- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (August 3, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0631180338
- ISBN-13: 978-0631180333
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 27 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault 1st Edition
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"Hadot's essays exhibit impressive scholarship and a habit of profound reflection. This is not a book for the casual reader but it is an important publication and should be a required text for every student of philosophy, classics and the history of ideas, and for any serious teacher of these subjects." The Tablet
<!--end-->"Hadot's work is very engaging, knowledgeable, well written and insightful. I highly recommend this book for both general and professional readers." Richard S. Findler, Phil dept, Slippery Rock University for the History of European Ideas
"Recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty." H. L. Shapiro, University of Missouri for Choice
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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But this volume has some particular strengths. Arnold Davidson's introduction is brilliant. He manages to introduces the main themes of investigation throughout Hadot's life (Hadot passed away just a few months ago). Davidson also makes it clear that Hadot's insights into ancient philosophy are based on his work as a translator of works from that period.
Another strength is that many of the articles collected here show off the extraordinary cultural learning of Hadot. I remarked in my review of "What is Ancient Philosophy?" that reading Hadot is to be introduced to the work of generations of French and German scholars of whom most Americans know nothing (would someone please translate Groethuyson's "Anthropologie philosophique" for me? Please?)
But in this book, Hadot also demonstrates his remarkable grasp of such diverse thinkers as Nietzsche, Montaigne, Goethe, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty and Foucault. I always walk away from reading Hadot feeling as if I am both the Nitwit of Western Culture and exhilarated by some of the connections that he has made.
Hadot is particularly famous in France for his work as a translator/commentator of Plotinus and Marcus Aurelius. Early textual work on those two and other philosophers led Hadot to the realization that many of the works of the Hellenistic period were being misunderstood because today's interpreters were not seeing these works for what they were. Today's philosophers, for the most part, write dissertations that try to lay out exactly what the author wants to say. The work is usually directed toward a professional audience or, at least, toward expert amateurs. The intent is to inform and convince.
Hadot's central insight into Hellenistic philosophy is that, for most of the writings that we have
extant, the intent is to (re)form, not to inform. In other words, this is philosophy that is meant to change the way we live. More deeply, it is meant to change the way we see the world, the way we feel about our lives and the way we treat each other.
As such, the types of writings that we have from this period have to be understood for the literary types that they are; exhortations to oneself to remember the main dicta that one has learned or rhetorical works designed to convince the uninitiated to follow the path of a particular philosophical school, etc. What is so immediately convincing about this point is that it makes sense of all the repetitions, contradictions and eclecticism which is so evident in the writings of some of the ancients. The first article in this collection explores how the failure of recent interpreters to understand this aspect of ancient philosophical literature has led to many misinterpretations (although Hadot is careful to point out that some of the misreadings have been very fruitful).
The Second Part of this book may be the best. This contains Hadot's classic article on "Spiritual Exercises". In this article, Hadot first outlined his realization that many of the writings of the Hellenistic philosophers were really meant to be read as exercises that would help instill in the philosopher the teachings of that particular school. I have become convinced from my own readings that he is absolutely right about the necessity of this approach. If you want to understand your reading of Seneca, of Marcus Aurelius, of Cicero, Epictetus and even of the earlier Greeks (like, you know- that Plato guy), you simply have to read this article.
Hadot discusses one other idea in these articles that must be mentioned and that is his idea of the topos or topics of Western culture/philosophy. These are "formulae, images, and metaphors"(p.66) that have, over time, proved indispensable to many thinkers within a tradition or our culture. Hadot spent the last part of his life tracing the cultural history of some of these topics. His last book, "The Veil of Isis", is one such investigation. Several of the later articles in this collection are others. "The View from Above" is one of them and briefly traces some of the history of the exercise of learning to look down at humanity from a cosmic viewpoint.
I would also like to recommend the short article "The Sage and the World" wherein Hadot defends the relevance of the lessons he has learned from ancient philosophy to our own lived-in world.
It's funny. There are many similarities (as well as enormous differences) between Hadot and Leo Strauss. I think they would have found much to talk about with each other. One of the things they both emphasized was the idea of the difference between the sage and the philosopher. The sage was seen in Hellenistic times as the fully realized wise man. Let us just say there are few of those. The philosopher, on the other hand, was she who chased after wisdom as something loved. I like this idea. Among other things, it brings out the theme of the erotic which is so present in ancient philosophy. Well, my friends, Pierre Hadot was a philosopher. In his books, he not only chases after wisdom, he entices us to do so as well. In doing so, he makes this reader, at least, examine my own way of being in the world. For me, reading Hadot had been to hold up a mirror to my own life and to realize the need for a spiritual exercise program. I gots some work to do.
The book seeks to elucidate philo-sophy (love of wisdom) not as a rarefied field of study but as a way of life consistent with making us one with the universe.
The book, originally in French, is not a light-weight self help book as its title may imply. But is instead a deep study of the origins of "spiritual exercises" from Socrates to the Hellenists (Stoicism, Epicureanism, and neo-Platonism) and onward to the early Christians.
Hadot's main thesis is that philosophy has been gutted in the modern era to focus on rarefied discourse and study at the expense of it serving as an aid in helping us to lead better lives. Using abundant examples from the likes of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Hadot makes a significant and resounding case for a re-emergence of philosophy from the walls of academia, where it has been penned and chained for the last 1500 years. While knowledge of ancient philosophy is not strictly required for reading this book, those with this knowledge will get the most from it.
I have studied the Stoics and Epicureans about as much as is possible for a layman, and I found this book indispensable in making clear the teachings of Epicurus and Zeno, as well as the early Christian scholars. Hadot shows clearly that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are grounded in philosophy going back at least as far as Socrates.
I recommend this book in the most high fashion to anyone who seeks wisdom and loves a good mental workout.
If you like the Stoics and Epicureans, or just ancient philosophy in general, you must read this book. If you're curious about the right way to live, read this book. I'm moving on the the rest of Hadot's books next