Envy and admiration: Some important remarks about higher forms of life

1. Now more clearly than before, it occurs to me that all higher forms of life will require renunciation. At the moment of severance, the renunciant points to the lower, gives it a name, and frees himself from its hold. As Hadot shows in his work on ancient philosophy, the ancient philosopher must sever himself from ‘everyday consciousness’; Sloterdijk, in his work on Nietzsche for whom living extraordinarily and daringly was the ‘arrow’ of life, points to ‘ordinary life’; social entrepreneurs will point to greedy capitalism; the Romantic artist of plenitude to the bourgeoisie; the warrior to the hedonist governed by his appetites; etc. In sum, the lower serves its purpose if it can, at the outset, be that from which I sever myself.

2. I cannot possibly envy or admire anyone who is leading a lower form of life. I cannot envy him because I do not want to be or be like him. And I cannot admire him because I cannot regard his life as exhibiting a salient set of virtues. Of course, I am committed to believing that he is wasting his life in one way or another.

3. Apropos the schema of higher lives (see yesterday’s post), I can admire intra-categorially or cross-categorially anyone who is an exemplary figure of that way of life. Indeed, when I admire anyone, I’m committed to admiring him for being–at least so far as this goes–an exemplary figure. In the political domain, he may be exemplary in the way of being just.

Early on, it will be easier for me to admire exemplars who are not those on the same path as I. If I’m on the path of the social entrepreneur, then I can rather easily admire the holy man or the master craftsman rather easily. Later on, I should be able to disinterestedly admire those who are farther along on the same path than I.

4. This leaves only one logical possibility for envy. Suppose that I’m a social entrepreneur. I can only envy someone who is on the path of social entrepreneurship and who is farther along than I.

5. The schema of higher lives therefore can be regarded as two connected spiritual exercises: the waning of envy and the giving of admiration to exemplary persons.