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The Present Alone is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson (Cultural Memory in the Present) [Paperback]

Pierre Hadot , Jeannie Carlier , Arnold I. Davidson , Marc Djaballah
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Book Description

15 Feb 2009 Cultural Memory in the Present
In this book of brilliantly erudite and precise discussions, Pierre Hadot explains that for the Ancients philosophy was not reducible to the building of a theoretical system: it was above all a choice about how to live one's life.One of the most influential historians of ancient philosophy in the world today, Hadot is adept at using ancient philosophers to illuminate the relevance of their ideas to contemporary life. In this book, which is an ideal introduction to Hadot's more scholarly What is Ancient Philosophy?, we learn that to be an Epicurean is not merely to think like one; it is to adopt a way of living where limiting desires is the condition for happiness.Being an Aristotelian, similarly, is to choose a life that involves contemplation, and being a Cynic is to follow Diogenes in his refusal of quotidian convention and the mentality of ordinary people. If so many Ancient philosophers founded schools, Hadot explains, it was precisely because they were proposing how to live life on a daily basis. We learn here that the history of philosophy has been something more than just that of a discourse. The founding texts of Greek philosophy, after all, were notes taken from oral exercises undertaken in concrete circumstances and contexts, most often a dialogue between students and specific interlocutors who meant to shed light on their students' real existence. The immense contribution of this book, which also traces Hadot's own personal itinerary in a touching manner, is to remind us, through direct language and numerous examples, what the theoretical aspect of philosophy often masks: its vital and existential dimensions.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (15 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804748365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804748360
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"If your own experience of 'Philosophy 101' way back when was just shy of miserable, disconnected from the daily or generally incoherent--gridlocked, for instance, in self-serving terms--here, in "The Present Alone Is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Cartier and Arnold I. Davidson", a good-souled man--Hadot himself--winks. He seems to say, 'Here's what happened, and here's why philosophy really is for you.' And if you are a teacher or a pedagogue, it's for you all the more."--"Teachers College Record"

About the Author

Pierre Hadot is Professor Emeritus of the History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the College de France. Among his books to have already appeared in English are: Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (1995), Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision (1998) and What Is Ancient Philosophy? (2002). Jeannie Carlier does research at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, and Arnold I. Davidson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pierre Hadot fills in the background 27 Feb 2009
Pierre Hadot is the influential scholar who discovered that many ancient classics of philosophy were not, as they seemed, badly written systematic treatises, full of non sequiturs. They were a different type of literature: notes for 'spiritual exercises', designed for the practical task of making their author a better and more effective person. This finding is spelled out in 'Philosophy as a Way of Life' and in 'The Inner Citadel' his masterly study of Marcus Aurelius. Hadot is also illuminating on what happened when Greek Philosophy and Christianity met and how each deeply changed the other.
The present book is a fascinating autobiography through interview. It tells of his 'fanatical' Roman Catholic mother who wanted all her sons to be priests. She got her way in Pierre's case. His intellectual and spiritual development however showed a good deal of his father's 'detachment from the Church'. He was closer to Romain Rolland's 'oceanic sentiment' than to the ethos of pre-Vatican II Catholic devotion. The Church's condemnation of Teilhard de Chardin, the Pope's proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption alienated him - and falling in love led to a final break in 1952: 'I felt I did not have the right, as so many of my colleagues did, to live a double life'. Hadot's main grievance against the Church is its 'supernaturalism' - 'Pray and God wlll set you right!' This is disastrous.
Hadot continued a career in philosophical research - he was an early champion of Wittgenstein.
His work on philosophy as spiritual exercise has aroused much interest. Taking an imaginative 'view from above' helps people get life in perspective. Knowing 'the importance of the instant' saves us both from actually living in the past or, in pointless worrying, in the future. And so on...
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is it to do philosophy? 11 July 2009
By greg taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have just recently come across the work of Pierre Hadot and I must say it has been a treat for my soul. I am not expert across the breadth of contemporary writings in philosophy in English but I know of no one like Hadot in our language. He is an academic who is astonishedly learned yet he argues forcefully for a need to engage in philosophical practice. Hadot argues that philosophy is something that we do, that we live as a result of an existential choice that we make.
Before I explain that a little, let me explain the format of this book. It contains a series of ten interviews with Hadot conducted by Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson. They are friends of Hadot's and fine scholars in their own right. The first two interviews are by Carlier and serve as an intellectual biography. The book takes off in the third interview where Davidson starts to question Hadot about his ideas on discourse in philosophy. The remaining interviews are all focused on particular ideas that Hadot has about the philosophical tradition.

