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Taiga?s True Views: The Language of Landscape Painting in Eighteenth-Century Japan by Melinda Takeuchi (1994-06-01)
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Qu'est ce que la philosophie antique? - Pierre Hadot As an undergraduate I was torn between philosophy, anthropology, mathematics and physics (I already knew that I couldn't make a career out of my interests in literature and history). But academic philosophy in the USA was then (and it appears to be unchanged in this respect today) "analytic", i.e. consisted primarily of formal and abstract analysis of rather technical questions, supplemented by taking (what appeared to me to be important) questions from metaphysics et alia and submitting them to reductio ad absurdum or demonstrating that the very question was nonsensical. There was little, if any, discussion of the questions which are of interest to basically all human beings, but particularly to the young: how should I live? What is the Good Life? I was not afraid of abstraction (indeed, I ended up in physics and mathematics), but I found the pooh-poohing of matters which seemed important to me sufficiently antipathetic that I soon dismissed the possibility of becoming a professional philosopher. Philosophy was not always that way, on the contrary. In Qu'est ce que la philosophie antique? Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) returns to the sources of Western philosophy to recall what it once meant to be a philosopher. In the process of doing so, he provides a necessarily incomplete, but very interesting overview of Greek and Roman philosophy from BCE VIth Century till CE IIIrd Century, and he does so in a very accessible manner. Hadot very deliberately reaches out to the general, well educated reader; indeed, he is so concerned with nontechnical clarity that he uses too much repetition and reformulation for my tastes. But as a long-time pedagogue myself, I can live with it.Hadot begins by examining briefly the development of philosophy before the word "philosophia" entered the language. And for the purpose of contrast, he describes the Vth Century schools of the sophists, where the ambitious were trained in the tools necessary to "succeed" in public life. (Sound familiar?) Though the sophists continued on their merry way for centuries(*), Socrates' life and death caused a completely new type of philosophy to appear. "Philosopher, ce n'est plus, comme le veulent les sophistes, acquérir un savoir, ou un savoir-faire, une sophia , mais c'est se mettre en question soi-même, parce que l'on éprouvera le sentiment de ne pas être ce que l'on devrait être."(To philosophize is no longer, as the sophists would have it, to acquire knowledge or a savoir-faire , a sophia ; rather it is to place oneself in question, because one feels that one is not the person one ought to be.)"To become a philosopher" suddenly meant "to choose a way of life/mode of discourse/approach to pedagogy/mode of being." Hadot explains why all of these are inextricably tied together for Socrates' spiritual progeny. I'll just use "way of life" to denote the whole kit and kaboodle. Hence, both Plato and Aristotle wrote no systematic philosophical treatises, for they were less interested in communicating knowledge than changing the "way of life" of their students so that they could, if only incompletely, partake of the divine , in order to live the only life "worth living". Plato wrote dialogues in order to illustrate the use of dialectic, a primary pedagogical tool in his school, while Aristotle's books are effectively preliminary lecture notes for the dialectical courses he moderated. Much, much later their descendants tried to cobble their writings together into philosophical systems, as Hadot describes. Hadot also argues that though the Stoic and Epicurean schools did have dogmas which their students had to memorize, Stoicism and Epicureanism, too, were primarily "ways of life"; they, however, shared Socrates' missionary and popular spirit, as opposed to the Platonists and Aristotleans, who were distinctly elitist. The cynics, arising arguably with Socrates' disciple Antisthenes, most certainly with the latter's disciple Diogenes(**), adopted a very radical "way of life" in which philosophical discourse was minimized and liberty and independence were maximized. Knowledge was replaced by (totally) critical inquiry (in this they were, in fact, Socrates' disciples). Needless to say, they did not produce treatises, though some did write poetry. Hadot goes on to discuss other, more obscure, but still interesting philosophers from that time. Common to all was the realization that philosophy was not a body of knowledge but a "way of life". After describing the essential characteristics of these schools of the Hellenistic Era (approximately from the death of Socrates to the battle of Actium), Hadot turns to the philosophic schools of the time of the Roman Empire and constates some significant changes. Of course, for the most part these changes did not occur suddenly, and Hadot sketches the historical development of some of them. A few of the changes: in every large city in the Roman Empire there were schools claiming to teach one of the four great traditions - that of Plato, of Aristotle, of Zenon (stoicism) and of Epicurus - though they no longer had the direct chain of connection with the founders; these schools were financed by rich patrons and the cities themselves (Marcus Aurelius even sponsored four chairs of philosophy in Athens, one for each school); because of the physical dispersal of the schools, there was no longer a passing along of techniques/ideas/etc. from master adept to junior adept - what one had now to teach from was those founders' writings which were available - and because these were not designed for this purpose, it became necessary to interpret, comment and supplement these texts. In other words, a good part of the life was drained out of the philosophies, and the ominous shadow of academic philosophy began to appear. But whatever else one may think about the Romans, they were extremely practical people with a strong aversion to abstractions; and philosophers such as Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, etc. kept breathing life back into the matter, kept returning the attention to the core questions of philosophy: How do I live? What is the Good Life? Since this review is approaching the length of Hadot's book, I'll have to become even more telegraphic:::In the imperial era Epicureanism, Stoicism and the others gradually disappeared in favor of the curious synthesis of what was then represented as the thought of Plato and Aristotle called Neoplatonism. In addition, there was the eruption into the Greco-Roman world from the very alien world view of the Jewish people called Christianity. Hadot touches upon this collision in a chapter entitled "Christianity as Revealed Philosophy" with his attention fixed primarily on the interaction of ideas/techniques/dogmas, and not on the political/military/oppressive aspects. In particular, Hadot makes the point that Christianity absorbed much of Stoicism and Neoplatonism. However, philosophy soon became the servant of theology. Beginning in the XIIIth Century with the birth of universities and the relatively wide distribution of translations of Aristotle's works, philosophy began the slow, painful steps towards independence from theology. Even at 460 pages, this book is very incomplete, as Hadot knows very well. He ends with a chapter entitled "Questions and Perspectives" in which he states and briefly discusses some of the many questions left open. For not only has he (1) tried to provide an overview of 8 centuries of Greco-Roman philosophy, but he has also (2) briefly treated the complicated interaction between Christianity and Greco-Roman philosophy and (3) emphasized the difference between the philosophy in Socrates' tradition and modern philosophy (and has only been able to suggest how that difference came about). I am currently reading Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus by John M. Cooper, which explicitly undertakes to supplement and correct some aspects of Hadot's book. I'll report on that later. However, writers of overly ambitious but quite thought provoking books are, in my view of things, to be warmly commended. I expect that Qu'est ce que la philosophie antique? will generate quite a few books in response, which I shall also look forward to reading.(*) Indeed, we can view our universities as their descendants.(**) Some scholars have argued that Diogenes never met Antisthenes, that the claim that Diogenes was a student of Antisthenes was a later fabrication of the cynics in order to provide an unbroken chain to Socrates. It doesn't really matter, since the conceptual link to Socrates is obvious.