of a complicated idea. I mean, flourishing is a simple word and we all like the way that, that sounds, but what that meant for Aristotle, um, really embodied like a rich sense of, of what it means to be a human being.

Craig: 25:30

Well, and you, so you touched on a couple of things. I want to kind of highlight one aspect of it. You talked about habitual leading to essentially being. And so one of the things that you, that we, we may return to periodically throughout this season is this, this path to being that Aristotle laid out and correct me if I'm wrong in my understanding about this, but it starts out with instruction. You know, you have to learn about something, you know, you have to be instructed of what it means to be virtuous or whatever else it might be. And if you, you know, if justice is a virtue, which is pretty broadly accepted as a virtue, even by the Stoics, then, you know, you need to learn what justice means and then you practice it. So let's take kindness. Maybe it's a little bit easier to understand with kindness. So what does it mean to be kind, you know, what are the actions that make one, a kind person or that express kindness? And so you learn about that. And, you know, we, we kind of get that a lot of times from our parents, right? Say, please say, thank you, hold the door open for an old person, help somebody with their bags. Well, but then that has to be put into conscious practice. So, you know, today I'm going to make sure that I say hello to every person I meet or, you know, on while I'm driving, I'm going to let somebody merge if they need to, even if they're being a jerk. You know, I'm just going to try to practice kindness in these ways. And then over time, as you said, it becomes habitual and that all kinds of makes sense. But the big payoff is after a while being kind goes from being a habit to being part of who you are, you become a kind person. You're not a person who practices kindness, you are just an embodiment of kindness. At least that's the way I kind of understand it.

Andrea: 27:29

Yeah, I think, I think that, um, kindness is a really a great example to choose. Um, justice is a little bit tricky, you know, um, Plato's Magnum Opus, The Republic is all about, you know, what is justice? And we. Get some versions of that, but it's certainly not an uncontested, um, issue. And, and Aristotle takes justice as a kind of special case because it has to do with the conventions and what our laws are, um, which is going to vary from place to place. But, uh, circling back to kindness, which I think is, is a great example. Aristotle conceived of these virtues or these excellences on a, you can think of them on kind of a spectrum or a continuum where the virtue is somewhere in the middle, somewhere between a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency. All right. And that means for pretty much any virtue. And this is especially with virtues of character, right? How we act and how we conduct ourselves. Um, it's possible to go a little too far or possible not to have enough. So even with kindness, right, we can be considerate when we're driving or when the people that we interact with. But if you're fawning on someone, right, or just going too far out of your way, like this could actually make people uncomfortable. Right. So we can imagine kindness going too far. And similarly we can imagine people really not being considerate, maybe being cold and unfriendly, and that would be a vice of deficiency. And so I think in either direction, um, and what is the mean? So we can think of the virtue as the mean, as this midpoint between, right, two extremes, neither of which is good. And almost all virtues of character can be thought of in this way. And it's usually, even though it's a mean, or a middle, it's not an arithmetic mean, right. It's not like an average or precise midpoint and whatever the virtue is, we probably tend to lean in one direction or the other. So with kindness, do we tend to be overly kind and fawing or do we tend to be not considerate enough? Well, probably for most of us, not considerate enough. So when it comes to the virtue of kindness, we probably need to make a little effort in the other direction. And then also, you know, what, what counts as kindness is, is relative to us. And this is really an important point for the way that Aristotle considered virtue. There's not some particular act that everyone has to perform to be kind, but depends on who you are, it has to be done, uh, he would say, you know, at the right time and the right place at the right manner to the right degree, right. And all these things to get just right, um, aren't necessarily easy to do, but, but that has to do with, you know, why really having excellence of character is more of a judgment call than some sort of calculative, um, consequence or result. 

Craig: 30:26

Great. And we'll touch on. Those ideas in more detail throughout the season. I want to see if I can get this right. So that's the Aristotelian mean? Is that right? Did I say it right? 

Andrea: 30:37


Craig: 30:39

Good, good, good. I, I learned, I learned how to say something. Uh, um, I'm one for two this morning. So. 

Andrea: 30:46

And I, and I just gotta think Craig, because I can't believe he's going to let us, I think we're going to talk about Aristotle in one way or another, probably for most of season two. So, uh, maybe not during every episode, but that often, and I'm sure the rest of you are thrilled and just as excited about that as Craig is, so... 

Craig: 31:04

Right. And, and, uh, longtime listeners will know that Andrea has a little crush on Aristotle, so that's all right. If you're going to have a crush, he's a good person to have a crush on. Um, just don't tell Matt. 

