Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - Philosophical Discourse by Pierre Hadot

This is part 3 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

In this chapter, Hadot continues to explain one of his big purposes: to understand historical, philosophical texts in their proper context.  He notes that over time, philosophical writings such as letters, consolations, and hypomnematas to oneself, gradually disappeared and were replaced by "systematic treatises."  The key loss in this change, is philosophy as a mode of life.

He says, "You ask if there has not been a loss from this point of view.  We will return to this question later, but there is the partial but very real loss of the conception of philosophy as a mode of life, as a choice of life, as therapy as well.  We have lost the personal and communal aspect of philosophy.  Moreover, philosophy has progressively entrenched itself in this purely formal path, in the search for novelty in itself at all costs.  The philosopher must be as original as possible, if not by creating a new system, at least by producing a discourse that tries to be highly complicated in order to be original.  The more or less skillful construction of a conceptual edifice has become an end in itself.  Philosophy thus has progressively distanced itself from the concrete life of humans" (p. 56).

It was "Thomas Gataker and Meric Casaubon [who] both saw right away the real literary genre of the works of Marcus Aurelius; they used the Greek work hupomnemata, which designates notes one takes for oneself.  Furthermore, they saw that they were exhortations that Marcus Aurelius made to himself" (p. 57).

This works has lead to the "recovery of the idea that Marcus Aurelius was attempting to awaken in himself the Stoic dogmas that were to govern his life, but that had lost some of their persuasive force; thus it was necessary to attempt to constantly to persuade himself anew.  His goal was to have the Stoic dogmas at hand in an efficient manner - in particular, the three fundamental precepts of Epictetus: never let anything into the mind that is not objective, always take the good of the human community as the end of one's actions, and make one's desires confirm to the rational order of the universe" (p. 57).

Also, these hypomnematas need to be "short and [produce a] striking formula that gives them life again" (p. 58).

Later he states, "the philosophical works of Antiquity were not written to set forth a system, but in order to produce a formative effect" (p. 59).

These are written to "change [one's] mentality and transform his way of seeing things" (p. 59).

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