New Year news from Looking for Wisdom: looking back to why I set up the site, and looking forward to the good things coming in 2021.
Happy New Year!
In this week's newsletter, as it is New Year, I'm looking back and looking forward: read on for the low-down on why I set up Looking for Wisdom, and find out what is in the pipeline for the coming year.
The origins of Looking for Wisdom
Compared with many of my philosopher friends, my philosophical training has been somewhat idiosyncratic. I came to philosophy sideways, having first studied fine arts at university, and then anthropology. It wasn't until my late 20s that I fell into reading philosophy more seriously. At that time, I was practising as a Buddhist, and it was the perplexity caused by Buddhist practice that led me to philosophy. I sat in meditation in rural retreat centres in rainy Wales, and thought, “What the hell is going on?” I travelled with a friend to India and Nepal on a Buddhist pilgrimage, and visited the historical Buddhist sites. And I rambled across hillsides with Buddhist friends talking about life and philosophy and what it meant to be human. And slowly, I fell into philosophy, reading the Epicureans and the Stoics, the existentialists and the phenomenologists, Nāgārjuna and Dōgen.
By the early 2000s, I was living in Birmingham in the UK, reading stacks of philosophy books, and realising that the philosophical itch was not going away. So eventually, I signed up for a part-time PhD in philosophy at the University of Staffordshire (my thesis was on the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas). And because I needed to eat, and I have always loved teaching, I found myself a part-time job teaching adult education classes in philosophy.
From the first, I loved teaching adult education classes. Over the next few years, I alternated between studying and teaching. I spent hours hunched on city buses, my head buried in philosophy books, travelling across town to draughty local council-run halls where my students braved the elements to turn up and talk about Plato, or Confucius, or Hannah Arendt.
By this time I finished my PhD, I saw myself as more Buddh-ish than Buddhist (philosophy can do this, I'm told). And I applied for a job teaching in university, leaving adult education behind. It seemed like the sensible choice, and for the first time in my life gave me a secure income. Over the years that followed, I taught both writing and philosophy in universities: in the UK, in China and in Myanmar.
But I missed my days in adult education: I missed the sense of friendly community and shared intellectual excitement; I missed the pursuit of learning for its own sake; and I was increasingly uneasy with the ethics of the university model—from the spiralling debts faced by students to the competitive publish-or-perish demands put upon staff. So back in 2016, after some big changes in my life, I left my academic post to steer a more precarious freelance course.
Since then, I've been making a living as a writer, and as an itinerant teacher of writing and philosophy. So earlier this year, whilst locked down in my apartment, here in the centre of Sofia, I started wondering if I could recreate those things I valued so much in my years of teaching adult education classes, but online.
This is what led to me launching Looking for Wisdom back in early November. I see the project as having two components: a free, growing database of Philosopher Files delivered to subscribers by email; and a series of affordable philosophy classes for those who want to take their study of philosophy further.
It's been a blast getting everything sorted to launch my first course in early 2021. The last few weeks have been a riot of reading up on philosophers I have hitherto neglected, getting to grips with new thinkers, making or renewing connections with philosopher friends, and wrestling the design and underlying technology for Looking for Wisdom into shape.
But I'm happy to say that things are almost there, and I'm now looking forward to a philosophical 2021.
What's coming in 2021?
So what lies ahead over the coming year? What's coming up? There are three things in the pipeline: more philosopher files, a new series of philosopher interviews, and my new philosophy courses.
More Philosopher Files
I've already scheduled a year's worth of Philosopher Files to send out over the coming months. With the Philosopher Files, I've started out in the ancient world, and I'm moving more or less chronologically (although there will be a few wild cards along the way). So it's going to take a good few years to get up to the present day. I'm committed to making the Philosopher Files as diverse as I can, embracing multiple traditions, and pushing back against the gender imbalances in the ways these traditions are traditionally presented. There are some fascinating philosophers coming up, both well-known names, and relative obscurities. So keep your eyes open for news in your inbox every Thursday. And if you have an overlooked philosopher you'd love to see featured, let me know!
Every so often, I'll also be mixing things up by sending out features on contemporary philosophers. I've just started a series of interviews with a whole range of philosophers from across the world, getting them to talk about the thinkers they love, the ideas that inspire them, and the philosophical crushes they harbour. I'm very excited by this. Several philosopher friends have already generously volunteered to talk about themselves and their work. And already this has led me down all kinds of interesting philosophical rabbit-holes.
So if you know a tame (or at least semi-tame) philosopher who would make a good interviewee, let me know. And you can expect the first Philosopher File interview some time early in the year.
Finally, the first Looking for Wisdom course launches in January. The topic of the first course is wisdom: what it is, why we might want it, and how we can cultivate it.
The first lesson will go out to all subscribers on the 4th January. After that, you'll need to sign up to continue studying the course materials. Once signed up, you'll get a new lesson every Monday for the duration of the course, as well as access to the Looking for Wisdom study-group, and the chance to chat with a friendly community of fellow-philosophers.
The courses run on a rolling basis. There will be six courses a year, each running for seven weeks (in 2020, we're talking about wisdom and love, work and friendship, home and strangers). You can join up any time by going to the membership page, and once joined, you'll also have access to all previous course content.
The cost of courses is $12 (about £8) a month or $108 a year. This works out as $2.57 per lesson over the entire year (you can find out more about courses, payment and funding on the FAQs page).
So that's what's coming up at Looking for Wisdom. Thanks for being a part of it. Stay tuned for the first lesson of the Wisdom course on Monday 4th January, and for the next Philosopher File on Thursday 7th January. And get in touch if you want to say hello. I reply to all emails I receive.
Wishing you all the best for 2021,
Dr. Will Buckingham