Thursday, September 9, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - From Socrates to Foucault: A Long Tradition by Pierre Hadot

This is part 8 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

The modern day problem of philosophy is a matter of getting it out of the books and into our way of life.  Hadot quotes Merleau-Ponty:

Philosophy put into books no longer accosts people.  What is unusual and almost unbearable in it has hidden itself in the decent life of the great systems (p. 121).


if Socrates was a philosopher, it was by walking with his friends, eating with them, discussing with them, going like them to war, and finally drinking the hemlock, not by teaching from the height of a podium.  Thus he showed that everyday life makes it possible to do philosophy (p. 121).


Socrates' greatness was to be able to play with children, and to consider that this was time well spent.  Montaigne admires Socrates' capacity to adapt to all circumstances of life, to war and to peace, to abundance and to famine, to ecstasy and to play ... [this example] gives humble and simple folks the courage to live and to die, without need for all the philosophers' discourses.  Socrates lives a human life fully and simply (p. 122).


When Socrates says, 'We owe a cock to Asclepius' it "suggests that Socrates wants to make a sacrifice of gratitude to the god of medicine, for having cured him of life.  Could it be that life, existence, is an illness? ... is not that life in itself is an illness, but that the life of the body is an illness, and that the only true life is the life of the soul (p. 122-123).

Hadot notes that Montaigne is the one "who best understood the essence of Socrates" (p. 124).

Montaigne "opposed well-made heads to head that are well-filled."  He imagines a person who had done nothing all day long, and he responds, "What, you have done nothing, but have you not lived!  Is that not the most illustrious of your preoccupations!"  Hadot continues, "Nietzsche echoes him in this respect, in his claim that human institutions aim at preventing human beings from sensing their lives.  One finds in this passage from Montaigne the recognition of the infinite value of life itself, of existence; this reverses all habitual values, and especially the pervasive idea that what counts above all is to do something, whereas for Montaigne what is more important is to be" (p. 125).

Regarding clarity, Hadot states, "Sometimes one also has the impression that it is a game for the philosopher, who, as we were saying, always has a natural inclination to listen to himself talk and to watch himself write" (p. 130).

Hadot does not prefer the notion of the existentialists about the notion of the absurdity of life.  He finds it "repulsive" and goes on to say, "As soon as God is dead there is no longer any justification of existence; therefore existence is absurd.  Personally, I do not perceive it absurd.  I prefer Merleau-Ponty's position ... 'The world and reason do not pose a problem; one might say that they are mysterious, but this mystery defines them.  There can be no question of dissipating it by some solution; it falls short of solutions.  Real philosophy is to learn to see the world again."

Hadot continues, "Astonishment, wonder before an inexplicable outpouring: I agree - but why nausea?" (p. 131).

Spiritual exercises are often language games, in which one tells oneself a phrase to provoke an effect, whether on others, or on oneself (p. 135).


The Stoics would have rejected this idea of an ethics of pleasure.  They were careful to distinguish pleasure and joy: joy, for them - joy, and not pleasure - was to be found not simply in the self, but in the best part of the self.  Seneca find joy no in Seneca, but in Seneca identified with universal Reason.  One rises from one level of the self to another, transcendent level (p. 136).


For me, what counts is above all the effort to pass from one perspective to another (p. 137).


It seems to me that seeing things in a universal perspective necessarily lead to recognizing certain permanent values: respect for the human person, respect for life, respect for the gift of language, to mention only a few (p. 139).

Regarding philosophies in other cultures, he says, "Now I have changed my mind somewhat, by observing undeniable analogies between Chinese thought and Greek philosophy.  I have spoken about the attitude of indifference toward things, a sort of Stoic attitude; one might also add the notion of instant illumination.  I explain to myself these analogies, not in terms of historical relations, but by the fact that analogous spiritual attitudes can be found in different cultures" (p. 144).

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