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The Art of Living

Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault

Alexander Nehamas (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 294 pages
ISBN: 9780520224902
March 2000
$31.95, £27.00
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.

1.Platonic Irony: Author and Audience
2.Socratic Irony: Character and Interlocutors
3.Socratic Irony: Character and Author

4.A Face for Socrates' Reason: Montaigne's "Of physiognomy"
5.A Reason for Socrates' Face: Nietzsche on "The problem of Socrates"
6.A Fate for Socrates' Reason: Foucault on the Care of the Self

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).
"This is an amazingly broad-ranging book, full of original ideas and associations that make it both a pleasure and a challenge to read. . . . I found that many of Nehamas's ideas and arguments resonated in my mind for weeks after reading this book."—Shadi Bartsch, author of Ideology in Cold Blood

"Combining, as he does, philosophy, literature, and classical studies, Nehamas has written an exceptionally fine book—creative, original, readable, stimulating, and extremely useful."—A.A. Long, University of California, Berkeley

"The Art of Living is elegantly and engagingly written: it is both scholarly and personal, lively and yet balanced. This is a brilliant and outstanding work."—Mark Griffith, coeditor of Cabinet of the Muses

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