Reading Hadot on Socrates, Deleuze on Spinoza

from Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? (1995, trans. 2002):

Socrates’ fellow citizens could not help perceiving his invitation to question all their values and their entire way of acting, and to take care for themselves, as a radical break with daily life, with the habits and conventions of everyday life, and with the world which they were familiar. What is more, this invitation to take care for themselves seemed like a call to detach themselves from the city, coming from man a who was himself somehow outside the world, who was atopos, disturbing, unclassifiable, and unsettling. Might not Socrates be the prototype for that image of the philosopher—so widespread, yet so false—who flees the difficulties of life in order to take refuge within his good conscience?

On the other hand, the portrait of Socrates as sketched by Alcibiades in Plato’s Symposium —and also by Xenophon—reveals a man who participated fully in the life of the city around him. This Socrates was almost an ordinary or everyday man: he had a wife and children, and he talked with everybody—in the streets, in the shops, in the gymnasiums. He was also a bon vivant who could drink more than anyone else without getting drunk, and a brave, tough soldier.

Care for the [. . .] self is thus, indissolubly, care for the city and care for others. We can see this from the example of Socrates himself, whose entire reason for living was to concern himself with others. [. . .] Thus, Socrates is simultaneously in the world and outside it. He transcends both people and things by his moral demands and the engagement they require; yet he is involved with people and with things because the only true philosophy lies in the everyday. Throughout antiquity, Socrates was the model of the ideal philosopher, whose philosophical work is none other than his life and his death. (36-38)

from Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1970, trans. 1988)

Here the full meaning of the philosopher’s solitude becomes apparent. For he cannot integrate into any milieu; he is not suited to any of them. Doubtless it is in democratic and liberal milieus that he finds the best living conditions, or rather the best conditions for survival. But for him these milieus only guarantee that the malicious will not be able to poison or mutilate life, that they will not be able to separate it from the power of thinking that goes a little beyond the ends of the state, of a society, beyond any milieu in general. In every society, Spinoza will show, it is a matter of obeying and of nothing else. This is why the notions of fault, of merit and demerit, of good and evil, are exclusively social, having to do with obedience and disobedience. The best society, then, will be one that exempts the power of thinking from the obligation to obey, and takes care, in its own interest, not to subject thought to the rule of the state, which only applies to actions. As long as thought is free, hence vital, nothing is compromised. When it ceases being so, all the other oppressions are also possible, and already realized, so that any action becomes culpable, every life threatened. It is certain that the philosopher finds the most favorable conditions in the democratic state and in liberal circles. But he never confuses his purposes with those of a state, or with the aims of a milieu, since he solicits forces in thought that elude obedience as well as blame, and fashions the image of a life beyond good and evil, a rigorous innocence without merit or culpability. The philosopher can reside in various states, he can frequent various milieus, but he does so in the manner of a hermit, a shadow, a traveler or boarding house lodger. That is why one should not imagine Spinoza breaking with a supposedly closed Jewish milieu in order to enter supposedly open liberal ones: liberal Christianity, Cartesianism, a bourgeoisie favorable to the De Witt brothers, and so on. For, wherever he goes he only asks, demands, with a greater or smaller chance of success, to be tolerated, himself and his uncommon aims, and from this tolerance he judges concerning the degree of democracy, the degree of truth, which a society can bear, or on the contrary, concerning the danger that threaten all men. (3-4)

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