Dr. Paul Blaschko is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Philosophy Department at Notre Dame University. A philosopher, his primary areas of interest are epistemology and action theory. His research focuses on the nature and normative dimensions of deliberative belief formation, but he’s also interested in theories of practical reason and value, the philosophy of religion, and medieval philosophy. His latest book on virtue ethics with Meghan Sullivan, The Good Life Method, is now available nationwide.
How did you become interested in philosophy?
I came to philosophy through religion. I was raised in a very serious Catholic home, and, fairly early, I started wondering about some of the more surprising things I was taught to believe. My parents bought me some books on apologetics, and I was immediately hooked on the idea that you could give philosophical arguments to defend the things you believe. I spent a good amount of time through high school on the internet, searching out the best philosophical arguments I could find. By then, too, my interests had become broader. I started listening to lectures on Ancient Greek philosophy. I was fascinated by the character of Plato. I tried to emulate him in my everyday life and drove everyone around me completely crazy.
I think this backstory actually helps explain my approach to philosophy even today. I’m still very interested in approaching philosophy as a “way of life.” With Meghan Sullivan, I developed a course at Notre Dame that introduces students to philosophy by asking them to reflect on big questions that show up in their own experience. I started a program, with help from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to help other philosophers do the same. In these projects, you’ll see the commitment to the practical relevance of philosophy, but also the way in which I think we can meet people where they’re at (often on the internet, or even on platforms like TikTok), and just start doing philosophy together.
What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?
That philosophy can be a way of reflecting on, and improving, your life. In the first day of my good life class, I introduce my students to Aristotle’s conception of happiness as “eudaimonia.” We contrast this with simpler, more intuitive notions of happiness as, say, a pleasant emotion. Then we consider a couple arguments. According to Aristotle, our ultimate aim is to achieve eudaimonia, to flourish. This is the ultimate goal, and one that helps explain literally everything that we do.
As we reflect on this together, and as we start to get deeper into Aristotle’s account, students realize that happiness is something you can reflect on. That we can argue about it. And that philosophy is a crucial part of this process. This is just one example, too. When we talk about Marcus Aurelius, we start asking about whether there’s a part of us that is essentially contemplative. We start asking whether we should care more about external goods like wealth and fame, or whether we’ll be happier and more well-balanced if we focus on our inner-lives; on our reactions, emotional attitudes, and virtues.
What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?
If you want to live a good life, learn to love the truth. Develop the ability to connect with other people and build true friendships and community, and to ask hard questions about what matters most in life. None of this is easy, but it’s something that we can do with the help of innumerable philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, and so on. Philosophy is a living tradition, and it’s one that we can become a part of just by entering into this conversation.
Do you have a favorite quote that you use?
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says
[W]e are inquiring not in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good, since otherwise our inquiry would have been of no use.
This is at the core of my approach to philosophy. I don’t think all philosophy needs to be immediately relevant or applicable to everyday life or experience, but the philosophy I’m most interested in — and certainly the philosophy I teach — all is. In a way, too, it also answers to that experience. We can ask questions like What makes a life meaningful? in order to seek out that meaning. And if we find that some philosophical theory of account just doesn’t capture our experience of meaning in life, well that’s a reason to go back and ask some hard questions. Maybe to throw the theory out and see if we can find (or come up with) a replacement.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?
I’m all over the internet, so people can follow me on Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Substack. I also recently wrote a book with my colleague Meghan Sullivan, and in it we tell the story of the class we developed at Notre Dame. I love doing philosophy online, too, so send a Tweet my way or tag me in a TikTok, and we can just start dialoguing!
How would you feel about giving a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens?
In the first chapter of The Good Life Method, Meghan and I imagine what it’d be like to see Plato walking around Athens, asking inconvenient questions and arguing with the most powerful politicians, artists, and sophists. The idea of inhabiting that world in a more literally way sounds amazing. I’d love to think more about how we can continue to spread the message — through our teaching, research, and public writing — that philosophy can be approached as a meaningful “way of life.”