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How to Flourish: Physical Health and the Body
January 18, 2023 at 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm PST
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“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage – it is called the subconscious self; it dwells in your body, it is your body. There is more reason, sanity and intelligence in your body than in your best wisdom.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
“Besides, it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.”
Discussions on human flourishing often favor the state of our souls over our bodily conditions. Though development of the body is often seen as inferior to intellectual or spiritual advancement, our corporeal forms may be more central to a life well-lived than we give them credit for.
Throughout history, humans’ views towards the role of our bodies have constantly shifted. The Ancient Greeks largely viewed athleticism as inextricable from virtue, yet the “Big Three” Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) diverged in their beliefs on whether the body and soul are separate or intertwined, and whether the development of the former is necessary for the excellence of the latter. This philosophical debate over the importance of our bodies has carried on in the centuries since: in René Descartes’ theory of mind-body dualism, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the “lived body,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power,” and much more.
Today, our attitudes toward our bodies remain complicated. We face a rising tide of eating disorders and obesity. The fitness industry has reached a record valuation of over $96 billion. And the science behind the best diets, workouts, and sleep practices seems to be ever-changing.
Is taking care of our bodies a moral good? How can we best do so?
Interweaving philosophy with personal experiences, we’ll explore our relationships with physical health and our bodies, and how they relate to our flourishing.
Some questions to ponder:
- When do you feel your strongest and most connected to your body?
- What are some physical practices (e.g. walking, running, dancing, yoga, meditation) that you enjoy?
- Have you made any lifestyle changes that drastically improved your quality of life?
- Have you or your loved ones faced any health crises that changed the way you relate to your body, and to life in general?
- What are your most unique or controversial views toward sleep, diet, and health?
- Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.12
- Plato and Aristotle on Health and Disease | Psychology Today
- How Exercise May Help Us Flourish | The New York Times
- An Apology of the Body | Quillette
- Why Walking Helps Us Think | The New Yorker
- The Age of Fitness by Jürgen Martschukat review – why we are obsessed | The Guardian