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What Is Ancient Philosophy? Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0674007338 ISBN-10: 0674007336

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (June 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674007336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674007338
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A prominent historian of ancient thought, Pierre Hadot (Philosophy as a Way of Life) revisits the work of Plato, Aristotle, the Hellenistic schools and the philosophical schools of imperial Rome in What Is Ancient Philosophy? He provides an overview of the evolution of ancient thought, focusing particularly on the role of philosophical theory in the lives of the thinkers. Showing how the ancients endeavored to live by their philosophy, Hadot reflects on the rift between theory and practice that came about with the professionalization of philosophy in the Christian era.

From Library Journal

First published in France in 1995, Hadot's overview of ancient philosophy (that is, Greek and Roman philosophy) is quite possibly one of the best one-volume works on the subject to have appeared in English in a very long time, not only for the clarity with which it is written (Chase's translation reads exceptionally smoothly) but also for the point of view Hadot takes. In keeping with Socrates' dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, Hadot (Philosophy as a Way of Life) places each philosopher or movement discussed firmly within its cultural and intellectual context and shows that philosophy was not simply a process for creating theories but, more importantly, a way of life for many. Hadot argues further that this connection between philosophical theory and practice ultimately broke down when Christianity came to dominate the Western world. Hadot closes the book by pointing to two dangers that the (modern) philosopher must avoid. The first is to think that philosophical discourse is sufficient in itself, without reference to a philosophical way of life. The second, and for Hadot the more important, is "to believe that one can do without philosophical reflection. The philosophical way of life must be justified in rational, motivated discourse, and such discourse is inseparable from the way of life." Hadot eloquently provides such discourse; highly recommended. Terry Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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A fairly easy book to read, and (if you are interested in philosophy) enjoyable.
Ted Shigematsu
This is a fine, thoughtful book, based on Hadot's general theme of philosophy as a way of life in the ancient world.
toronto
This book is an introduction to the problems and arguments that constitute ancient philosophy.
Katherine Wylie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By "mythologue" on October 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Pierre Hadot's approach, which studies the ancient Greek philosophers with an emphasis on the existential choice that lies at the heart of their philosophical life, is generally well respected but also rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Some have entirely subsumed philosophy under the category of 'philosophical discourse', and thus consider the ancient notion of philosophia with skepticism; others might accuse Hadot of turning his back to modernity and its urgent interrogations, choosing instead to seek refuge in a remote past; theorists of a supposed 'crisis of values' who have apparently disqualified the ancients regarding ethics, or proponents of 'applied ethics' who have taken a similar road. What is ironic is that those who adopt a secular point of view and fear that Hadot wants to bring ancient philosophy dangerously close to a religious, monastic life, tend to use arguments very similar to those of the Christians who gradually stripped that philosophy of its ethical, spiritual roots (Hadot writes about this latter theme here). Meanwhile, one should note that Hadot's book is anything but dogmatic: the author does not posit a 'peak' of philosophy and then an unremediable decadence afterwards; he rather argues that the notion of philosophy as a way of life has in fact survived, however unevenly, throughout the history of philosophy. Thus, the object of the book is less some sort of remote past and ideas, but a very healthy and living line of thought that still feeds modern thinkers and can obviously enable us to face the problems modernity entails. This crucial book should be read by every philosopher.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Curtis Steinmetz on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
The crucial thing about this book is that its author, while a noted practicing Philospher himself, clearly understands, and can clearly explain, the deep divide between what passes for Philosophy today and what it once was. Ancient Philosophy was a way of looking at one's life, and a way of living one's life. But don't expect a new-agey self-help book, either! This is not a book of platitudes - it is a thoughtful and at times difficult book.

The main focus of the book is on the development of Platonism and Stoicism - but Hadot takes us on a few side-roads as well. There is a great deal of attention given to later Platonism in particular. This aspect of the book is what makes it so important, in my opinion. Hadot tells the story of how the "Hellenes" circled their philosophical and spiritual wagons in the waning days of Classical Civlization - so-called Late Antiquity. But there is no sentimentality or histrionics.

If you are like me then as soon as you finish this book you will get and read Aurelius' "Meditations" - and then promptly move on to reading Plato. More than anything else this book is a perfect starting point for reading Plato.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Ted Shigematsu on February 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Pierre Hadot's thesis is that the ancient Greek philosophical schools did not view philosophy merely as an abstract theoretical discipline, but as a transformative spiritual path. He also shows how this view became incorporated into Christianity and how it has definite similarities to Buddhism and Taoism. Ancient Greek philosophy has much to teach us, and Plato would have agreed with Marx that philosophy should not just interpret the world, but also change it. A fairly easy book to read, and (if you are interested in philosophy) enjoyable.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Wylie on January 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Accessible to any reader interested in what philosophy was like before it was taken over by the academic professors, especially under the influence of Christianity. This book is an introduction to the problems and arguments that constitute ancient philosophy. In keeping with Socrates' dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, Hadot shows that philosophy was not simply a process for creating theories but, more importantly, a way of life for many.

Although we should be grateful to the translator for performing the tedious task; the translation is somewhat flat. However, I doubt there is a specialist in ancient philosophy who will not be enriched by reading this book and warmly recommend it to those in between.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on May 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hadot's What is Ancient Philosophy is the summation of a lifetime of research and practice in philosophy.
His thesis is fairly simple. Ancient philosophy begins in an existential choice. That choice is based on a vision of the world and a way of life based on that vision. It results in both a philosophical practice and a philosophical discourse. The practice has become largely ignored in favor of focusing on the discourse and this has resulted in a fairly complete misunderstanding of ancient philosophy.
I am not claiming that Hadot's presentation of ancient philosophy is completely correct. I think there are some problems with his formulation but before I get into that, I want to broadly outline his thesis.
First, when Hadot say ancient philosophy he means Greek and Roman philosophy- in spite of some other reviewers he is very cautious about comparisons to other traditions, such as Buddhism, Judaism or Taoism.
He sees that tradition of philosophy as largely composed of the Platonic Academy, Aristotle's school, Epicureanism and Stoicism. He also talks about the Cynics and the Pythagoreans although not in as much detail.
At the end of the book (p.278) he suggest that these schools represent fundamental alternatives toward human existence. All cultures can probably be shown to exhibit some variant of these alternatives.
Each of these schools posits an ethics, a physics and a theology. These three components were mutually supportive and served to explain the role of humanity in the cosmos and the role of the individual in the city, with their family and in the development of their own soul. The expression of these three components made up the philosophers discourse.
But that discourse was just empty words without the philosophers practice.
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