Andrea: 31:13

Yeah. Yeah. I'm not sure. I'm not sure, but I'm not sure I would put it quite that way, but because I don't have any. 

Craig: 31:20

Okay. You just want to hang out with him here. 

Andrea: 31:25

I would enjoy it, I would for sure have dinner with Aristotle. Yeah. 

Craig: 31:28

So Andrea likes Aristotle, but she doesn't like, like Aristotle. So…

Andrea: 31:35

Yeah. You're not, not going down the path of necrophilia or anything like that. Just to be clear. 

Craig: 31:40

No, that's right. That's right. None of that. None of that. So, uh, well that, that took a strange turn, but that could be the first time in podcast history that in under two minutes, go from the Aristotelian mean and the Aristotelian, I'm going to say that a lot, the rest of the episode, version of virtue to necrophilia. But hey, the, the, the caffeine has kicked in. Um, so right. I have, uh, I have another question for you and this one actually comes from Tracy. I was talking to her about this last night while we were sharing a bottle of actually a very good Chianti. It's the best one we've had in a long time. She said, well, why are you calling? She said, “What is flourishing?” And I said, well, it means living an excellent life and she looked at me and said, “well, why not call it excellent, you know, instead of flourishing?” And I thought, okay, I am not sure I'm equipped to answer that question to why… I mean, one reason I like flourishing is more thought provoking and likely to catch attention, but I think there's a deeper reason. Don't you think, Andrea? I hope you know one, cause I don’t. 

Andrea: 32:49

Well, here, here's an idea, um, is that, uh, you know, again, if we think about Aristotle's definition for that flourishing is an activity of the soul. So flourishing is like doing something or being active in a certain way, whereas excellent is an adjective that we usually ascribe to something. So that's an excellent life, you know, an excellent car, an excellent student, right? I mean, it's sort of an adjective to describe the way that something is in a more fixated state. And I think that for flourishing, it really gets back to this idea that it's an act, it's something that you're doing, right? So it's this ideal for living life that shows how you're actively living it, right. Not just that you've achieved some quality. So, um, it's, it's a way of conceiving of life that is very active and engaging and talks about the way in which we're going through it, not just, um, an adjective, you know. That's at least one idea and another, and another reason is that excellent has already been taken up in the, you know, translation of Aristotelian vocabulary because the, how do we get to this flourishing life? Right? Well, it's by acquiring virtues, like we've just mentioned. Kindness is one, courage is another, generosity is another, there are several, you know, Aristotle, Aristotle lays out several virtues of character, but, you know we talk about different ones, um, that are more relevant perhaps for our time. But those are described as excellences. So a virtue is considered an excellence. Maybe you could be excellent with respect to kindness. You could be excellent with respect to various virtues and being excellent with respect to these virtues will contribute to this condition of actively flourishing. I hope that wasn't too convoluted.

Craig: 34:43

No, not at, not at all. Um, so correct me if I'm wrong here, but didn't Aristotle think that flourishing is achieved through not only acquiring virtue, but through living according to reason? So it's not just this, not just, you know, be virtuous, but you also have to use your head. You have to use your human ability to reason.

Andrea: 35:12

Yep. That's yeah, that's absolutely what he thought. Um, so, you know, he had this idea, well, if we look at animals and we look at the gods, you know, and we look at human beings, what do we have in common or what makes us different from these things? And Aristotle would say, well, you know, we're like other animals or biological organisms in that we require, we have biological necessities. But we're like the gods in that we have reason. And so reason is what is most god-like about us. Um, I think it's, you know, open to question, I mean, sure, you Craig, you're the animal expert here, you know, whether animals have a little bit of that, uh, reason as well. I'm not sure Aristotle, uh, got that right. But he certainly thought, you know, that reason and our intellectual virtues were what made us distinctively human and would contribute to the greatest flourishing. But Aristotle distinguishes, I think it's, it's important, you know, our intellectual virtues. Reasoning capacity, for example, uh, from our virtues of character. So he thinks that, you know, like developing, um, your intellectual acuity, right, is really the most valuable thing you can probably do as a person and will make you happy in certain ways. But we need these virtues of character, things like kindness and courage because we're embodied, right? We have to walk around and deal with these things that, um, affect our character. 

Craig: 36:36

Yeah, that, that makes sense. And this is just kind of a random thought, but one of the differences between those two is that character, that those virtues of character provide, um, guidance on how to act in almost any situation. You know, that that's the, I think that's the, the thinking behind virtue ethics, you know. A good person acts in a certain way, acts in a kind way or a just way. And so, you know, it's not situation specific. It's something that this gets back to the idea of being, you know, once you've achieved that idea of being a kind person, you don't have to stop and reason through what would a kind person do in this situation? You just do it because you're a kind person, you know, because it's part of your, your essence.

Andrea: 37:25

Right. And so these, you know, virtues of character, um, it's really just to the virtues of character that this idea of an Aristotelian mean applies where you can have a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency. For instance, you know, he even talks about eating and drinking, right? It's like, hey, look, you know, there's a, there's a middle ground when it comes to eating and drinking, right? Everybody knows, you know, and by the way, for that, when we, you know, whereas kindness, we might veer towards the vice of deficiency and tend not to be nice enough to each other. With eating and drinking, most of us tend to veer towards the vice of excess, right. We might eat and drink a little too much. And so there, you know, we would sort of lean in the other direction, but even for that, you know, Aristotle thought you can go, you can have a deficiency if you don't enjoy food, or you're always trying to as little as possible where you never want to have a glass of wine, you know, with a group of friends, that's, you know, maybe the vice of deficiency, but most of us suffer, uh, from the other end of that spectrum. But, but notice there, you have this midpoint. And the virtues of character like that, whether it's kindness or eating and drinking, there's a midpoint that you're trying to hit. The virtues of intellect are not that way. Basically with virtues of intellect more is better. Um, you know, the more you know, um, the more you advance you, the more you advance your knowledge, the better that is. And so it's, it'll be interesting to think about that in terms of rational ignorance, right. And, and maybe think about how that's different from what Aristotle described when he was talking about acquiring intellectual virtues, but I think we have to remember that it was a different point in time when information was less readily available. 

Craig: 39:05

And, and I, I mean, I doubt he meant that entirely universally, you know, he probably wasn't concerned about, you know, keeping up with the stats on the, you know, the best chariot racers. I don't know what they did in Greece, you know, but whatever they did in Greece for recreation, it probably wasn't, he wasn't thinking about that sort of thing, although I'm very happy. Uh, I got my doctorate in Tampa and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL championship recently. So they've, they've they hold two national championships now, pro sport. That has nothing to do with what we're talking about. It's just a little plug for the lighting. Um, so now I've taken us off track, but the other, I want to bring out another, but I don't know.

Andrea: 39:48

I'm sure that Aristotle went to the games. That was a big, that was popular for the Greeks. So I'm sure there's, I'm sure there's a virtuous mean there somewhere in terms of your, uh, sports, um, patriotism or fandom. 

Craig: 40:02

Good, good, good save. Good save. But you know, I actually, I think that's an interesting example, um, you know, if you derive a lot of pleasure from being a sports fan, but you don't let it overload your life, you know, there's nothing wrong with staying up on the stats of the St. Louis Cardinals or you know, whatever or watching the NFL draft or whatever, you know, the, the, uh, you know, the European soccer league or whatever it is that you're into. Uh, it's probably the European football league, but you know, as long as you don't let it squeeze out other parts of your life, you find that mean, you know, why, why not? Why not? 

Andrea: 40:43

Yeah, I know. And I think. You know, Aristotle would say that having hobbies and avocations, I mean, that's part of having a flourishing life, right? Having these things that you enjoy. And of course, I mean, I just want to be clear that we're not just here to endorse Aristotle or, you know, tell you what Aristotle said, although we might do that, might tell you what he said a little bit, but we really think then it's up to us to consider whether or not we agree with that. You know, what we agree with and what we think maybe could be tweaked a little bit. 

Craig: 41:20

Um, and one of the things we're going to get into in the first episode of season two is digging into flourishing more deeply. But as part of that, we're going to look at some different views on what flourishing is. You know, there's a view kind of out of psychology, that's associated with wellbeing, and I'm sure there are different philosophical traditions that take different views on what it means to flourish. And so we'll, we'll explore those at least to some extent, um, as we go through the season. 

Andrea: 41:50

That's right. And we'll also be talking to Sebastian Siegal, who's the filmmaker for, uh, Grace and Grit, um, who, you know, really kind of looks at what it means to flourish when life presents us with very difficult circumstances. We often think of flourishing in terms of everything going well, but something else to consider is how we can flourish when life, as it inevitably will, um, presents us with challenges and really difficult circumstances. 

