Sullivan and Blaschko show readers how to apply philosophy to daily life in The Good Life Method (Penguin Press, Jan.).
Your course at Notre Dame inspired this book—did the process of adapting it result in any discoveries?
Blaschko: One of the challenges that we had was to try to bring the personal relationships you get in a classroom into the book. Writing it with a coauthor and going back and forth to have the feeling of a conversation really helped bring a kind of personal dimension into the writing.
Sullivan: The magic and electricity of our class is that there’s a certain amount of vulnerability. Students gradually build up a capacity to share these existential questions that are weighing on them, and Paul and I were challenged to do the same on the page. Feeling that vulnerability that the students had, that’s been huge.
You both share examples of times you applied philosophical teachings to your own lives. What was the most meaningful change?
Sullivan: We were working during the pandemic, thinking about what it means to have this interior life that you’re working on when your exterior life is not what you thought it was going to be. We were isolated and dealing with all of this upheaval, and I was reading Marcus Aurelius and Thomas Aquinas and thinking about Jesuit prayer during that time. Like everything we were reading, I then tried it out that very afternoon. It was just this huge need in my life that I hadn’t realized philosophy could come into.
Blaschko: I’ve been leaving these notes for myself on my phone and then listening as I go for walks throughout the day, in the same way Marcus Aurelius would try to center himself and combat the business and distractions that he must have faced. In my own way, I have these distractions, and to intentionally set some of my values down and listen to them in my own voice reminding me, “Look, this is what you care about. This is what matters.” That’s been a practice that I’ve carried with me.
You cover a wide range of philosophers—who are your favorites?
Sullivan: Favorite ancient Greek philosopher? This year it’s Plato, last year it was Aristotle. It depends what’s going on in your life, whether you’re Team Plato or Team Aristotle.
Blaschko: Elizabeth Anscombe gets a lot of play in the book, she’s a more contemporary philosopher who’s a dynamic and original thinker. Somebody who was principled, but really open in the views she would engage with, and just fiery and revolutionary in ways that I find surprising.
Sullivan: Yeah, she’s surprising. Everyone thinks these philosophers are kind of walking sound bites or ideologies or bumper stickers, but I always love finding philosophers who put it all out there. It’s not just all an intellectual exercise.