Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy and The Good Life Course

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Learn about philosophy the smart way with Philosophy courses at the University of Sydney.

According to a recent Swiss study, life satisfaction peaks at ages 16 and 17, and it is not until age 64 that individuals express comparable levels of life satisfaction. This is puzzling in an era of better health, longer life expectancy, more equitable access to education, and significant amounts of disposable income. But what does life satisfaction consist in? What does it mean to live a “good life”?

In Philosophy and The Good Life, we will examine various approaches to living well that have been articulated throughout the history of philosophy. We will examine their prescriptions on the development of character, the value of fortitude, the role of pleasure in one’s life, the role of art in a meaningful life, the correct relationship between reason and emotion, and what caring for oneself consists in.


This course aims to:

  • familiarise course participants with important figures from the history of ideas
  • develop a sophisticated understanding of concepts in moral philosophy
  • cultivate skills in philosophical interpretation
  • cultivate skills in philosophical argumentation
  • facilitate meaningful reflection on the issues under investigation.


Upon completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  • discuss the ideas of important figures from the history of philosophy
  • discuss concepts in moral philosophy
  • distinguish and evaluate various recommendations about living well
  • read philosophical texts carefully and provide detailed interpretations based on these readings
  • argue charitably and logically and think critically about difficult philosophical concepts
  • reflect meaningfully on philosophical issues and make these personally relevant.


Introduction: Philosophy and the art of living

General introduction to the philosophers and themes to be examined in this course. This is followed by a discussion of Plato and Aristotle. These two thinkers are a cornerstone of the western philosophical tradition. How did Plato and Aristotle think one should live? What activities did they believe could help one to live a fulfilling life? What role could the arts play in a well-lived life? Course participants are encouraged to read a short article from the New York Review of Books and selections from the works of Plato and Aristotle in preparation.

Hellenistic philosophy

This class examines Stoic, Epicurean, Peripatetic, and Eclectic views of the good life. What do these philosophers tell us about how we should be, and the kinds of things we should value? How are they to be distinguished from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle?

The Early Moderns

This class begins by examining the transformation of European culture wrought by the spread of Christianity. How were concepts from the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition Christianised and how did this change effect what the good life consisted in? The answers to these questions, we will see, were radically challenged in the early modern era.

Knowledge of Descartes' philosophy is indispensable for understanding the great changes that took place in the intellectual culture of the seventeenth century. We will examine his ideas and their influence on figures as diverse as Antoine Arnauld, Benedict de Spinoza and Mary Astell. In the course of so doing, we will examine the place of science, religion and education in a meaningful life.


This class will begin by articulating some of the changes wrought by Hume and Kant in the centuries between Spinoza and Nietzsche and examine what Nietzsche believed was a sorry transformation in philosophy. We then examine Nietzsche’s proposals for a well-lived life that are inherent in his most optimistic tome The Gay Science.

The Modern era

In this class, we examine the reception of the ideas articulated in the course in the contemporary era. We discuss the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, Harry Frankfurt and Alexander Nehamas, and cover topics as diverse as the value of beauty and friendship, to a well-lived life. We close by returning to the themes discussed in the article by Ronald Dworkin with which we began the course.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable for:

  • Bibliophiles
  • readers of The New Philosopher
  • those employed in care industries
  • those with a general interest in philosophy.

Delivery Style

Delivered as a series of interactive lectures where class discussion is encouraged.

Recommended Reading

A list of recommended reading will be sent to participants via email prior to the first week of class.


Course materials will be made available to participants before each class and will include a list of popular journalism, scholarly articles, primary texts, podcasts and film suggestions.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • The course covered all the bases. It contained the right balance of instruction and discussion, and the tutor was interested in what we all had to say.