What is philosophy as a way of life?
For many of us in the West, we are used to the idea that philosophy is a pretty dry subject, restricted to abtracted logic, the past times of 'white, old men.' In other words, it is inaccesible and, perhaps even worse, irrelevant.
But for the historian and philosopher Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) who yes, did happen to be a white old man, philsophy is a way of life, or at least, he argues, it was for Ancient and premodern philosophers, from Socrates and Aristotle, even for more modern thinkers such as Michelle Foucault (1926-1984).
But what does it mean, for philosophy to be a way of life?
Well, according to Hadot, it involves a combination of speculative, theoretical, philosophical contemplation in tandem with spiritual excercises.
For Hadot then, any philosophical textual discourse does not aim to offer complete answers in and of itself, but rather be used as hermenutical tools to engage with and build upon the practice of spiritual excercise.
Thus, for philosophical schools such as that of ancient Stoicism or medieval neo-Platonism, philosophical literature should not be taken literally or at face value. Rather, as Hadot notes, such "theory is never considered an end in itself, it is clearly and decidedly put in the service of practice" (2006, 58-60).
Thus, philosophy as a way of life is not only intellectual, it is also spiritual, aimed at teaching us how to live and transforming our very being, through the practice of spiritual excercises, to which the philosophical works help orientate and situate.
So the question for us today is: what would it mean for philosophy (and yoga) to once again become a way of life?
At a time when we increasingly find ourselves enmeshed in 'culture wars', we need more active and naunced conversations, in community, about what it means to live a good life.
Just like in ancient times, we may have our 'spiritual excercises' (yoga, meditation, embodiment, and so forth). But what we really lack is the philosophy! A philosophical tradition for embodiment: to reflect and help us with our embodied spiritual excercises.
So Embodied Philosophy may again become a way of life.
If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, I would love to hear them!
Thanks for reading,
P.s., want to find out more about philosophy as a way of life? Join my donation-based online introductory talk to the philosophy and history of yoga on the 14th December 2023. A recording will be made available afterwards! Register here.
Pierre Hadot. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. London: Blackwell (1995: 270).