Thursday, 12 December 2013

Philosophy as a Way of Life

One of the best philosophy books I've read is Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot which tells you how you can actually use philosophy to change and enrich your life, rather than endlessly theorize. Here's a pertinent section [p.83]:

'In the view of all philosophical schools, mankind's principal cause of suffering, disorder and unconsciousness were the passions, that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears.  People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries.  Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions...Each school had its own therapeutic method, but all of them linked their therapeutics to a profound transformation of the individual's mode of seeing and being.  The object of spiritual exercises is precisely to bring about this transformation.

To begin with, let us consider the example of the Stoics.  For them, all mankind's woes derive from the fact that he seeks to acquire or to keep possessions that he may lose or fail to obtain, and from the fact that he tries to avoid misfortunes which are often inevitable.  The task of philosophy, then is to educate people, so that they seek only the goods they are able to obtain, and try to avoid only those evils which it is possible to avoid.  In order for something good to be always obtainable, or an evil always avoidable, they must depend exclusively on man's freedom; but the only things which fulfill these conditions are moral good and evil.  They alone depend on us; everything else does not depend on us.  Here, 'everything else' which does not depend on us, refers to the necessary linkage of cause and effect, which is not subject to our freedom.  It must be indifferent to us: that is, we must not introduce any differences into it, but accept it in its entirety, as willed by fate.  This the domain of nature.

We have here a complete reversal of our usual way of looking at things.  We are to switch from our 'human' vision of reality, in which our values depend on our passions, to a 'natural' vision of things, which replaces each event within the perspective of universal nature.

Such a transformation of vision is not easy, and it is precisely here that spiritual exercises come in.  Little by little, they make possible the indispensable metamorphosis of our inner self.'

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