Watch Philosophy Lectures That Became a Hit During COVID by Professor Michael Sugrue (RIP): From Plato and Marcus Aurelius to Critical Theory

If we ask which phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor has made the great­est impact in this decade, there’s a sol­id case to be made for the late Michael Sug­rue. Yet in the near­ly four-decade-long career that fol­lowed his stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go under Allan Bloom (author of The Clos­ing of the Amer­i­can Mindlat­er immor­tal­ized in Saul Bel­low’s Rav­el­stein), he nev­er pub­lished a book, nor took a tenured posi­tion. His last place of employ­ment as a lec­tur­er was Ave Maria Uni­ver­si­ty, a small Catholic insti­tu­tion found­ed by the man behind Domi­no’s Piz­za. After his death ear­li­er this yearhis work might have lived on only in the mem­o­ries of the stu­dents with whom he shared class­rooms.

That would have been the case, at least, if Sug­rue’s daugh­ter had­n’t uploaded his lec­tures to Youtube dur­ing the COVID pan­dem­ic, when view­ers the world over were more than ready for a dose of philo­soph­i­cal wis­dom. “The lec­tures were record­ed as part of the Great Minds of the West­ern Intel­lec­tu­al Tra­di­tion series,” writes John Hirschauer in a 2021 Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tive pro­file“a col­lec­tion of talks on the West’s great­est authors and thinkers” pub­lished by The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny in 1992. “Sugrue’s first lec­ture in the series is on Pla­tothe last on crit­i­cal the­o­ry. His remark­able ora­to­ry skill is on dis­play through­out.” What’s more, “he does not car­ry a note card or read from a prompter. There is hard­ly a stut­ter in 37 hours of footage.”

Sug­rue was diag­nosed with can­cer in the ear­ly twen­ty-tens, and “doc­tors at the time gave him five years to live. He said the thought of Mar­cus Aure­lius had tak­en on new mean­ing since his diag­no­sis.” Indeed, Sug­rue’s lec­ture on the Roman emper­or and Sto­ic icon is the most pop­u­lar of his videos, with over one and a half mil­lion views at the time of this writ­ing. Over the years, we’ve fea­tured dif­fer­ent intro­duc­tions to Sto­icism here on Open Cul­ture, as well as the work of oth­er Sto­ics like the states­man-drama­tist Seneca the Younger. But Sug­rue’s 42-minute exe­ge­sis on Mar­cus Aure­lius — not just “the most inter­est­ing of the Sto­ics,” but also “the one exam­ple of an absolute ruler who behaves him­self in such a way as not to dis­grace him­self” — has res­onat­ed unusu­al­ly far and wide.

Then, as now, Mar­cus Aure­lius serves as “a stand­ing reproach to our self-indul­gence, a stand­ing reproach to the idea that we are unable to deal with the cir­cum­stances of human life.” He ful­ly inter­nal­ized the cen­tral Sto­ic insight that there are “only two kinds of things: there are the things you can con­trol and the things you can’t.” Every­thing falls into the lat­ter group except “your inten­tions, your behav­ior, your actions.” And indeed, just as Sug­rue kept look­ing to the exam­ple of Mar­cus Aure­lius — return­ing to his text Med­i­ta­tions as recent­ly as a webi­nar he gave two years ago — stu­dents of phi­los­o­phy yet unborn will no doubt find their way to the philo­soph­i­cal guid­ance that he him­self has left behind.

Below, you can watch a playlist of Sug­rue’s lec­ture series, Great Minds of the West­ern Intel­lec­tu­al Tra­di­tion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=playlist

via NYTimes

Relat­ed con­tent:

What Is Sto­icism? A Short Intro­duc­tion to the Ancient Phi­los­o­phy That Can Help You Cope with Our Hard Mod­ern Times

How to Be a Sto­ic in Your Every­day Life: Phi­los­o­phy Pro­fes­sor Mas­si­mo Pigli­uc­ci Explains

Three Huge Vol­umes of Sto­ic Writ­ings by Seneca Now Free Online, Thanks to Tim Fer­riss

The Sto­ic Wis­dom of Roman Emper­or Mar­cus Aure­lius: An Intro­duc­tion in Six Short Videos

Oxford’s Free Intro­duc­tion to Phi­los­o­phy: Stream 41 Lec­tures

A His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy in 81 Video Lec­tures: A Free Course That Explores Phi­los­o­phy from Ancient Greece to Mod­ern Times

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.



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