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N.2/2021 Filosofia e generi letterari nel XVIII secolo

Ancient Topoi in the Philosophical Literature of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Micromégas, & the View from Above

Matthew Sharpe

Published in December, 2021

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This essay explores the way that Pierre Hadot’s revolutionary work on ancient philosophy as a way of life involving the use of a variety of literary genre to effect different pedagogical and psychagogic ends can be fruitfully applied to the oeuvres of the French philosophes, with a view to understanding their specific conceptions and practice of philosophy (Part 1). After examining both the elevating and downwards looking (“katascopic”) dimensions of the ancient philosophical topos of the view from above (Part 2), we use Hadot’s analysis of this remarkable ancient figure of thought, including in the satirist Lucian, to read Voltaire’s conte philosophique, Micromégas (Part 3). Using Hadot’s analysis, we will show, allows us to recover the elevating dimension of this interstellar fable, sometimes missed by commentators, tying it to Voltaire’s post-Lockean, post-skeptical conception of wisdom as a form of learned ignorance. The concluding part (Part 4) considers the significance of this analysis, on one hand, in terms of debates concerning the history of philosophy as a way of life and its modern fates, and the other hand, for debates concerning how to read the texts of the French enlightenment, and understand the conception of philosophy at play in the philosophes.


Hadot, Voltaire, Micromégas, philosophy as a way of life, philosophes, Diderot.



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