We recently featured a series of animations from BBC Radio 4 scripted by philosopher Nigel Warburton, narrated by writer, performer, and all-around wit Stephen Fry, and dealing with a big question: what is the self? Those four short videos called upon the ideas of thinkers as various as Sartre, Descartes, and Shakespeare. This new follow-up draws from the intellectual wells dug by the likes of Aristotle, Max Weber, Ayn Rand, and the Buddha to address a still big, somewhat less abstract, but a perhaps even more important problem: how do I live a good life?
Rand, as her many detractors never hesitate to put it, thought the answer lay in following the highest mandate, our own selfishness. Buddhism, for its part, puts its stock into four noble truths: the inescapability of suffering, the origin of that suffering in our own minds, the possibility of changing our lives if we stop craving so many things, and the usefulness of the Buddhist “eightfold path” in doing so. Max Weber argued that the “Protestant ethic,” as defined by Calvinism, made capitalism itself into the big deal it has become today. And Aristotle recommended living virtuously as a means of attaining eudaimonia, or flourishing.
Alas, for all the important work done by these and other thinkers, the attainment of a good life can remain pretty elusive for us modern folk. Maybe we can do no better than learning what our predecessors have thought and said on the subject as best we can, and deciding for ourselves from there. But fortunately for us modern folk, we have videos like these at our fingertips which make it not just quick and easy to take a first step toward that state, but which get us laughing along the way. As with the rest of these series of animations on life’s big questions, the best jokes appear subtly, so you’ve got to stay attentive — surely one of the more important virtues anyone, ancient or modern, can cultivate.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.