Notre Dame’s Most Popular Philosophy Course Becomes a Book
In the six years since Professors Meghan Sullivan, Justin Christy, and Paul Blaschko first offered their signature course “God and the Good Life,” the class has inserted itself firmly into Notre Dame’s culture and common lexicon. Now with multiple sections of over a hundred students each semester and fulfilling a university core requirement, the class has served as the primary education in philosophy for a whole generation of Irish.
With GGL—as it is invariably referred to in shorthand across campus—flourishing, Sullivan and Blaschko recently released a book that seeks to explain the philosophy behind the school’s most popular philosophy course. The nationally acclaimed book, entitled The Good Life Method, discusses ten important points that broadly cover what they seek to teach in the course, with the addition of a final coda that acknowledges the limits of philosophy.
Just as the course does, the book acts as instruction for one to formulate a philosophical apology for their life, in the tradition of the defense Socrates gave to the people of Athens in the Apology. But instead of merely lecturing what various thinkers have thought in the millennia since Socrates gave his defense, Sullivan and Blaschko’s method begins with practical questions about an individual’s life, about which they seek to help a student think more deeply.
But the publishing of a book provided Sullivan and Blaschko an opportunity to express their message in a way that is more certain in its expression, coming more as an assertion and argument for their method than an open-ended dialogue that caters to an individual classroom’s needs. Additionally, the book allows the authors to reach a much broader audience: Blaschko and Sullivan both told the Rover that this was one of their primary motivations in writing the book.
“It turns out that my mom wants to talk about conspiracy theories, the love of truth, and Plato’s Republic just as much as my freshmen,” Blaschko commented, emphasizing the universal appeal of their method and its applicability outside of a classroom setting.
The book also allowed Sullivan and Blaschko to expand upon the way that their personal stories shaped their method. Blaschko explained that the book form allowed both professors to “tell personal stories from their own lives [and] how they connect up with our philosophical thinking.” Blaschko mentioned his experience in seminary and the birth of his first child as formative experiences in the development of his method that would come to define the course.
Sullivan and Blaschko have created a course that is—by their own statement—highly informed by Notre Dame’s holistic and Catholic approach to the end of education. In keeping with the Catholic Church’s longstanding view on the role of philosophical education, Sullivan quotes Aristotle, saying that “all men by nature desire to know … about ourselves, about God, and about the kind of world we live in.” The course and the book explore the writings of various philosophers in many different eras, but it is grounded in Aristotelean—and by extension Thomistic—ideas about human nature.
Overall, the book reinforces that the method that gave life to one of Notre Dame’s most prominent classes takes a very different perspective on the general purpose of education as that which is typically expressed in modern-day academia.
Sullivan summarizes this idea succinctly: “education is a gift that the community … gives to a young person, and it is aimed at building the foundation for their eudaimonia—their flourishing.” This outlook which seeks to “cultivate spiritual wonder and commitment to institutions and communities that will care for their souls” is a far cry from the typical educational philosophy in other elite universities which prioritizes preparing students for the global economy.
Though no one would confuse “God and the Good Life”—or the book that it has now spawned—with an advanced philosophy course, it is undeniable that their method has a certain appeal for instructing students without any background in the subject and no plans to pursue it in the future.
The class and book—without getting caught up in the important minutiae of the many different branches of philosophy—get to the heart of the subject in an expedient but complete manner, hopefully teaching the students and readers everywhere to think about their lives in a way that Socrates would appreciate.
The Good Life Method was published on January 4 and is available to purchase worldwide.
Luke Thompson is a sophomore from Flagstaff, Arizona majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, political science, and theology. He is currently residing abroad in Carroll Hall, taking in the serene lakeside views and learning about their strange customs. Any inquiries about his experiences in this faraway land should be directed to email@example.com.
Photo credit: Penguin Random House