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Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault
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Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,044 ratings  ·  88 reviews
This book presents a history of spiritual exercises from Socrates to early Christianity, an account of their decline in modern philosophy, and a discussion of the different conceptions of philosophy that have accompanied the trajectory and fate of the theory and practice of spiritual exercises. Hadot's book demonstrates the extent to which philosophy has been, and still is ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 3rd 1995 by Wiley-Blackwell (first published 1981)
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Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This incomparable work tasks itself with resurrecting a lost tradition of reading, and therefore of understanding and of doing philosophy, in which the use of spiritual exercises is seen as an integral part of the meaning of philosophic texts, theories, and practices. Hadot's is an effort to excavate and make available for contemporary use older, but larger, meanings which would allow us once again to see how philosophy can be more than just an abstract theoretical endeavour: a personally transf ...more
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
An exceptional book. Highly recommended.

I Blocked. Not only have I struggled with writing this review, but I have let it get in the way of others reviews. Time to get over it so here goes.

Point 1. If you want to read an overarching review of this excellent book, read Elena’s review below. She serves the author, Pierre Hadot, well.

Point 2. In my view, ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’ is really about attaining the “good life”. This is not to be confused with “living the good life” as defined as ha
Mary-Jean Harris
This was a great book, though not at all like I expected. It was a series of lectures about practices in ancient philosophy (primarily Stoicism, Epicurianism, and Platonism) and how they are focused on living a good life. I expected a practical guide, but this was more of a historical overview of the philosophies that talk about living a philosophical life. If you want to know how philosophy can be applied to your life (the spiritual exercises spoken of in this book), you have to read the books ...more
Tiago Faleiro
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It's impossible to understate the importance of this book, and I'm somewhat embarrassed that I have no read it before. And I'm baffled at the lack of its popularity.

What the book argues is that philosophy as we currently conceptualize it is in some ways deeply misguided. Far from being an abstract and purely intellectual enterprise, philosophy as its core was a way of life, as the title implies.

Hadot was a historian of philosophy specializing in ancient philosophy, and he brings a new light to
Yashvir Dalaya
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
Hadot's clear-cut understanding of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, particularly Stoicism and Epicureanism, is manifestly presented, albeit in thesis form, in this book. He points out how philosophy, in its current practice, has become more about abstract theorizing on the manner of the universe and our own lives, from its purpose in antiquity of serving as a practical guide to a "way of life".

This book will serve more as an exposition of the several schools of philosophical thought that p
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in ancient philosophy and seekers of wisdom. This book has a great way of explaining how it was when philosophy was a way of life and will give you suggestions on how to think for yourself and for the present moment.
Olivier Goetgeluck
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"People are not troubled by things, but by their judgments about things."
- Epictetus

Epictetus' three acts or functions of the soul:
- judgment
- desire
- inclination or impulsion

Since each of these activities of the soul depend on us, we can discipline them, we can choose to judge or not to judge in a particular way, we can choose to desire or not to desire, to will or not to will.

The goal of spiritual exercises is to influence yourself, to produce an effect in yourself.

In every spiritual exercise
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a good read and it cheers me up. The chapter on Socrates is particularly interesting: insights into approaches to teaching and dialogue, as well as the role of Eros as demon. And about incommunicability, language and death. Finally some ancient wisdom. I will re-read Euripides tragedies. The form of dialogue is first a form of friendship. It is a journey in which the interlocutors do not know the destination. They do not respectively defend a ‘truth’ or conclusion yet it is a kind of bat ...more
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Hadot strikes me as a cross between Foucault and Leo Strauss: he shares with the Strauss the view that, as the book title suggests, philosophy is not primarily and perhaps not even ultimately concerned with assigning truth values to assertoric propositions. He shares with Foucault a certain historicism; the way he talks about the doctrines and methods of so-called "schools of thought" is somewhat symptomatic of this fact. The editing in this volume is lazy, and Hadot is repetitious and his style ...more
Tasshin Fogleman
Oct 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Dresden
Read much of this book on a one-to-one study group with Dresden; we both enjoyed what we read, although she said that John said that he had heard Hadot was "Foucault light." Hadot is certainly simple, and one can tire of his seemingly endless search for sources and authors that match his thesis—and yet that thesis opens up a new realm for philosophy past and future, but most especially in the present. Now. Yes. Now. (Did you get that?)

Hadot made me want to re-read Plato properly, and I thank him
James Henderson
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Hadot presents philosophy as "spiritual exercises" through essays on Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, and others. In addition to the exercises the book includes essays on the methods of philosophy, discussions of Socrates and Marcus Aurelius. The essay on Marcus Aurelius was enhanced by my concurrent reading of his Meditations which can be seen as an example of the way of practicing philosophy described in Hadot's book. The book concludes with a section on "Themes" where the nature of happiness and un ...more
Timothy Kestrel
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What if I was to say that, in the end, your life was nothing but a stain on the pavement? Quite likely you would be offended and retort how I dare to utter such repulsive remark. However, in my defence I would say that is exactly the point for I am a philosopher. I am not here to please anyone. Philosophy as a way of life does not involve being rude, but it does mean to express ideas that may seem odd and/or offensive to some. I would also maintain that instead of being offended, you should answ ...more
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Despite his own thesis that ancient 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 the individual's life", Hadot's book does not provide much information on the ancient philosophers' mode of existing in-the-world and the relationship between their philosophy and their way of life. There is not much historical evidence on the lives of ancient philosophers that their philosophy determined their way of l ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book.

Unfortunately I only understood every third paragraph. Much of the book went over my head, but the third that I did understand made it one of the best books I've read.

