A magisterial mappa mundi of the terrain that Pierre Hadot has so productively worked for decades, this ambitious work revises our view of ancient philosophy—and in doing so, proposes that we change the way we see philosophy itself. Hadot takes ancient philosophy out of its customary realm of names, dates, and arid abstractions and plants it squarely in the thick of life. Through a meticulous historical reading, he shows how the various schools, trends, and ideas of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy all tended toward one goal: to provide a means for achieving happiness in this life, by transforming the individual’s mode of perceiving and being in the world.
Most pressing for Hadot is the question of how the ancients conceived of philosophy. He argues in great detail, systematically covering the ideas of the earliest Greek thinkers, Hellenistic philosophy, and late antiquity, that ancient philosophers were concerned not just to develop philosophical theories, but to practice philosophy as a way of life—a way of life to be suggested, illuminated, and justified by their philosophical “discourse.” For the ancients, philosophical theory and the philosophical way of life were inseparably linked.
What Is Ancient Philosophy? also explains why this connection broke down, most conspicuously in the case of academic, professional philosophers, especially under the influence of Christianity. Finally, Hadot turns to the question of whether and how this connection might be reestablished. Even as it brings ancient thoughts and thinkers to life, this invigorating work provides direction for those who wish to improve their lives by means of genuine philosophical thought.
First published in France in 1995, Hadot's overview of ancient philosophy…is quite possibly one of the best one-volume works on the subject to have appeared in English in a very long time, not only for the clarity with which it is written…but also for the point of view Hadot takes. In keeping with Socrates' dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, Hadot places each philosopher or movement discussed firmly within its cultural and intellectual context and shows that philosophy was not simply a process for creating theories but, more importantly, a way of life for many.
Pierre Hadot is determined to change our view of ancient philosophy, and by extension, of philosophy as a discipline… Like Hadot's hero Socrates, What is Ancient Philosphy? is a triumph of irony: a meticulous historical survey that ends by inspiring the reader to actually do philosophy. Handsomely designed, with useful bibliography and chronology, it's a compact text for the 'never-ending quest.'
Hadot's account moves gracefully from the beginning of philosophy among the Greeks, though its transformation under the Romans, and the encounter with Christianity, also touching on the relation between Eastern and Western philosophy. Profound learning stylishly worn makes the whole book, and the whole sweep of philosophy's first 1,000 years, accessible to any reader interested in what philosophy was like before it was taken over by the professors.
Pierre Hadot deserves to be better known to English-language readers—and not just because he was a favorite of Michel Foucault's and is the man largely responsible for introducing Wittgenstein to the French. Hadot is a historian of ancient philosophy, a professor emeritus at the prestigious Collège de France. But it is more accurate to say that he is a philosopher who makes use of the ancients for his own ideas… In What is Ancient Philosophy? Hadot brings all his concerns together in a small volume of extraordinary erudition and surprising…clarity of prose… It is the summa of a distinguished career.
This is a stimulating book. Thinking comparatively about what philosophy was and is will surely enrich the field.
In its sweep and clarity of presentation, I would compare this book with some of the great syntheses of an earlier generation—for instance, Werner Jaeger's Paideia. At the center of the study is the strikingly original notion of the spiritual exercise, which Professor Hadot here and elsewhere shows to lie at the heart of Greek Hellenistic thinking about man, morality, and the universe.
Hadot's What Is Ancient Philosophy? is a wonderful book. It strives to persuade us to revise our view of philosophy—to think of philosophy, as the ancients did, as crucially involving a philosophical way of life.
This book is a masterpiece of erudition and insight—it combines Pierre Hadot's extraordinary textual knowledge, his profound and original philosophical vision, and his famously lucid prose to give us a new way of approaching ancient philosophy. Beyond this, it proposes a conception of the tasks of philosophy that will be of abiding interest to philosophers and nonphilosophers alike.
- 384 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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