I’ve overcome the revels of my 40th birthday party and the start of the new year, feeling older but no wiser. This lack of sagacity is likely to be a permanent condition – considering I carry over each year and it grows more conspicuous with the passage of time - so let’s jettison all excuses and get the Redonda read-along under way. January is about the relationships in the family, and so let’s begin with little steps. Very little steps.
Sartre claimed that we are all “condemned to be free,” and Fernando Savater most certainly agrees with that sentiment. The Duke of Caronte , when not engaged in formal philosophy or poetry, has found the time to write a charming book to his son, Amador, and has titled his book after the young man. The philosophy in the book is fairly straightforward and simple, but avoids talking down or oversimplification. To a novice, I can think of few books as engaging as this. In other words, it is perfect for the teenage reader for whom it was written.
Savater’s existentialism is delightfully evident from the beginning, and he advises the reader immediately that the keystone to the good life is to “do what you want.” This would have been appealing to my teenage self, but like so much of the advice of elders, this is not exactly what it seems. Before we can do as we wish, we must figure out what that is, what we are, and what our purpose is. As Savater points out, while we know the purpose of a footballer or a hammer, we must think much harder to define what makes a person, because “we have no idea what human beings are for.’
Savater then touches on the function of ethics, of responsibility, and, throughout, the meaning of freedom. Within this framework, he touches on material possesions and the idea of things vs. human relationships. There are two things he touches on which I hope to be able to impart on my own daughter some day. The first is that “giving yourself the good life in the end cannot be very different than granting a good life.” In other words, we must humanize people, even those we find despicable, if we in turn wish to humanize our own existence and be humanized by others. The second thing is that “from things, even the best things, can come only other things.” Our relations with other people are what matters.
The final chapters on politics are as light as the rest of the book, and I do hope in the next book by the Duke of Caronte that we get some more substantial philosophy.
So, we’ve read a little tract of advice from a father to his son. Next time, we will talk about the relationship of a father to his daughter, one full of despair, shame, and disgrace.