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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pierre Hadot

I started reading Pierre Hadot's "Philosophy as a Way of Life". A friend recently passed along an essay and it seems like he's exploring exactly the areas I'm interested in. It turns out he also seems interested in many of the same thinkers. A quote from this NY Times article:
... philosophy lost its connection to lived experience and became entirely an abstract, interpretive enterprise. Our modern universities, Hadot says, are the heirs of this tradition. He writes: ''The idea of a philosophy reduced to its conceptual content has survived to our own time. We encounter it every day in our university courses and in textbooks at every level; one could say that it is the classical, scholastic, university conception of philosophy.'' Continuing in this vein: ''The goal is no longer, as it was in antiquity, to train people for careers as human beings, but to train them for careers as clerks or professors -- that is to say, as specialists, theoreticians and retainers of specific items of more or less esoteric knowledge.''

Hadot does point to a countertradition, mainly but not wholly outside the university, that continues to uphold the ancient ideal, and it is clear that the names he names constitute his own syllabus for modern philosophy. Among those names are Erasmus, Montaigne (''My trade and my art is living''), the Descartes of the ''Meditations,'' Kant (''The idea of wisdom must be the foundation of philosophy''), Emerson, Marx, Nietzsche, William James, Wittgenstein, Jaspers. Rising to his full polemical height, Hadot speaks at the end about ''an urgent need to rediscover the ancient notion of the 'philosopher,' ''
One more Hadot quote, this one from the introduction to the book.
The study of ancient philosophy has taught Hadot that 'human reality is so complex that one can only live it by using simultaneously or successively the most different methods: tension and relaxation, engagement and detachment, enthusiasm and reserve, certainty and criticism, passion and indifference.' Lessons in how to live human reality, with all that that implies -- those are the enduring lessons of ancient philosophy.
This countertradition is what I relate to most. It's nice to rediscover the ancient notion of the philosopher but also to clarify who exactly we might describe as "philosopher" today (whether they call themselves such or no).

An aside -- Mention of Rilke towards the end of the nytimes article lead me to this Ursula K. Leguin quote (from this page with Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo"):
When the genuine myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life.

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