Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pascal On Philosophers and Human Affairs

In Pensees, Blaise Pascal makes a rather irreverent observation about the attitude of the ancient Greek philosophers towards human affairs:
We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they wanted to divert themselves, they wrote the Laws or the Politics, to amuse themselves. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious. The most philosophic [thing] was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics, it was as if laying down rules for a lunatic asylum; if they presented the appearance of speaking of great matters, it was because they knew that the madmen, to whom they spoke, thought they were kings and emperors. They entered into their principles in order to make their madness as little harmful as possible. ~ Blaise Pascal in Pensees; (Number 331)
Pascal has a point—the ancient Greek philosophers have an unfavorable opinion of politics (human affairs), but for a good reason. In the Republic, Plato wants philosophers to become kings because he does not want them to be ruled by their intellectual and moral inferiors. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle preaches that an active life can lead to happiness, but the active life that he has in mind includes a life full of mental activity, which by its nature is independent of other human beings.

(Based on an account given in Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Edited by: Ronald Beiner)

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