It’s Spring Break (aka reading week), and I’ve already taken on some reading projects. I’m currently working through Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and considering the validity of the Dawkin’s meme concept, especially in relation to ethics and “sociobiology.”
David Widdicombe, over at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, has an interesting critique of Darwinists who reject the concept of form. He notes the absence of metaphysical discourse in the biologists camp, especially in relation to perceptions of unity (a precondition for scientific study) and desire of the Good.
To balance the often depressing conclusions of the sociobiologists, I’ve taken up Pierre Hadot’s What is Ancient Philosophy?, where he argues that Socrates’ goal of actually living the good life was philosophy. As a way of life, it requires the spiritual exercise of dialectic, or logical discussion, and is characterized above all by love for the Good, and love for friends who live in community. (Some of my postmodern type friends may not know that Hadot’s reading of Plato inspired Michel Foucault to write about spiritual exercises.)
Here are a couple quotes that demonstrate the continuity of this understanding of philosophy as primarily an ethical activity, or a way of life:
It is more important to want to do good than to know the truth
– Petrarch (1304-1374), On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others
Plato and Aristotle can only be imagined dressed in the long robes of pedants. They were honest men, and, like the others, they laughed with their friends; and when they amused themselves by writing their Laws and their Politics, they did it as an amusement. This was the least philosophical and serious part of their lives; the most philosophical part was living simply and quietly.
– Pascal (1623-1662), Pensees 331
Most people imagine that philosophy consists in delivering discourses from the heights of a chair, and in giving classes based on texts. But what these people utterly miss is the uninterrupted philosophy which we see being practiced every day in a way which is perfectly equal to itself…. Socrates did not set up grandstands for his audience and did not sit upon a professorial chair; he had no fixed timetable for talking or walking with his friends. Rather, he did philosophy sometimes by joking with them, or by drinking or going to war or to the market with them, and finally by going to prison and drinking poison. He was the first to show that at all times and in every place, in everything that happens to us, daily life gives us the opportunity to do philosophy.
– Plutarch (46-120 AD), Whether A Man Should Engage In Politics When He is Old 26