A note on Kierkegaard and Plotinus through Hadot

Pierre Hadot is worth a read on Ancient Philosophy. His meta-thesis is that for the ancients (Greece and Rome) philosophy was the combination of a choice of life and a discourse. This makes ancient philosophy different from contemporary philosophy which has let go of form of life requirements and continued merely as discourse. He examines major figures and schools (Academics, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics, Cynics (though the last gets short attention. They axed the discourse component!)).

In his chapter on Plotinus and Porphyry he writes: “Theology, which can only be discursive, provides us with teaching and instruction about the good and the One, but what leads us to the One is virtue, purification of the soul, and the effort to live the life of the spirit. Teaching is like an inner signpost which tells us in which direction we must go; but in order to reach the One, we must begin actually to walk–on a road which we travel alone, toward the Alone.”

That last sentence brings Kierkegaard to mind. One of the fundamental characterizations of the life of faith, in Kierkegaard, is that it must be made alone. This is the path he sees the sage Jesus take misunderstood as he was by even those nearest to him and only compounded in the misunderstanding of the crowd and of the leaders (Pharisees).

That Kierkegaard and Plotinus could find themselves with the same analysis is an indication of the significance of the analysis. It is akin to the replicability of experiments in natural science. Two thinkers, far apart in culture and prepared so differently by the education and philosophical concern of the day, both think that the walk toward unity with the divine is not expressible in rational discourse, and so must be made alone.

Kierkegaard adds the repulsion of of the natural power of intellect (rational capacity). This follows almost of necessity, but how often is what is follows necessarily surprising? As often as “hindsight is 20/20”.

What the young need to know is that unity with deep reality is everything, that virtue is the key, that the pursuit of virtue is terrifyingly difficult. This is the foundation of the good life. They will balk. They will reject. And the older the young are the more adept at employing the pseudo-rational capacity to produce excess of expression that will give appearance to justification of other concerns mattering more than virtue.

The man of faith will not take the bait. He will keep walking. No distraction.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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