Department Colloquium: Peter N. Singer (Einstein Center Chronoi, Berlin) "Living in the Moment – or Not? Past and Future Experience in Graeco-Roman Thought"

Thursday, January 18, 2024 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

402 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th St.

*4:15-4:45 pm: Coffee and cookies in Cohen Hall 2nd Floor Lounge. All are welcome.

Speaker: Peter N. Singer, Einstein Center Chronoi, Berlin

Abstract: We are often encouraged to 'live in the moment', without dwelling on past experiences or relying on future ones. How possible – or desirable – is such a focus on the 'now'? To what extent are memories and expectations unavoidably involved in our present emotional experience? How important is a narrative view of the whole life, rather than a series of individual moments, for emotional well-being, or for our sense of self? What is a positive or healthy way of using our memories and expectations – whether of painful or joyful experiences – for the development of such emotional well-being?

I explore the challenge of these questions on the basis of a range of Greek and Roman philosophical and literary discussions, with a focus on Stoic, Platonic, and Epicurean texts, and consideration of Aristotelian perspectives, considering the negative consequences accorded to the wrong kind of use of the past, and the positive role memory may have, both for our emotional life and for the construction of identity. Finally, I explore the role of future expectations – including expectations of an afterlife – in Graeco-Roman ethical thought. I suggest that past and present experiences are co-involved in complex ways in our emotional and ethical life, and that it is worthwhile to explore the ways in which our choices and attitudes to these can transform or lives, for better or worse.