Philosophy as a way of life

Craig asked:

These days philosophy is often viewed as discourse (doctrine, argument, conceptual analysis) as a subject for intellectual study. But the Western tradition (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Cynics, Pyrrhonists, Epicureans) strongly emphasizes that philosophy is discourse plus a way of life striving for wisdom, and ancient accounts of philosophers often tell us how they lived rather than just what they said.

What, then, are the distinctive features of a philosophical way of life? And can one call oneself a philosopher without living such a life?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

There’s a book to look at (if you haven’t already) Pierre Hadot ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’:

I have a connection to this. My student Martin O’Hagan, who was murdered by the ‘Red Hand Gang’ Protestant paramilitaries studied Hadot, according to this article by Michael Chase:

Click to access 8-2%2005%20Chase%20-%20Hadot.pdf

Chase is commenting on an essay O’Hagan wrote, ‘Philosophical considerations on discourse/ praxis’, which is on the Pathways web site:

It is a powerful piece, all the more so when you are familiar with the historical background (the Irish ‘troubles’).

Martin O’Hagan also has an ‘In Memoriam’ page on PhiloSophos, with links:

Martin never mentioned Hadot to me. I was given a copy of Hadot many years later by Rachel Browne, one of the ISFP Board members. It is essential reading if you are interested in this topic.

At the time when he was sending essays to me, I knew nothing about O’Hagan’s activities as a campaigning journalist. You can imagine my shock when the news came out (by a horrible coincidence, I was in Dublin at the time, attending a conference at UCD).

To your question(s):

Second one first. You can call yourself a ‘philosopher’ if your interest in philosophy is sufficiently serious, in exactly the same way as you can call yourself a ‘photographer’ if your interest in photography is sufficiently serious.

You don’t have to earn a living by it, nor do you have to practice it to the exclusion of all other activities. It is perfectly possible to be a philosopher and a photographer (as I consider myself to be, not necessarily ‘as good’ at both!).

On the other hand, you can’t call yourself a ‘physician’ unless you have a medical degree, regardless of how passionate your interest. That’s an interesting contrast.

Many people take snaps who are not photographers, and many people study philosophy or think about philosophical ideas who are not philosophers.

This is just a personal opinion (prejudice) but anyone who attempts to ‘practice philosophy as a way of life’ is someone I wouldn’t be too keen to know. I would be intensely annoyed that they thought they were ‘more of a philosopher’ than I am just because I don’t live as an ascetic or do spiritual exercises.


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