Saturday, August 28, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - Interpretation, Objectivity, and Mistakes by Pierre Hadot

This is part 4 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

He describes, simply, the structure behind Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

The disciplines of desire, action and assent (judgement) "consist, respectively, in making one's desires, actions, and judgements conform to reason. ... For Marcus Aurelius, the point is to reactualize and awaken for his own sake the dogmas that must guide life.  The manuscripts entitle Marcus Aurelius' book 'For himself,' and this corresponds perfectly to the author's intention" (p. 63).

Regarding the collision of ideas and philosophy, he says, "One might wonder whether the archaic authors or the founders of the schools were also conditioned by a tradition of preexisting literary genres.  I believe so.  There is never an absolute beginning of history.  Oriental models influenced the first Greek thinkers.  Gerard Naddaf has shown the importance of triadic structure in the writings of the pre-Socratics - genesis of the gods, genesis of humans, and genesis of the city - inherited from Babylonian cosmogonic myths, the literary genre in which the biblical Genesis is situated ... I believe it was Bergson who said that every philosopher thinks in reaction to another thinker" (p. 64).

"Latin Fathers and the Greek Fathers sometimes wanted to illustrate their sermons with beautiful thoughts borrowed from pagans.  Thus they cited Plotinus, but without saying so and often for one single sentence" (p. 65).

Regarding being objective, he said, "Thus, the scholars who have the rare courage to admit they they were mistaken in a particular case, or who try not to let themselves be influenced by their own prejudices, are carrying out a spiritual exercise of detachment from the self.  Let us say that objectivity is a virtue, and one that is very difficult to practice.  One must rid of the partiality of the individual and impassioned self, in order to elevate oneself to the universality of the rational self" (p. 66-67).

Late he says, "there is no point in distorting the meaning of a text to try to adapt it to the demands of modern life, or to the aspirations of the soul, and so on.  The first duty is above all the goal of objectivity" (p. 67).

I liked this particular quote he cites from Nietzsche who notes the "good sentence, too hard for the tooth of time, imperishable in the midst of everything that changes."  I think this would describe a good hypomnemata.

I won't quote anything on this thought, but will note on page 70, he gives an example of living with perfect indifference as appearing in China, by Pyrro and by the Stoics.  The idea of consenting to Destiny can be found in the Stoics, in ancient China and in Hindu thought.  The point is: these practices are universal.

At the end of the chapter, he notes the need to know history if one is to practice and understand philosophy.  "It seems to me that the primary quality of a historian of philosophy, and no doubt of a philosopher, is to have a sense for history" (p. 74).

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