Martin Hagglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, published in 2019, has already become a minor academic excitement- being reviewed in the New Yorker and Guardian as well as being the issue of a day-long conference at Harvard. I recently had a chance to read the book. There is a lot that I disagree with in it, but I check what all the fuss is about. I consider the book is worthy of various poles, and will be evaluated by it in detail in the coming weeks.
I will begin with what I relish about the book. Above all, I appreciate that Hagglund is a philosopher in the true sense: he is a genuine buff of gumption, and a seeker of it. Hagglund is asking questions that Socrates and Plato and Aristotle questioned, about what a good human life is. I am not sure how much wisdom he has actually spotcheck, but just seeking it is rare enough in this age of technological specialization. It is a sad but unsurprising paradox that this most deeply philosophical generator- like the subjects of Examined Life– educates in a department of literature and not philosophy. This Life is not a direct of analytic logic, and I do not think it could have been. Hagglund’s arguings are not perfectly stringent , nor are his definitions exactingly precise; one could find logical openings in them, and numerous will. But it seems to me that these lacks are necessary for a diary like Hagglund’s, which is so wide-ranging in scope. Analytic philosophers frequently construct careful, exacting refutations of their foes- who have often been other analytic philosophers. Hagglund, by comparison, is engaging with a wide swath of the Western theoretical tradition, from Augustine to Adorno, and he speaks the philosophers of the institution in careful profundity, trying to understand them in their own terms even when he contends.
All of this would suggest that Hagglund is what is typically called a “continental” philosopher, and that characterization would not be so far from the truth.( Leave aside the geographical referent of the term-” continental thinking” has been practised outside continental Europe for many decades- because I belief the call does point to important questions about what it means to do philosophy well .) But Hagglund studiously forestalls the two key weaknesses of” continental doctrine” as it is most commonly performed. First and foremost, he is productive. “Continental” philosophers often hide behind exegesis: they will explain what Hegel or Kierkegaard saw without taking a stand on what Hegel or Kierkegaard went right or wrong. Hagglund, by contrast, develops his expositions in ways that make it explicit which place he’s on- against Augustine, with Marx. Second, he writes in admirably clear prose. Startlingly for someone whose early writing was on Jacques Derrida, Hagglund imitates nothing of Derrida’s deliberately obtuse writing style. His discussions of Marxist fiscal speculation can bog down a bit, but they do so less than do many others’ discussions of the same topics.
Not exclusively that: Hagglund’s work is cross-cultural, in a way that very few philosophers of the 20 th century ever were, whether analytic or “continental”. He employs with Buddhist thoughts at significant portion in the book, and does so in an informed nature: while he gets his opinions of Buddhism chiefly from one scribe, if one must do that, you are able to do a lot worse than Hagglund’s chosen author, namely the late Steven Collins. I find Hagglund’s characterizations of traditional Theravada Buddhism to be, on the whole, accurate enough. In many respects I find it more accurate than are those of some engaged Buddhist intellectuals who have been studying Buddhism their entire professional lives.
Hagglund’s date with Buddhism is particularly helpful for my own contemplate because his own position is so deeply Nussbaumian. He quotes Martha Nussbaum explicitly several times, and more generally the position he proposes is very much like the view that Nussbaum takes on external goods, which I juxtapose instantly against Santideva’s in my dissertation. That is, Hagglund claims that the cares that constitute a good life are constituted by the possibility of susceptibility to agony- and he takes this to be a good thing. He asserts the value of the finite, transient, distressing worldly life that is vulnerable to losings.
My own theoretical point, in numerous respects, is to find a synthesis between traditional Buddhism and its own position like Hagglund’s or Nussbaum’s. For although I consider myself a Buddhist, there is a great deal I agreed to accept in Hagglund’s view. Especially, Hagglund is very much a qualitative individualist, proposing that” we should not be defined once and for all by a passed social persona( household, profession, doctrine, nationality, ethnicity, gender ). Preferably, we should be free to transform the normative conception of ourselves and our institutions should reflect that freedom .”( 225) Such a scene is dear to my heart.
That qualitative individualism also informs the perception of a political state that Hagglund sketches, which I’m in deep sympathy with. I will expand on that point next time.
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