My Lifelong Philosophy Project

2014-03-01

I like large, long-term projects. The biggest one I'm working on is a series of six short books about the views of various philosophers on happiness and human flourishing. I jokingly call it the RENTAL project, after the names of the thinkers in question:

  1. Rand (The Tao of Roark)
  2. Epicurus (Letters on Happiness)
  3. Nietzsche (Songs of Zarathustra)
  4. Thoreau (Walking with Thoreau)
  5. Aristotle
  6. Lao Tzu

Not long ago, I was chatting with my friend Joshua Zader about this project and I came to a realization: what I'm doing here is exploring the most positive, practical potential of six thinkers who have tried, in various ways, to estabish a secular approach to the good life.

Really it all started when I had a crisis of faith at the age of nine and decided that I didn't believe in god. And yet I always wanted to be a good person and to live a life of joy and meaning. Thus I was ripe for my early infatuation with the ideas of Ayn Rand, but also for my later encounters with other secular philosophers (starting with Aristotle in my college years, then moving on to Epicurus, Nietzsche, Lao Tzu, and Thoreau). It frustrates me deeply when I hear some people claim that you can't be a good person if you're not religious - I know in my heart that's wrong, and in a way I'm out to prove it both through these books and in my own life.

As if it's not difficult enough to write six short books (distilling a large set of ideas into something you can read in an hour takes many years of absorption and synthesis), I've furthermore decided to write each book in a different philosophical genre: a personal manifesto in The Tao of Roark, a dialogue in Letters on Happiness, a cycle of poems in Songs of Zarathustra, a biographical or autobiographical journal in Walking with Thoreau, probably a condensed commentary for the book about Aristotle, and maybe a series of aphorisms for the book about Lao Tzu.

So far I've finished the first two movements of this six-part "suite". I'm well along in research on the third (having recently finished re-reading all of Nietzsche's published works), and I've just started reading all of Thoreau (the essays and poems and books first, then the complete Journal). It will take me many more years to complete the remaining four movements. But that's one of the great things about a big project: it's almost like a constant companion in the arc of my existence, coloring everything I think and do, giving shape and form to my inner and outer life.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal