For much of its history, philosophy was not merely a theoretical discipline but a way of life, an "art of living." This practical aspect of philosophy has been much less dominant in modernity than it was in ancient Greece and Rome, when philosophers of all stripes kept returning to Socrates as a model for living. The idea of philosophy as an art of living has survived in the works of such major modern authors as Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault. Each of these writers has used philosophical discussion as a means of establishing what a person is and how a worthwhile life is to be lived. In this wide-ranging, brilliantly written account, Alexander Nehamas provides an incisive reevaluation of Socrates' place in the Western philosophical tradition and shows the importance of Socrates for Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault. Why does each of these philosophers--each fundamentally concerned with his own originality--return to Socrates as a model? The answer lies in the irony that characterizes the Socrates we know from the Platonic dialogues. Socratic irony creates a mask that prevents a view of what lies behind.
How Socrates led the life he did, what enabled or inspired him, is never made evident. No tenets are proposed. Socrates remains a silent and ambiguous character, forcing readers to come to their own conclusions about the art of life. This, Nehamas shows, is what allowed Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault to return to Socrates as a model without thereby compelling them to imitate him. This highly readable, erudite study argues for the importance of the tradition within Western philosophy that is best described as "the art of living" and casts Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault as the three major modern representatives of this tradition. Full of original ideas and challenging associations, this work will offer new ways of thinking about the philosophers Nehamas discusses and about the discipline of philosophy itself.
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(229mm x 152mm x 19mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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UK Kirkus Review »
Nehamas's new book focuses on a neglected aspect of Socrates' legacy: the idea of a philosophical life. For today's philosophers, life and work are often barely related whereas for Socrates they were indistinguishable. Nehamas demonstrates how the philosopher's originality and example have inspired such thinkers as Plato, Montaigne, Nietzsche and Foucault to find unique and interesting modes of living - in their cases principally through their writing. The art of living cannot be one which repeats the styles of life created by others: it is an art of self-fashioning, shaping one's own character - in Nietzsche's words, 'becoming what one is'. Nehamas's book bristles with footnotes yet he has a light touch. Readers may find Bernard Williams' short introduction to Plato (Phoenix: The Great Philosophers) useful as a prelude to Nehamas's more complex interpretations. Review by NIGEL WARBURTON (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Alexander Nehamas
Alexander Nehamas is Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He is the coeditor, with David J. Furley, of Aristotle's Rhetoric: Philosophical Essays (1994) and the author, with Paul Woodruff, of a translation and commentary on Plato's Phaedrus (1995) and Symposium (1989). He is also the author of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (1985) and of Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Socrates (1998).