Foucault and the History of Our Present pp Cite as. This debate pivots on a possible refashioning of our moral thought Davidson, , ; Laugier, The specificity of this reflection consists in the way in which it connects an ancient practice to our present and effects a reconceptualization of spiritual exercises in order to elaborate a contemporary ethics. This renewal of moral philosophy strongly diverges from the traditional French reflection on ethics. Unable to display preview.
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. This book presents a history of spiritual exercises from Socrates to early Christianity, an account of their decline in modern philosophy, and a discussion of the different conceptions of philosophy that have accompanied the trajectory and fate of the theory and practice of spiritual exercises.
Hadot's book demonstrates the extent to which philosophy has been, and still is This book presents a history of spiritual exercises from Socrates to early Christianity, an account of their decline in modern philosophy, and a discussion of the different conceptions of philosophy that have accompanied the trajectory and fate of the theory and practice of spiritual exercises.
Hadot's book demonstrates the extent to which philosophy has been, and still is, above all else a way of seeing and of being in the world. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published August 3rd by Wiley-Blackwell first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Philosophy as a Way of Life , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Philosophy as a Way of Life.
Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Aug 22, Elenabot rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. This incomparable work tasks itself with resurrecting a lost tradition of reading, and therefore of understanding and of doing philosophy, in which the use of spiritual exercises is seen as an integral part of the meaning of philosophic texts, theories, and practices. Hadot's is an effort to excavate and make available for contemporary use older, but larger, meanings which would allow us once again to see how philosophy can be more than just an abstract theoretical endeavour: a personally transf This incomparable work tasks itself with resurrecting a lost tradition of reading, and therefore of understanding and of doing philosophy, in which the use of spiritual exercises is seen as an integral part of the meaning of philosophic texts, theories, and practices.
Hadot's is an effort to excavate and make available for contemporary use older, but larger, meanings which would allow us once again to see how philosophy can be more than just an abstract theoretical endeavour: a personally transformative life-practice. In the end, Hadot reminds us that philosophy, at its best, is an exercise engaging the totality of one's being, the purpose of which is greater integration of all our capacity for experience.
Rightly pursued, philosophic practice deepens our presence to ourselves, to the world, and to one another. Hadot's proposition is deeply intriguing and worth pondering carefully: What if the contemporary nihilism which results form the inability of the best scientific theory to inform life practice is born of an impoverished mode of philosophizing? And what if this impoverishment of philosophizing is due to our thought's operating with impoverished meanings, which express a restriction of the fuller meaning that philosophy once had and that it must always have if it is to inform and heal life?
If we're impoverished in available meanings, Hadot shows us the means to re-construct more capacious meanings that can more fully answer to our longing for personally transformative philosophizing. In particular, he excavates the meanings that shaped the more spacious horizons of philosophizing as it was practiced during the Hellenistic period.
We wander with him in the freer spaces in which the Pythagoreans, Neo-Platonists, Skeptics, Stoics, Epicureans, and Cynics encountered themselves, one another, and their world. And he shows us that the key to philosophic meaning turns out not to lie in the systematic, theoretic, formal, conceptual content of these philosophies which, as the critics of these thinkers point out, was rather fragmentary, where present, as well as being fraught with contradictions compared to the more systematically-organized philosophies of the modern age.
Rather, what these thinkers teach us is that philosophic meaning is something that can only be fully specified through a personally-transformative engagement with the texts via spiritual exercises. He shows how in the Hellenistic period, as well as in some of the most existentially transformative philosophies beyond of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Goethe, and Rousseau, among others , spiritual exercises served to supplement philosophical theorizing by grounding it in existential, experientially-transformative insight.
A spiritual exercise he defines as a method of focusing, drawing on, and transforming the total structure of the personality in order to reveal deeper resources for engaging with reality than we normally draw on in our blinkered, habitual, culturally pre-programmed perception of the world. Hadot makes a sharp distinction between habitual perception and philosophic perception, the latter being the perception of the fully realized personality, which can only be uncovered on the other side of sustained practice.
Spiritual exercises are the means to such perception. Usually, they are exercises of defamiliarization which remove the dead weight of superficial familiarity off of experienced things in order to show us the world as if we were seeing it for the first time: inexhaustibly poignant, and an ever-renewable source of meaning and value. Their aim is the shedding and stripping of all inessentials, in the form of culturally-received opinions, which lays bare for the first time the essential values and meanings by which we can live lives of inner freedom and harmony.
I'd add that Christian mysticism added one crucial exercise: learning the deepest meaning of love. Rather than being optional extras to philosophizing, Hadot insists that such exercises supply the core content of philosophies. Most importantly, the depth of the reader's commitment to the search for personal transformation supplies the very lifeblood of philosophic meaning, providing the existential, experiential content without which encountered theoretical concepts remain hollow husks.
It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it.
It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom. Philosophy, rightly conceived, is an ever -renewed act in the service of this transformation, taken up and practiced at each instant.
Such practice, over time, takes up the dim, scattered material of our experience and intensifies it, gathering it into a unified pattern. All the philosophic schools he discusses recognized that the end goal, wisdom, is never reached as a stable, persisting state of being. Rather, they each affirm philosophy as the ever-renewed commitment to practice aiming at attaining an ever deepening degree of realization within our lived, day-to-day experience which transforms the inner economy of desires, attitudes and tastes, value-estimates, and conduct in the world.
The goal of philosophic exchange thus is not the transference of ready-made, free-standing theoretical constructs that remain inert possessions in my mind. Philosophic exchange at its best seeks to fuel the reader's pursuit of self-realization by pointing to modes of attunement to aspects of reality previously missed.
