Lydia Amir (Israel)


Lydia Amir (Israel) - Professor of Philosophy, President of the Israel Association of Philosophical Practice, lecturer at Tufts University (Boston, USA).

The Human Condition: The Tragic Sense of Life in Philosophy and Its Practice (Lecture)

Presentation Language: English

Prima facie philosophy deals with the human condition. However, when the tragic sense of life whether gained through a personal tragedy or a philosophic understanding, is at stake, the capacity of philosophy to recognize it and effectively address it is considerably reduced. While it is true that philosophers did and should act as doctors in the presence of the sick, this has been so at the price of offering rational consolations that are far from being helpful, unless one is Socrates or a Stoic sage. This has been the claim of such varied philosophers as Michel de Montaigne, Leon Chestov (Shestov) and Harold Bloom, based on their own experiences of illness, terror, and old age. While Greek philosophy begins in wonder, Kierkegaard argues that Christianity begins in despair, and more recently, Simon Critchley adds that the true beginning of philosophy is in disappointment. While the absurd was initially defined by Kierkegaard as the domain of faith against the realm of reason, the atheist philosophies of the absurd reached new peaks of absurdity by retaining the term while renouncing the faith it pointed to, leaving unclear why the human condition is absurd and bordering on bad faith through gesturing toward hidden mysticism. Philosophy is almost averse to the tragic sense of life and most of those of adopted this stance turned into religion. Considered "sick souls" by George Santayana and defended by his contemporary William James as purveyors of truth in danger of persecution, it is not clear what philosophy can or should do about those plagued by the tragic sense of life. As existential questions are amongst the non-controversial problems that philosophical practice addresses, the lecture addresses the tragic sense of life, and asks, what is the power of philosophy in its practical form as philosophical practice in relation to the tragic sense of life and the threats it represents to finding meaning, to the possibility and desirability of happiness, and often enough, to life itself?

On the Usefulness of Philosophy - Meaning, Happiness and Misery (Lecture)

In this lecture, I enquire into the main ways in which philosophy can be helpful for individuals today. To describe the first way, I state the essential difference between the psychological notion of therapy, on the one hand, and philosophic ideals, on the other. I list the main philosophic ideals and show how following any one of them gives meaning to our lives, by addressing our fear of meaningless suffering (Friedrich Nietzsche). Depending on the ideal chosen, this path sometimes minimizes suffering along with the significance it grants it. Two criticisms of this path yield alternative uses of philosophy. One criticism states that meanings are lies and the other that ideals are ineffective, and each comes in either a gloomy or a cheerful version. The first criticism leads to tragic philosophy. Differentiated from theories of the absurd, which are still predicated on meaning, tragic philosophies negate meaning and offer happiness instead. They can be further subdivided into gloomy (Clément Rosset) and cheerful theories of the tragic (Lydia Amir). The second criticism states that ideals are ineffective as each person has to carve her own wisdom. The cheerful version leads to a revision of philosophy, whose role now is to educate one 's judgment (Michel de Montaigne). The gloomy version points to the limitations of philosophy, to the inefficacy of reason once personal tragedy is encountered and one is disconnected from the rest of humanity as an unfortunate consequence (Lev Shestov). This view identifies solitude at the core of the philosophy of misfortune, which is inapproachable by regular philosophic tools. It remains to be seen if this approach still finds a role for philosophy or reverts either to literature or to religion for solace. Hence the indecision about the number of ways in which philosophy can be helpful 150 years after the birth of scientific psychology.