Epicurus and Plato
Plato’s Academy imagined education as serving man in one crucial way: in preparing one’s occupation to society. His systematic approach did a lot of things right. Adapting to society is generally advantageous to one’s survival, and an education that helps you learn to adapt is only logical. However, Plato was also missing one crucial aspect of social enculturation – and that’s that society needs life to exist, while life doesn’t need society at all.
Where Plato’s Academy was architecture, Epicurus’ s Garden was a landscape. Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who set up his own school outside Athens, came up with an egalitarian philosophy to counter Plato. He believed in learning for the pleasure of knowledge, not as a means to social success. Education could be both robustly intellectual and hedonistically gratifying. Post-modern attempts at re-creating Epicurus’ Garden have been remarkably successful, such as the Universite Populaire in Caen, France. Apparently the contemporary student doesn’t have to be stuck in academic rigor mortis to become stalwart intelligentsia…
The Forum, or the Proposal Stage
My proposal would be an educational forum dedicated to the Epicurean ideal context for dialogue. This forum would be a free event, open to the entire Santa Barbara proletariat (and aristocracy), and would be delivered from a performance stage far removed from the University campus. The emphasis would be on erudition through passion, and not as compulsory prerequisites to life.
The Forum would be split into two parts: a series and a final “lecture symposium.” The Series will be held every Wednesday night at 8 PM at 6504 Madrid Rd, Apt H, Isla Vista, and will discuss dialectic subject material to be determined by inquisitive participants. These meetings will open dialogue on philosophy, psychology, art, and any other subject of concrete or abstract design; backed-up by open discussion of ideas and themes. Basically, this half of The Forum will model Plato’s Academy, with problems posed and contemplated during weekly congregation.
The second part of The Forum, during the 8th week of Spring Quarter, will be a symposium, or short lecture series (for a better perspective, look at TED), given by professors, grad students, and undergraduate instructors who have something to contribute that is of great personal interest to them. I imagine the event lasting an hour, with lectures preceding an introduction to The Symposium (delivered by myself) during which I will address the debate more deeply. The Symposium lectures will be timed at about fifteen minutes each, with 5-10 minute “open mics” every three talks, during which audience members can come up on-stage and share something that they enjoy.
Examples of topics would be “neuroplasticity” and how the philosophy of psychology is being revolutionized; or Graphic Novels as Art, not a cheap entertainment; or the knack for mural-making on the sides of houses in Isla Vista. Perhaps Kink University: Fetish Fellowship, our resident Fetish club, will do a lecture on safety in sexual fetishes.
The point of The Forum will be to create a “non-academic” event dedicated to the pursuit of instruction and personal learning. We as human beings are curiously mad about the world around us – here’s our opportunity to explore the obscure, to break free from the zeals of convention and discover the avocational, to find passion through intellectual pursuit. Here is our opportunity to unite thousands of years of education systems into the peaceful cohesion of two competing Greek ideologies.