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What Is the Good Life? Old Texts and New Psychology in Counterpoint

When 26 April 2017 from 11:00 to 17:30 hrs
Where NIAS Conference Room, St. Jorishof, Korte Spinhuissteeg 3, Amsterdam
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Bert van den Berg, Chris Jedan and Hilde Geurts, three NIAS fellows, will combine their expertise to explore the good life in an interdisciplinary and exploratory workshop at NIAS Amsterdam on 26 April 2017. 

About the Workshop

What Is the Good Life? Old Texts and New Psychology in Counterpoint

Organizers: Hilde Geurts (UvA), Bert van den Berg (UL) and Christoph Jedan (RUG)

In recent years the ancient notion of “the good life” (eudaimonia) has received much attention from psychologists. There have, however, also been cautionary voices: have references to Greek philosophy been all too easy and unspecific? (Cf. e.g., Westerhof & Bohlmeijer 2010). Conversely, philosophers have advocated ancient eudaimonism as a fruitful avenue for our thinking today (seminal: Annas 1993), but there has been comparatively little attention to the results and possibilities of empirical research. Both disciplines, psychology and philosophy, stand to gain if their practitioners engage in a direct dialogue.

Hosted by the Royal Dutch Academy’s Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), in the center of Amsterdam, the one-day event aims at re-examining the Aristotelian theory of the good life in conversation with modern psychological theories. The Aristotelian theory has dominated the discussions of psychologists and philosophers so far, but has the focus on Aristotle been disproportionate and has it led to over-simplified conceptualizations of the good life? A number of highly influential currents in ancient thinking, such as the Stoics and the Neo-Platonists, offer characteristically different takes on the good life. In which way can these non-Aristotelian theories be relevant to our thinking today? By critically discussing old and modern texts used in the two different disciplines (philosophy and psychology) this workshop aims at initiating such an interdisciplinary conversation as well as at having lasting scholarly impact. The organizers envisage an international edited volume/themed journal issue with the results of the workshop as well as a sequel in terms of a larger international conference.

Time Table

11.00-11.30: Coffee / Introduction

11.30-12.30: Session 1: The status of the good life (Aristotle vs. Neoplatonists)

(chair Bert v.d. Berg)

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13.30-14.30: Session 2: Good life and non-moral goods (Aristotle vs. Stoics)

(chair Christoph Jedan)

14.30-15.00: Coffee break

15.00-16.00: Session 3: Psychologists on the good life

(chair: Hilde Geurts)

16.00-16.30: Roundtable discussion / further plans

16.30-17.30: Drinks

This workshop is for invited participants only. 


The workshop consists of three rounds of discussions that center on the six brief but pivotal texts the group wants to examine: two contemporary psychological texts that outline the state of the art today, two texts from Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics that have for a large part determined today’s views of ancient eudaimonism, and two texts that represent important alternative approaches in Ancient eudaimonism, the Neoplatonists and the Stoics. All texts (the ancient texts in English translations) will be circulated before the meeting. The texts and issues will be briefly introduced by the chairs of the sessions; the workshop aims at facilitating open conversations, not the reading of prefabricated research presentations. An important element of the conversations will be the continuous comparison between old and new as well as between rivalling approaches: Can Neoplatonists and Stoics hold their ground against Aristotle, and how does this help us to improve today's theorizing about the good life?

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