Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - Philosophy as Life and as Quest for Wisdom by Pierre Hadot

This is part 7 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

Regarding 'living philosophically' as a choice and in every day life ... a few quotes.

The Stoics of the Scaevola family were, moreover, the only ones to apply themselves the laws decreed against luxury.  Thus, in everyday life they had an austerity, a moral rigor that the others lacked (p. 98).


The Stoics were regarded as excessively austere people (p. 99).


Platonism was the movement toward separation of the soul and the body, detachment from the body, and even a tendency to transcend reasoning ... the Neoplatonists [had] the idea that life should be a life of thought, a life of the mind (p. 99).


in Antiquity the philosopher was always regarded somewhat like Socrates himself: he is not 'in his place'; he is atopos.  He cannot be put in a particular place, in a special class.  He is unclassifiable (p. 100).


Nothing is more opposed to the cult of profit, which is progressively destroying humanity, than this Stoic morality that requires of everyone absolute loyalty, transparency, and disinterestedness (p. 101).


It is the problem of the philosopher who should, theoretically speaking, separate himself from the world, but in fact must return to it and lead the everyday life of others. ... Socrates was a philosopher not because he taught from a pulpit, but because he chatted with his friends and joked with them; he also used to go to the agora, and after all this he had an exemplary death.  Thus Socrates' real philsophy is the practice of everyday life (p. 101).

There there is this question posed to Hadot: Can one mix the Stoic attitude with the Epicurean attitude, as did, for example, Goethe, Rousseau, or Thoreau?

"Kant declares that the exercise of virtue must be practiced with Stoic energy and Epicurean joie de vivre."  Of Rousseau, he says, "one finds both the pleasure of existing, and the awareness of being a part of nature."  In Goethe, Hadot notes "half Stoic and half Epicurean."  And of Nietzsche, he says, "one must not be frightened of adopting a Stoic attitude after having benefited from an Epicurean recipe" (p. 102).

Regarding choosing a philosophy, Hadot notes one must try it to be able to learn. He supplies an analogy - riding a bike in the dark, and the light on the bike (which illuminates the path), is connected to the turning of the pedals.  In order to see, you must pedal!

Philosophy is an exercise of awareness.  As stated many times before, it is an exercise of preparing for death.

one had to pass from the empirical and lower self destined to die, to the transcendental self ... one had to detach oneself from sensible life (p. 105).


It is a matter of becoming aware that the moment one is still living has infinite value.  Because death may interrupt it, it must be lived in an extremely intense manner as long as death has not arrived (p. 105).


This is Horace's well-known carpe-diem: harvest today without thinking of tomorrow (p. 105).


one must live every day as though one had completed one's life, and hence with the satisfaction of telling oneself in the evening, 'I have lived' ... one tells oneself that one already has had everything in a single instant of existence.  It is always a matter of becoming aware of the value of existence (p. 105-106).

He is asked if spiritual exercises are a form of egoism.

First, spiritual exercises are intended to let one disengage oneself from egoism. ... detach themselves from the partial and biased self, and to elevate themselves to the level of the superior self.


as soon as one attempts to subject himself to reason, one is almost necessarily obliged to renounce egoism (p. 107).


The second argument ... ancient philosophers have a very strong concern for others ... take care of others, to make them decide to have concern for themselves. ... the care of the self consists in becoming aware of what one really is, that is, finally, of our identity with reason, and even, among the Stoics, with reason considered as God.  Thus, philosophers have always had concern for others (p. 107).


discipline of action contains a very important element, which is the concern for the common good (p. 108).


"Live for others if you want to live for yourself" (Seneca) ... self-transformation consists precisely in being attentive to others (p. 108).

To practice philosophy means to practice living.  He speaks of an ellipse with two poles - "a pole of discourse and a pole of action" (p. 110).

He is asked how does one explain the recession of the practice of spiritual exercises after Antiquity?

I think that the triumph of Christianity played a very large role in this recession.  Confronted by pagan philosophers, revealed Christian theology replaced philosophy as early as the end of Antiquity, and absorbed both ancient philosophy and ancient philosophical life.

Philosophy must be action oriented.

The passage from discourse to life is a tightrope to walk that it is hard to make up one's mind to try.  I will allow myself to cite Kant: 'When you are finally going to begin to live virtuously, said Plato to an old man who was telling him that he was attending lessons on virtue.  You cannot always keep speculating, but you must finally think of passing into action.  But today we consider one who lives in conformity with what he teaches to be a fanatic' (p. 116)

Hadot identified the qualities of the sage.

The first is his love for mankind. ... A second characteristic ... is the audacity of his cosmic wisdom ... a third trait, finally: he is free, without fear, with an inner peace analogous to that of the gods.

Note the three disciplines in the above ... action, desire and assent.

Hadot also quotes Georges Friedmann who said, "the modern sage (if he existed) today would not turn away from the cesspool of men" (p. 118).

the concern to act well without being misled by hatred, anger, or pity, that will oblige one to conquer peace of mind (p. 119).

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