So what is so impressive about all this? The previous reviewer mentioned that Hadot started off fascinated with Plotinus and has increasingly come to revere Marcus Aurelius (MA). That is true as far as it goes. Really, Hadot started off working on the writings of Marius Victorinus who is a relatively unknown philosopher from the early Christian/late antiquity period. The extant writings of Victorinus contain textual issues that lead Hadot to Porphyry and Plotinus and indeed to the whole of ancient philosophy. The previous reviewer wants to emphasize Hadot's interest in the Stoics. I think that is his major influence but he know his Platonists, his sceptics, his peripatetics, his Epicureans as well as Epictetus, Seneca and MA.
But Hadot's learning is far greater than just that. Remember these are interviews. He weaves into his conversations quotes from all the schools of antiquity, from Augustine, Petrarch, Montaigne, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heideggar and Merleau-Ponty with ease. And Hadot is a door to whole worlds of learning in the French/German academic tradition of which we are ignorant in English. Will someone please translate for me Ruedi Imbach's work on Dante? Groethuysen on Philosophical Anthropolgy? Georges Friedmann, Raymond Ruyer? I have no idea if those guys have anything to teach us but Hadot makes them all sound fascinating and insightful.

So what does Hadot want us to do? Hadot wants us to realize that at one time philosophy was a practice, a way of life. We choose to become Stoics and then we tried to live as a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius' Meditations are the personal writings of a man reminding himself of his beliefs so that he is more likely to actually live those beliefs at all times.
Which leads me to one of the ways that I differ from the previous reviewer. I read Hadot as wanting us to read the ancients to learn of the different possibilities, of the different types of life that philosophy has to offer. Hadot might lean toward Stoicism but I might prefer the practice of the sceptics or of the school of Aristotle or (doG forbid)the life of a cynic. We might even do the thing that Cicero did and pick and choose from all the schools. For Hadot, however, the thing is that we actually try to live our choice.
Hadot suggests that the different schools of philosophy may turn out to be fundamental human choices that are expressed in all cultures and all times with variations.
And he sees certain experiences as part of all the philosophical paths. Hadot feels that all of the schools tried to free us from the ties of our individual selves and to raise us to a "view from above"- to give us insight into an objective world view that is not based on our personal limits. At the same time, philosophy demands of us a constant concern for our neighbor and our city. And a sinking into the present where we come to be focused solely on what we are doing now.
I will leave for you to read this volume and find out how he ties all these themes together. If you are not inclined toward interviews, go to What is Ancient Philosophy? for a more traditional presentation by Hadot.
But here is the main thought I want to leave with you. To read Hadot, for me, is to be inspired to try to do the exercises that he talks about. I now find that when I dip into the Meditations, or Cicero or Plato that I read what they are doing differently. I find myself wondering now how to apply what I am reading, how it could impact my life. Somewhere in the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius suggests this amazing goal- to act with justice and compassion toward everyone who is here with me right now. To read Hadot is to realize that MA was asking himself to live that way at all times- that was his ideal. To read Hadot is to realize that you could try to make that your ideal as well. Pretty darn inspiring and challenging, no?
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Present Alone Is Our Happiness 14 Jun 2009
By Carl Barrentine - Published on Amazon.com
A highly recommended book especially for those who are disinterested in learning more about the construction of philosophical systems (in a strictly academic sense) but who are existentially ready to begin thinking seriously about the merits of the Stoic philosophy as a way of life. Pierre Hadot, professor emeritus at the College de France, reflects on a lifetime's worth of thinking and scholarship, which began with a passion for Plotinus and culminated with an abiding reverence for Marcus Aurelius. This book is a wonderful introduction to the writings of Pierre Hadot as well as a genuinely provocative exploration of Goethe's sage advice (from 'Faust II'), "The present alone is our happiness."

