Honors Lecturer Addresses Meaning in a Material World, Feb. 21 at Sweet Briar

| February 15, 2008
Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, will be Sweet Briar College’s Honors Colloquia guest lecturer for the spring semester. He will present “The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World,” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 in the Boxwood Room at the Elston Inn & Conference Center.

Flanagan’s appearance is part of Sweet Briar’s annual yearlong series of lectures that explore a single, unifying concept through the perspectives of all academic disciplines – the sciences, the arts and the humanities. This year’s theme is “Mind and Body.”

Flanagan will base his talk on his most recent book of the same title, “The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World,” published by MIT Press. On its Web site, the publisher writes, “If consciousness is the ‘hard problem’ in mind science – explaining how the amazing private world of consciousness emerges from neuronal activity – then the ‘really hard problem,’… is explaining how meaning is possible in the material world.

“How can we make sense of the magic and mystery of life naturalistically, without an appeal to the supernatural? How do we say truthful and enchanting things about being human if we accept the fact that we are finite material beings living in a material world? … ”

According to the book’s description, Flanagan posits that we all wish to achieve eudaimonia – to be a “happy spirit.”

“He calls his ‘empirical-normative’ inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing ‘eudaimonics.’ Eudaimonics, systematic philosophical investigation that is continuous with science, is the naturalist’s response to those who say that science has robbed the world of the meaning that fantastical, wishful stories once provided.”

According to the Web site, Flanagan turns to multiple disciplines – the natural and social sciences, philosophy and spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Aristotelianism and stoicism – to gather “knowledge that will help understand the nature, causes and constituents of well-being and advance human flourishing.”

It concludes: “Eudaimonics can help us find out how to make a difference, how to contribute to the accumulation of good effects – how to live a meaningful life.”

Flanagan joined the Duke faculty in 1993 as chair of the philosophy department. He also holds appointments in psychology and neurobiology and is a faculty fellow in cognitive neuroscience.

In addition to numerous professional honors, in 1999 he was invited by the Mind and Life Institute to attend a small conference in Darhamsala, India, with the Dalai Lama on the topic of “Destructive Emotions.” A book on the meetings, “Beyond Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Collaboration with the Dalai Lama,” narrated by Daniel Goleman, appeared in 2003.

He was awarded a Fulbright Research Award in 2001-2002 to study Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self.

Honors Colloquia presentations are free and open to the public. E-mail Julie Hemstreet or call 381-6473 for details. You may also visit the colloquia schedule online for information about other lectures in the series.

Category: Honors