“Know Thyself. Delphic Oracle.” This famous call to the examined life that Socrates answered and passed on to the world is reprinted on the title page of The Rule of Life, a forgotten but extraordinary book published in 1834. The book reminds us that a genre of popular literature, collections of moral maxims, helped keep alive the Socratic tradition of the examined life.
What is art for? “L’art pour l’art” wrote Théophile Gautier as a slogan in 1835. And today’s bohemians continue to repeat the creed “Art for art’s sake.” It’s a catchy slogan, still what most people unreflectively tell themselves when confronted with the question: “What is the purpose of art?”