A few years ago, I became invested in spirituality as a humanistic subject. Or so one used to. While one still finds extraordinary scholarship on the meaning of spirituality within religious traditions e. This is, in short, a spirituality fitted to the sensibilities of a modern better said, perhaps, a postmodern age. And yet, for all its pop cultural cachet, many scholars in the humanities are still loath to speak its name given its historical associations with the inner life of religion.
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A few years ago, I became invested in spirituality as a humanistic subject. Or so one used to. While one still finds extraordinary scholarship on the meaning of spirituality within religious traditions e.
This is, in short, a spirituality fitted to the sensibilities of a modern better said, perhaps, a postmodern age. And yet, for all its pop cultural cachet, many scholars in the humanities are still loath to speak its name given its historical associations with the inner life of religion.
Hence, what this scholar implies is that spirituality, perhaps better than any other word, captures the inner life of her discipline , or of what she wishes it were: an engrossing and even transformative practice, one that truly matters. But for Hadot, the term bears wider circulation:. The purpose of ancient philosophy, Hadot contends, was not to teach us concepts, but to inculcate a way of life.
As he explains, these spiritual exercises drew—again, holistically: a hallmark of spirituality—on logic, ethics, and physics how we think, behave, and understand the cosmos in the shaping of a whole person. 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. For one thing, he believed that spiritual exercises predated Christianity; in fact, Christianity exerted a transformative effect on ancient philosophy, and mostly for the worse.
How so? Once this occurred, spirituality no longer involved a holistic relation between the various parts of life, but instead implied the prospective and necessary transcendence of life altogether. Hence, from a facilitator of union, spirituality became an agent of division. A second side note regards a development that is more recent and, for most humanities scholars and students, more relevant.
Like Hadot, Foucault became invested in ancient philosophy, specifically for its conception of ethics as the care of the self.
Anderson does not cite Hadot in this study, but she basically reiterates his argument, or at least a portion of it. Whereas the spiritual exercises emphasized a relationship between self, others, and cosmos, Foucault insisted instead on the relationship of the self to writing, the fashioning of the self through a fusion of the traditional authority and sources on which it drew with the present circumstances that reinterpreted and reanimated it. Anderson is not that scathing toward Foucault, although she certainly expresses concern about the merely therapeutic turn that has long governed contemporary criticism, and that leaves a more holistic relation to moral concerns in its wake.
This is a daring and important move. Can there be such a cosmic connection, such a spiritual connection, in our present age? Anderson might well ask: should there be one?
In what form, and by whose authority? Anderson may have more to say on this subject at our fall symposium on vulnerability and transformation. So, sure, the appeal to spirituality makes many scholars squeamish in our present age.
And it probably should, but not because spirituality is the language of religion. Indeed, whether this is still true in any meaningful way is debatable, to the consternation of secularists and defenders of religion alike.
The squeamishness, rather, should result from the association between spirituality and a holism to which we modern subjects aspire — a holism in which how we think and how we respond to and care for each other is a natural extension of the worlds, the cosmos, in which we live.
Once viewed as a chimera in an era of transcendental homelessness, such holism increasingly seems like a modern imperative.
In this new epoch, what we have in common—the burning of fossil fuels—is more immediately impactful than the ways we are unique. Culture diminishes in value when life itself is threatened.
We must become spiritual beings if we are to be anything at all. Arnold I. Davidson, translated by Michael Chase London: Blackwell, , Subsequent references will be cited in the body of the essay. I have been reading Hadot closely also, in connection with my study of the translation and reception of ancient Greek thought in Islam. I use his work to show what did not, and could not, have been translated and received in Arabic, and, later in medieval Latin. Your email address will not be published.
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Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault
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.
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. Hadot suggested that one cannot separate the form of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations from their content.
Pierre Hadot (1922-2010)