If you are interested in Stoicism then I would recommend giving this book a read. I would love to have someone to discuss it with and perhaps help me gain some insights on the bits I couldn't fully appreciate.
Gary Brooks
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Superlative examination of philosophy's evolution through practical guide to the good life, scholastic theological foil, to it's present academic, abstract form. Hadot details the spiritual exercises of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Pythagors and Plotinus; concentrating also on themes in common such as devotion to the present moment, virtue as a lived exercise and philosophy as a means of living well. Recommended. ...more
Monyputhy Ly
Dec 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A great consolidation of ancient philosophy!

I can truly see the passion of the writer in his research for both historical and philosophical contexts to grasp a deeper and clearer understanding of ancient philosophy regarding the art of living.

What's philosophy?
Philosophy is life, not a discourse.
It's the approach to living.
And, this is the approach that this book emphasized.

The author shared about 'spiritual exercises', as guides for us to live life better. The key concepts on this part, which I
Tijmen Lansdaal
Mar 16, 2021 rated it it was ok
Likeable argument, but a bit superficial overall. There's some important particulars I take issue with. Possibly could be an entertaining broad introduction to ancient philosophy for the uninitiated. ...more
John Reis
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This is an informative book. His modest goal is to show that the ancients were interested in action, a philosophical life, more than they were interested in discourse. He does that well. He is not specific about philosophical exercises. Although he does give time to some of their goals: indifference, oneness with the world, living in the present.

I think though he misses the kind of lives these men lived. None of these men had to work for their survival. They lived in comfort or they lived in po
Henry Manampiring
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Finally finished this book. It's not very easy to read, especially since it was written originally in French, but it is not impossible to comprehend and enjoy.

It has changed my view on ancient philosophy in a fundamental way. I used to think that philosophy is just intellectual discourse for the privileged, wholesale. Hadot showed us that this is so contrary to the original intent of the philosophy schools. In Hadot's words: "It is an invitation to each human being to transform himself. Philosop
Patrick Iain
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A truly excellent book - gives a wonderful, historical sweep on the evolution of spiritual exercises from the time of antiquity to the present day.

I would recommend it to the religious and non-religious alike, anyone who is interested in the big questions in life and how we might examine them, and live our responses to them, on a moment-by-moment basis.

Hadot was an innovative genius.
Apr 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Self-help for would-be philosophers. De Botton avant-la-lettre. Rather boring and clichéd. Fails to move or provoke. Reads like the philosophical equivalent of a satisfied Socrates cultivating his garden...
Julian Munds
Taking a work as it was written and in and of itself. Nothing else. This is the central thesis of the series of the essays and lectures that are collected in this book. At times the reading becomes esoteric and at times winded in close readings. It helps if you have the other texts close at hand.
Jan 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This is a fantastic way to think about ancient philosophy, much more interesting that most current English-language scholarship (which tends to focus on "doctrines" at the expense of practice). ...more
Giovanni Generoso
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life.
Alex Winikoff
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
BEAUTIFUL book on philosophy.
May 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are at least several levels of reading suitable for this book: one, as an exhortation of a way of life – life living in pursuing wisdom and cosmic reason (exemplified most readily in Stoic figures such as Marcus Aurelius, and a few Epicureans) in order to reconcile the alienation of human consciousness and its existential finitude; two, as an discursive exegetical narrative of a way of life out of the ordinary mode of being through a disciplined exercise of perception, reasoning and conduc ...more
Tomas Vik
Dec 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Pierre Hadot was a French philosopher who spent his whole life studying ancient philosophy. He was a key proponent of thought that ancient philosophy was not the theoretical discipline studied at universities as we see it now but a way of life. Everyday practical exercises were an inseparable part of philosophy.

Through the highly practical point of view, Hadot explains the work of Socrates and Marcus Aurelius. Modern scholars often misinterpreted Marcus Aurelius as a pessimist. In his Meditation
Chris Hinkle
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This book has been sitting on my shelf for decades, since I read a chapter or two for a class in Divinity School. The title and concept has always caught me. Finally during a Covid vacation i started it and am grateful. The central idea, that philosophy is not a set of true propositions but rather a process of self-creation through meditation and reflection and ethical behavior, seems inherently right. It also seems important. If philosophy its spiritual exercises to the growth of theology as a ...more
Barry Andrews
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Pierre Hadot is a historian of philosophy, specializing in the philosophies of Ancient Greece and Rome. In this book he describes the spiritual exercises prescribed by the various philosophical schools—Stoicism, Epicureanism, etc. These exercises were eventually taken up by the Catholic Church, but they are typical of self-cultivation philosophies generally, including Confucianism, Taoism, Vedanta, and Transcendentalism. I find this book to be an excellent resource in my on-going study of self-c ...more
ვახო   ჰიბრის სვანიძე
What is Ancient Philosophy and how it differs from one, which we call modern and contemporary philosophies. An answer, which Hadot sets, is that in modern times there is immense gap between Philosophical discourse and Philosophical life itself, whereas in Ancient way of perceiving philosophy, those two parts were coherent, in hierarchy that Discourse was perceived as a server of experienced philosophy, basis for exercises of soul. Later, he shows an importance of present instant and how it was p ...more
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Pierre Hadot (né à Paris, le 21 février 1922 - mort à Orsay, le 25 avril 2010) est un philosophe, historien et philologue français, spécialiste de l'antiquité, profond connaisseur de la période hellénistique et en particulier du néoplatonisme et de Plotin. Pierre Hadot est l'auteur d'une œuvre développée notamment autour de la notion d'exercice spirituel et de philosophie comme manière de vivre.


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