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Philosophy as a Way of Life

Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life tr. M. Chase: "Philosophy, for ancient philosophers, was an "exercise." In their view, philosophy did not consist in teachign abstract theory - much less the exegesis of texts - but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate lifestyle, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not merely situated on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns out 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 as a Way of Life

Attention, a continuous vigilance and presence of mind, allows us to respond immediately to events...In order for this to be possible, we must always have the fundamental principles "at hand." We are to steep ourselves in the rule of life (kanon), by mentally applying it to all of life's different situations, just as the exercise of memorization (mneme) and meditation (melete) on the rule of life. The goal is to arrange our lives around a simple, universal principle.

Finally, we come to the practical exercises, intended to create habits....such as self-mastery and fulfilling the duties of social life, which entailed practical forms of behavior....In this kind of exercise, one very simple principle is always recommended: begin practicing on easier things, so as gradually to acquire a stable, solid habit...

Philosophy was a way of life, philosophy was a mode of existing in the world, which had to be practiced at each instant, and the goal of which was to transform the whole of one's life. Philosophy thus took on the form of an exercise of the thought, will, and totality of one's being. Philosophy was a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual's way of being. Spiritual exercises have as their goal the transformation of our vision of the world, and the metamorphosis of out being......"

In a unified coherent, and well-developed essay, elaborate an argument concerning spiritual exercises in the ancient world. This essay should be well organized according to a well-reasoned thesis. You will argue for your thesis congruently and logically, elaborating your argument according to a clear structure. For this essay, you should treat at least two or the following three categories: Philosophy (Plato, Epicurus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and/or Plotinus), Judaism (Josephus and/or Philo) and Christianity (Gospel of Thomas, Origen, and/or Athanasius).

The short selection from Pierre Hadot are meant to assist your investigation of ancient spiritual exercises. In addition to these passages you should consider these questions: What is the substance of these exercises? That is, upon what part of themselves are these practitioners working? Are they attempting to transform their reasoning faculty, control or eliminate their passions, or something else? Two, What are the means or methods of these exercises? What kinds of relationship do they have with these exercises? Do they enjoy them? Are they designed to conform one to some rule or law? If so, what kind of law? To what extent is conformity absolutely necessary and to what extent is there room for personal initiative or creative individual response? Four, towards what end (telos) are these practices aimed? What kind of person is one trying to become? Is one trying to become something more, or less, than a person?

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