It is my seeing informed and expanded by others'. Hadot shows how philosophic understanding grows through this process of progressive integration of multiple perspective worlds, towards ever-greater approximation of the ideal of a universal perspective, in which the fullest concept of unity can be experientially realized.
Our usual academic methods of purely discursive, exegetic and theoretical philosophizing fall short of the philosophic insights we could glean by such personally-transformative methods. Hadot takes seriously the ancient ideal of philosophy as paideia or education in the service of self-realization , which saw the attainment of philosophic perspective over one's life as the fullest consummation of the developmental trajectory of the human psyche.
Unlike other animals, the human animal is a self-birthing animal. Philosophy is the consciously-regulated process of that self-birthing. We begin the life of consciousness in a state of fragmentation and seemingly irresolvable flux. The most powerful and perennially relevant spiritual exercises he describes concern this effort to integrate our psyche into a working unity, a perspective capable of unifying the flux, ambiguity, paradox, and fragmentation of our experience.
All the philosophic schools he describes urge us that in order to realize the inherent potentialities of our experience, we must place it in a universal perspective by relating it to general principles via sustained meditation.
The ultimate goal is the cognition of the unity of things through the fully realized unity of the self. Philosophy can only attain this developmental goal if it is more than an abstract, academic exercise, but is grounded instead in the context of a sustained life-practice via spiritual exercises which teach us how to relate the most universal principles which differ slightly in emphasis with each school to the most concrete, intimate details of our lived experience.
All the philosophic schools he describes share one this one crucial exercise in common: the effort to take a reflective step back from our usual ego-centred selves in order to place our personal experience in the context of the most universal perspective attainable.
The self thus becomes a genuine, fully-living unity only when it strives against its limitations to vividly conceive the unity of the whole. Above all, the effort to escape from the confines of ego-centered perspective by vividly imagining and meditating on the expanse of infinities within infinities is liberating. It is empowering, by bringing the self back to a more accurate estimate of the values of things than is given us by our culture. In the end, this exercise leads to the realization that the most essential values cannot be derived from adherence to external conditions, but spring rather from the quality of our presence to ourselves and to the world.
Most importantly, this spiritual exercise he describes as the basis for genuine theoretical insight and for truly moral action. Each school he discusses agrees that two key components of this exercise are the confrontation with death and the insistence on the absolute value of the present moment.
The meditation on our death throws us back on the present moment, which we recognize as the only absolute in our purview. We do not see the present moment rightly until it becomes for us both the first and the last moment of life — which it invariably is. Only the present is our own.
Yet it is an inexhaustible sufficiency, carrying within it the germ of perennially renewable creation. Just as each instant presupposes the immensity of time, so does our body presuppose the whole universe. It is within ourselves that we can experience the coming-into-being of reality and the presence of being.
By becoming conscious of one single instant of our lives, one single beat of our hearts, we can feel ourselves linked to the entire immensity of the cosmos We experience ourselves as a moment or instant of this movement; this immense event which reaches beyond us, is always there before us, and is always beyond us. We are born along with the world. Death emerges as the universal solvent which dissolves everything but the value of personally transformative insight the seed of which is in each moment of life.
Attention to the moment against the ever-present background of death concentrates the self's powers, such that it can at last leap out of its exclusive identification with itself in order to genuinely engage with reality outside itself. That is, the encounter with death alone can make us true knowers. Philosophy is not just about education and psychological consummation. It is also about therapy. In this guise, philosophy seeks to answer to the needs of that part of our being that is scarcely nourished by most of our lives in society.
It seeks the mode of its healing, and strives to lift it up from its gutter, dust it off, give it voice, and put its pieces back together in the way they were supposed to fit. Once brought forth, it hobbles awkwardly and we'd wish to be rid of it again for the sake of functionality, but the best of philosophy is the nagging gadfly that will not grant us lasting peace of mind through self-forgetfulness. In contrast to this personally-engaged mode of reading philosophy, which supplies content to the conceptual husk of the text via spiritual exercises, we are rather used by habits derived from our Analytic tradition to expect philosophic texts to dish out for us pre-masticated, aseptic and therefore anemic content that we can survey from a remove, without engaging ourselves in any thoroughgoing way in the joint pursuit of insight that was once, in dialectic, the heart of philosophic practice.
Logic-chopping and conceptual analysis are the standard of rigour for us, even if our rigour comes at the expense of existential irrelevance.
Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault
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Spiritual Exercises in a Humanistic Register (I): Pierre Hadot
He studied at the Sorbonne between — He concluded the class saying, "In the last analysis, we can scarcely talk about what is most important. Hadot was married to the historian of philosophy, Ilsetraut Hadot. Hadot was one of the first authors to introduce Ludwig Wittgenstein 's thought into France.
His work has been widely influential in classical studies and on thinkers, including Michel Foucault. According to Hadot, twentieth- and twenty-first-century academic philosophy has largely lost sight of its ancient origin in a set of spiritual practices that range from forms of dialogue, via species of meditative reflection, to theoretical contemplation. These philosophical practices, as well as the philosophical discourses the different ancient schools developed in conjunction with them, aimed primarily to form, rather than only to inform, the philosophical student. The goal of the ancient philosophies, Hadot argued, was to cultivate a specific, constant attitude toward existence, by way of the rational comprehension of the nature of humanity and its place in the cosmos. This cultivation required, specifically, that students learn to combat their passions and the illusory evaluative beliefs instilled by their passions, habits, and upbringing. To cultivate philosophical discourse or writing without connection to such a transformed ethical comportment was, for the ancients, to be as a rhetorician or a sophist, not a philosopher.