Sunday, July 16, 2017

Stoic Spiritual Exercises

"  "Spiritual exercises."  The expression is a bit disconcerting for the contemporary reader.  In the first place, it is no longer quite fashionable these days to use the word "spiritual."  It is nevertheless necessary to use this term, I believe, because none of the other adjectives we could use — "psychic," "moral," "ethical," "intellectual," "of thought," "of the soul" — covers all the aspects of the reality we want to describe.  Since, in these exercises, it is though which, as it were, takes itself as its own subject-matter, and seeks to modify itself, it would be possible for us to speak in terms of "thought exercises."  Yet the word "thought" does not indicate clearly enough that imagination and sensibility play a very important role in these exercises.  For the same reason, we cannot be satisfied with "intellectual exercises," although such intellectual factors as definition, division, ratiocination, reading, investigation, and rhetorical amplification play a large role in them.  "Ethical exercises" is a rather a tempting expression, since, as we shall see, the exercises in question contribute in a powerful way to the therapeutics of the passions, and have to do with the conduct of life.  Yet, here again, this would be too limited a view of things.  As we can glimpse through Friedmann's text, these  exercises in fact correspond to a transformation of our vision of the world, and to a metamorphosis of our personality.  The word "spiritual" is quite apt to make us understand that these exercises are the result, not merely of thought, but of the individuals entire psychism.  Above all, the word "spiritual" reveals the true dimensions of these exercises.  By means of them, the individual raises himself up to the life of the objective Spirit; that is to say, he re-places himself within the perspective of the Whole ("Become eternal by transcending yourself.")"
-  Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 1995, p. 81; Spiritual Exercises, pp. 81-125. 

Stoicism  A hypertext notebook by Michael P. Garofalo.  

Virtues and the Good Life

Stoic Philosophers and Spiritual Exercises

Pierre Hadot (1922 - 1910) 

"These exercises, involving not just the intellect or reason, but all a human being's faculties, including emotion and imagination, had the same goal as all ancient philosophy: reducing human suffering and increasing happiness, by teaching people to detach themselves from their particular, egocentric, individualistic viewpoint and become aware of their belonging, as integral component parts, to the Whole constituted by the entire cosmos. In its fully developed form, exemplified in such late Stoics as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, this change from our particularistic perspective to the universal perspective of reason had three main aspects. First, by means of the discipline of thought, we are to strive for objectivity; since, as the Stoics believe, what causes human suffering is not so much things in the world, but our beliefs about those things, we are to try to perceive the world as it is in itself, without the subjective coloring we automatically tend to ascribe to everything we experience ("That's lovely," "that's horrible," "that's ugly," "that's terrifying," etc., etc.). Second, in the discipline of desire, we are to attune our individual desires with the way the universe works, not merely accepting that things happen as they do, but actively willing for things to happen precisely the way they do happen. This attitude is, of course, the ancestor of Nietzsche’s “Yes” granted to the cosmos, a “yes” which immediately justifies the world's existence.  Finally, in the discipline of action, we are to try to ensure that all our actions are directed not just to our own immediate, short-term advantage, but to the interests of the human community as a whole.  Hadot finally came to believe that these spiritual attitudes—“spiritual” precisely because they are not merely intellectual, but involve the entire human organism, but one might with equal justification call them “existential” attitudes—and the practices or exercises that nourished, fortified and developed them, were the key to understanding all of ancient philosophy. In a sense, the grandiose physical, metaphysical, and epistemological structures that separated the major philosophical schools of Antiquity—Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism—were mere superstructures, intended to justify the basic philosophical attitude. Hadot deduced this, among other considerations, from the fact that many of the spiritual exercises of the various schools were highly similar, despite all their ideological differences: thus, both Stoics and Epicureans recommended the exercise of living in the present."
-  Michael Chase, Remembering Pierre Hadot

Stoic Spiritual Exercises.  By Elen Buzaré.  2010.  32 pages.  PDF File.

Dismantling the Self: Deleuze, Stoicism and Spiritual Exercises.  By Luke Skrebowski, 2005, 18 pages, PDF File.

Philosophical Therapeutics: Pierre Hadot and Ancient Philosophy as a Way of Life.  By Christopher Vitale, Networkologies, 2012.  

Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault  By Pierre Hadot.  Edited with an introduction by Arnold Davidson.  Translated by Michael Chase.  Malden, Massachusetts, Wiley-Blackwell, 1995.  Index, extensive bibliography, 320 pages.  ISBN: 978-0631180333.  VSCL.


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