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I just finished reading Pierre Hadot’s “Philosophy as a Way of Life.”

This is the best book that I have read in at least 10 years.  Focused mostly on the Hellenistic era but also going as far back as Socrates and as far forward as Nietzsche and Foucault.

The book seeks to elucidate philo-sophy (love of wisdom) not as a rarefied field of study but as a way of life consistent with making us one with the universe.

The book, originally in French, is not a light-weight self help book as its title may imply.  But is instead a deep study of the origins of “spiritual exercises” from Socrates to the Hellenists (Stoicism, Epicureanism, and neo-Platonism) and onward to the early Christians.

Hadot’s main thesis is that philosophy has been gutted in the modern era to focus on rarefied discourse and study at the expense of it serving as an aid in helping us to lead better lives.  Using abundant examples from the likes of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Hadot makes a significant and resounding case for a re-emergence of philosophy from the walls of academia, where it has been penned and chained for the last 1500 years.  While knowledge of ancient philosophy is not strictly required for reading this book, those with this knowledge will get the most from it.

I have studied the Stoics and Epicureans about as much as is possible for a layman, and I found this book indispensable in making clear the teachings of Epicurus and Zeno, as well as the early Christian scholars.  Hadot shows clearly that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are grounded in philosophy going back at least as far as Socrates.

I recommend this book in the most high fashion to anyone who seeks wisdom and loves a good mental workout.  I have already started reading another book by Hadot, “What is Ancient Philosophy?” and have ordered a third book by Hadot, “The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.”

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