Monday, September 6, 2021

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

This is part 6 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

For those who have read other Hadot books, the quotes from this chapter will sound quite familiar.  He discusses the genesis of the idea and phrase "spiritual exercises."

He notes books from Paul Rabbow and Jean-Pierre Vernant who spoke of spiritual exercises as based on ideas from Saint Ignatius and Empedocles.

He defines spiritual exercises "as voluntary, personal practices intended to bring about a transformation of the individual, a transformation of the self" (p. 87).

These exercises prepare the individual "for the difficulties of life ... to be able to bear the blows of fate, sickness, poverty, and exile" (p. 87).  And ultimately, "to do philosophy is to train to die" as he cites the Phaedo. (p. 88).

Furthermore, these theories and practices are developed into "instructional discourse" and "inner discourse that orients our actions" (p. 88).

Repeating maxims, engaging in dialogue and question and answer, leads one to learn "how to reason" and "allow the object of investigation to become, as Aristotle would say, perfectly familiar and connatural, that is, ultimately to interiorize knowledge perfectly" (p. 89).

The listener of maxims and dialogues must "make an inner effort at the same time" or else the theoretical learning goes to waste.

"The Greek philosophers did not aim, above all, to provide a systematic theory of reality, but to teach their disciples a method with which to orient themselves in both thought and in life" (p. 90).

"In fact, this effort at systematization was meant to allow the disciple to have at hand the fundamental dogmas that guide action, and to acquire the unshakable certainty given by the impression of logical rigor and coherence" (p. 90).

"The intent is often to make the disciples practice a spiritual exercise - mnemotechnic, as it were - intended to provide a better assimilation of the dogmas that determine a mode of life, and to enable them to possess these dogmas within themselves with certainty" (p. 90).

He cites Plato who said, "These dialogues aim not to inform but to form."  More precisely "for the mind, to teach it to recognize problems and methods of reasoning" (p. 91).

"For the Greeks, what counts is the education of the body and the mind" (p. 91).

"Philosophy was the effective, concrete, lived exercise: the practice of logic, of ethics, and of physics.  Real logic is not the pure theory of logic, but lived logic, the act of thinking in a correct way, of exercising one's thinking in a correct way in every day life.  There is thus a lived logic, which the Stoics would say consists in criticizing representations, that is, the images that came from the outside world - to avoid rushing to say that a given thing that happens is evil or good, but to reflect, to criticize the representation" (p. 94).

The same is said of ethics - "ethics lived in life with other people" and the same is said of physics - "a certain attitude toward the cosmos ... seeing things as they are - not from an anthropomorphic and egotistic point of view, but from the perspective of the cosmos and of nature" (p. 94).

Shortly later he says lived physics "consists in becoming aware of the fact that we are a part of the whole, and must accept the necessary unfolding of this Whole with which we identify, because we are one of its parts."  And the related exercise of "contemplating the universe, in its splendor, recognizing the beauty of the most humble things" (p. 95).

While we may glide through life, unaware of all that surrounds us, to practice "real philosophy is to learn to see the world again" and thus this exercise becomes a "transformation of perception."  We can begin to look anew and "perceive things as strange" and free ourselves "from habit and banality."  We thus "transcend our biased and partial point of view, to bring us to see things and our personal existence in a cosmic and universal perspective, to resituate [ourselves] within the immense event of the universe" and view "the unfathomable mystery of existence" - this is "cosmic consciousness" (p. 96-97).

No comments:

Post a Comment