Too cool for school?
A review of a new book on Hume makes an important point, but slightly misleads.
Hume wanted to restore to the philosophy of his own day something of the equable temper of ancient philosophy. Of course, this wish was in part encoded disparagement of the dogmatic, intemperate spirit with which Christianity had infected the realm of thought ever since the momentous church councils of the fourth century.
What it did not mean was that Hume wanted to reintroduce the ancient idea of philosophy as intellectual medicine. Concerning the ends of philosophy Hume was unswervingly modern. For him philosophy was a mode of investigation and a style of thought. It could never be a therapy.
Actually, as we noted in Happiness yesterday, Hume distinguishes “abstruse” scholarship from the sort of popular philosophy he himself perpetrated in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, and does indicate and endorse the practical therapeutics the latter at its best can deliver. That’s a crucial qualification, of course, “at its best”-bad pop philosophy is just BAD, but philosophy that frees itself from the academic cloister and speaks directly to the specific natures, needs, and yearnings of real men and women can indeed be an antidote to the worst maladies of melancholy-especially those of the self-induced variety.
We were considering some of those in our reports yesterday, when debating the value of “mind-wandering” versus “presence,” the “trapped” feeling some of us associate with our insatiable and never-fulfilled consumer culture, and the sad sense of happiness postponed by the hoops and rigors of formal education. My plea to young people, borrowed from Le Bon David: don’t wait another moment, enjoy your education and your life now. It won’t make you uncool. And, so what if it does?
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