The Present Alone is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson (Cultural Memory in the Present)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great man and a great writer 26 Jan 2011
By Ryan C. Holiday - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Pierre Hadot is maybe one of the smartest people I've ever read. This is my third book of his. I wouldn't start with it though. So if you haven't read Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault or The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, ignore everything else and get them both. Hadot's point has always been this: the concept of philosophy as an overarching system that explains our words is a fundamental misinterpretation of what ancient philosophers did and set out to do. Yet it's through this lens that we attempt to decipher Aristotle or Plato and the like. It's how we can say foolish things like, "Epicureanism is full of contradictions." The reality is that almost all of philosophy was articulated through dialog or correspondence, through human beings interacting with each other to address the basic problems of everyday life. Of course they contradicted themselves, as situations often call for. Instead of trying to explain and systemize the world, philosophy has been about the practical pursuit of the good life (being free from fear, anxiety, unnecessary pain, being happy, excelling). Philosophy as a Way of Life is essentially a book about the wisdom these men cumulatively acquired and how we can use the same exercises in our struggles. The Inner Citadel is mostly about Marcus Aurelius and the stoic concept of the self as a fortress. This book is a series of interviews with Hadot. A better way to describe it would be watching a master at work. See if you can't sprint to keep up with him by reading it--doing it for just a few pages is worth the whole thing.
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy for the privileged and the intellectual 6 Mar 2010
By Dr. Toad - Published on Amazon.com
If you don't mind that for Pierre Hadot true philosophers are either ancient Greeks or modern Frenchmen, with a few old Romans and 19-century Germans thrown in for taste, then this book of ten interviews will be a feast for your brain. Either as preparation for his books "What is Ancient Philosophy?" and "Philosophy as a Way of Life" (this one with a dazzling foreword by Arnold Davidson), or read for itself as a showcase of erudition and creative interpretation of classical Greek and Stoic philosophy - you will see Socrates and other kindred spirits in the Greco-Roman world with new eyes and a better understanding of what they intended, as well as what modern academic philosophy offers instead.

Rather than treating ancient philosophical texts as if they were (incomplete) systems that could have been written by contemporary (analytical) philosophers, Hadot makes a convincing argument for the oral tradition and demonstrating it through the dominant practice of dialogs and exercises, for instance between Socrates and his disciples. While this in itself isn't new, Hadot strengthens his case by claiming that this practice was not just a scholarly whim or brought about by the lack of books, but that it led to a way of not only doing philosophy but of leading a happy life: philosophy not as a bookish system, but as a way of life, and spiritual exercises as group-therapy.

In the last interview, Hadot quotes Goethe's line from Faust II: "Die Gegenwart allein ist unser Glück" - which is the title of this collection: "The Present Alone is Our Happiness." Hadot finds examples for this motto in many of the thinkers he quotes, where the attitude of carpe diem is not just the joy of the moment, but even more the wonderment in the face that the world exists, and we in it (Wittgenstein in his Tractatus).

And yet. When you sit back and consider the lives of Socrates and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, when you take into account other, tougher, anti-humanistic writings by Plato, and when you think about the lifestyle of a Marc Aurel and the privileged few, who, like academics with tenure, have the leisure, pension plan, and time (plus brains, admittedly) to potentially "live" philosophy, you begin to wonder if their example of "a considered life" will resonate with yours, let alone be exemplary.

There's also this almost childlike focus on the moment, the joy of the present alone: Is that really all there is to happiness? What about happy memories? What about the happy thought that tomorrow is another day to do something good and exciting?

You may, instead, agree with the Tagesspruch (maxim for the day) that the owner of a hotel on the Baltic coast wrote some months ago on the breakfast menu for his guests: "Die wesentlichen Dinge, um in diesem Leben Glück zu erlangen, sind: Etwas zu vollbringen, jemanden zu lieben, und auf etwas zu hoffen." Approximately: "The essential things that make you happy in life are: to accomplish something, to love someone, and to hope for something." That's not Goethe; but it's a happy thought.
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