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Living in the Present

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 June 2020


This essay examines two conceptions of the ancient ideal of ‘living in the present’, one that may be called ‘Platonic’, suggested by a remark of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and one that may be called ‘Stoic’, developed by Pierre Hadot. On both conceptions, a life lived and considered in the right way is complete in the present, so that nothing is wanting. I introduce a problem concerning the coherence of this concept: Life involves movement, and movement is aimed at some completion in the future. How, then, can a life be complete in the present and yet not be static? I consider and reject an answer by Hadot, based on psychological concentration on the present. I then propose an alternative answer, based on Aristotle's concept of complete activity, and discuss its significance for both the Platonic and the Stoic conception of the ideal. Throughout, my focus is on this metaphysical and conceptual problem, thus preparing the way for the ethical question whether ‘living in the present’ would be a good way to live.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2020

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