Saturday, September 11, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - Is Philosophy a Luxury? by Pierre Hadot

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

"In general, nonphilosophers consider philosophy to be an abstruse language, an abstract discourse, which a small group of specialists, the only ones able to understand it, develops endlessly on the subject of questions that are incomprehensible and bereft of interest.  It is an occupation reserved for a few privileged people who, thanks to money or to a fortunate concourse of circumstances, have the luxury to engage in it: in other words, a luxury" (p. 186).

He notes that, like art or poetry, philosophy is not a useless luxury.  Rather, it frees us "from utilitarian urgency."  "And it is true that leisure is necessary for this, as leisure is necessary for painting and for composing music and poetry" (p. 187).

"It is precisely the role of philosophy to reveal to men the usefulness or the useless, or, if you will, to teach them to distinguish between two meanings of the word useless.  There is what is useful for a given particular goal: heating, or electricity, or transportation, and there is what is useful to human beings qua human beings, qua thinking beings.  The discourse of philosophy is 'useful' in the latter sense, but it is a luxury if one considers as useful only what serves for particular and material ends" (p. 187).

"What is ultimately the most useful for human beings qua human beings?  Is it discourse on language, or on being and non-being?  Isn't it, rather, to learn how to live a human life?" (p. 188).

"The philosopher was not especially a professor or a writer, but a person who has made a certain choice of life, who has adopted a style of life ... the choice of life was expressed in dogmas" (p. 188).

"Proposing to people the art of living as a human being, they addressed all human beings: slaves, women, and foreigners.  They were missionary and sought to convert the masses" (p. 189).

"But worries, necessities, and the banalities of daily life prevent us from acceding to this conscious life of all its possibilities.  How can one harmoniously unite daily life with philosophical consciousness?  It can only be a fragile conquest, always threatened.  'All that is beautiful,' said Spinoza at the end of Ethics, 'is as difficult as it is rare.'"  And how could the billions of human beings crushed by poverty and suffering achieve this consciousness?  Might not being a philosopher also mean to suffer from this isolation, this privilege, always bearing in mind this drama of the human condition?" (p. 190).

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