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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter May 8, 2021

Drafted into a Foreign War?

On the Very Idea of Ancient Philosophy as a Way of Life

Matthew Sharpe
From the journal Rhizomata


This paper examines the central criticisms that come, broadly, from the modern, ‘analytic’ tradition, of Pierre Hadot’s idea of ancient philosophy as a way of life.: Firstly, ancient philosophy just did not or could not have involved anything like the ‘spiritual practices’ or ‘technologies of the self’, aiming at curing subjects’ unnecessary desires or bettering their lives, contra Hadot and Foucault et al. Secondly, any such metaphilosophical account of putative ‘philosophy’ must unacceptably downplay the role of ‘serious philosophical reasoning’ or ‘rigorous argument’ in philosophy. Thirdly, claims that ancient philosophy aimed at securing wisdom by a variety of means including but not restricted to rational inquiry are accordingly false also as historical claims about the ancient philosophers. Fourthly, to the extent that we must (despite (3)) admit that some ancient thinkers did engage in or recommend extra-cognitive forms of transformative practice, these thinkers were not true or ‘mainline’ philosophers. I contend that the historical claims (3) and (4) are highly contestable, risking erroneously projecting a later modern conception of philosophy back onto the past. Of the theoretical or metaphilosophical claims (1) and (2), I argue that the second claim, as framed here, points to real, hard questions that surround the conception(s) of philosophy as a way of life.


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Published Online: 2021-05-08
Published in Print: 2021-04-06

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