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PDV 105 W — What Matters Most in Life: The Lessons We Can Learn from Dying

Quarter: Winter
Course Format: Online (System Requirements)
Duration: 6 weeks
Date(s): Feb 11—Mar 22
Drop Deadline: Feb 14
Unit: 1
Tuition: $385
Instructor(s): Jason Silverstein
Limit: 40
Status: Open
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is February 14 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is February 19 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Feb 11—Mar 22
6 weeks
Drop By
Feb 14
1 Unit
Jason Silverstein
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is February 14 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is February 19 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Death is here to teach us something, or to make us fit for something,” writes poet and cancer survivor Christian Wiman. Indeed, no subject demands answers to the hard questions of life more than death: What kind of life is worth living? How should I cope with aging? How do I want this all to end, and how do I want to be remembered? This course searches for answers to these questions through a compassionate reading of authors who wrote about their experiences with death and dying. The core readings will be three books: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Max Ritvo’s Four Reincarnations, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Throughout this course, we will reflect on identity and the process of living with illness, grieving for others and ourselves, and how to care for others and honor their wishes. In thinking about death, we will think more clearly about what makes life meaningful, what and who we are grateful for, and what goals we ultimately want to set for ourselves. By the end of this course, students will have learned both philosophical and practical lessons about not only the good death but the good life.


  • Course sizes are limited.
    You won't have 5,000 classmates. This course's enrollment is capped at 40 participants.

  • Frequent interaction with the instructor.
    You aren't expected to work through the material alone. Instructors will answer questions and interact with students on the discussion board and through weekly video meetings.

  • Study with a vibrant peer group.
    Stanford Continuing Studies courses attract thoughtful and engaged students who take courses for the love of learning. Students in each course will exchange ideas with one another through easy-to-use message boards as well as optional weekly real-time video conferences.

  • Direct feedback from the instructor.
    Instructors will review and offer feedback on assignment submissions. Students are not required to turn in assignments, but for those who do, their work is graded by the instructor.

  • Courses offer the flexibility to participate on your own schedule.
    Course work is completed on a weekly basis when you have the time. You can log in and participate in the class whenever it's convenient for you. If you can’t attend the weekly video meetings, the sessions are always recorded for you and your instructor is just an email away.

  • This course is offered through Stanford Continuing Studies.
    To learn more about the program, visit our About Us page. For more information on the online format, please visit the FAQ page.

Jason Silverstein, Lecturer and Writer-in-Residence, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Jason Silverstein is a regular contributor to VICE’s health channel, Tonic. He has written for The Atlantic, the New Republic, The New York Times, The Guardian, and others. His first book, The Root of All Good and Evil, is forthcoming in 2019. Silverstein received a PhD in anthropology from Harvard and an MTS in religion, ethics, and politics from Harvard Divinity School.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air (ISBN 9780812988406)
(Required) Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (ISBN 9781400078431)
(Required) Max Ritvo, Four Reincarnations: Poems (ISBN 9781571314901)