Craig: 42:42

And that episode should come out around the second week in August. And so that brings up another point I wanted us to just touch on at least briefly. Is that, again, correct me if I'm wrong because you know, I, I don't know this stuff, all that well, but one of the things that that is involved in flourishing is doing the best you can, uh, exercising your realized capacities. So, you know, you can't expect to always be perfectly happy or perfectly content or perfectly anything, because your goal should be to use your, your virtues to practice your virtues and to use your reason to do the best you can in any given situation. And it's going to be easier sometimes than it is in others.

And I think what'll be interesting in the conversation we had with Mr. Siegel is that we're going to present about a challenging time as it gets. For those of you who don't know the story. It's, it's about, uh, a couple who get, and it's a true story. A couple meet, uh, almost immediately fall in love and almost immediately get married. And then, uh, almost immediately find out that the wife has cancer. And so it's the journey over a number of years as they try to deal with that. Um, but I think it's important to understand that at least my interpretation of part of this is it's doing the best you can, you know, you're not always going to do it perfectly. It's a, it's a journey. It's not a destination. You know, you don't, don't, uh, wake up one day and say, oh, I won flourishing. You know, it's something you do every day, every day. And so. Um, that, that means we need to be compassionate towards ourselves and you know, it's okay. It may be, you don't practice some of these things perfectly under certain circumstances. 

Andrea: 44:20

Yeah, I think that's right. I think the key that you just mentioned there is practice. Um, and you know, we'll talk a lot about our habits, but, um, This really is about what we do on a day to day basis and how we reinforce our, our priorities. Um, and part of that is, um, you know, something that you and I, Craig used to talk a lot about when we were, um, teaching a course together and that was about being clear in your own mind about what your purpose is really having a sense of purpose. And it's easy to get, you know, It's easy to make yourself busy with to-do lists and other things and having other people set your agenda or saying, I have to do this for my job, or because someone else expects this. But if you are clear in your own mind about what your purpose is, what you are trying to accomplish in this life, then that can help a lot with not only deciding which things you're going to pay attention to, but also then what habits you develop, right? What you do day after day. So I think that this idea of journey has a lot to do with habituation and the habits we develop, we can develop them consciously or unconsciously. But I think that getting clear about our purpose helps us more consciously cultivate the habits that we care about. 

Craig: 45:37

Yeah, exactly. Uh, you know, one of the things I want people to take away from today and from season two is you don't want to live your life on autopilot. You know, you want to take control of the kind of person you want to be, the kind of life you want to live. And, and I'm not talking about externals, you know, kind of what is it that you want to be and what purpose do you want to serve? And then use those as kind of your guiding lights for everything that you do. And we'll get a little teaser on a mid season episode. We're going to talk about Ben Franklin’s, really very clever and still relevant today, method for becoming the kind of person you want to be developing the virtues you want to develop. And it's, it's really run along the line of the instruction, practice habit, being a path that we talked about earlier. So, um, let's start to wrap up the conversation a little bit. Anything you want to add, Andrea?

Andrea: 46:38

I'm really excited for season two. This is one of my favorite topics. And I think there are so many ways to consider, uh, what a flourishing life is. So, um, I'm, I'm looking forward to this. 

Craig: 46:49

And, and I think we can make a promise with a fair degree of confidence to listeners. If you listen to season two, I think you'll be happy you did. I mean, it's hard to imagine that somebody could listen to what we've got planned out and not come away with something that's really beneficial in the way they approach life. Um, you know, if we're wrong, tell me at the end of the season and we'll apologize. Uh, so we need your help with something, though, if you would. We've got a number of, uh, topics already planned out, but we want to get your thoughts on what we might want to talk about as we go through season two. So if you don't mind, if you have some ideas about what you might want us to explore under this broad topic of flourishing as a human being, just email us at rationalignorance@pm.me That's rational ignorance at P M as in Paul, Mary dot M E. And tell us what you want to learn about human flourishing and we'll try to work it in. If you don't want to send an email, you can also go to, uh, rationalignorancepodcast.com and on their website and the little lower left hand corner, there's a microphone and you can actually leave us a voicemail, um, which is kind of cool. And if you leave us a voicemail, just tell us whether or not it's okay to use your clip in a future episode. If it's not, that's fine. If, if it's okay, we may can't make any promises, but we, we might, you might end up on the, uh, digital air, so to speak. All right, Andrea, any last thoughts?

Andrea: 48:29

Thanks everybody for tuning in. And we, uh, hope to, uh, connect with you during season two on our, um, season focused on flourishing. 

Craig: 48:40

Yes, indeed. And we really are pretty stoked. I think it's going to be a fun, interesting, and very useful, uh, season too. So thanks everybody. Um, we'll see you in a couple of weeks. Thank you.