2013 Fall Proseminar Class Notes A

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September 11, 2013

First Post By: Alynna Nemes

When I read Hadot's "Spiritual Exercises," I rediscovered the origin of my passion for philosophy in one simple phrase, "Know thyself" (90). Throughout the reading, the phrase takes on multiple meanings that are encompassed by the need for spiritual exercises with the goals of "self realization and improvement" (102). To me, philosophy is a journey to discover the best way to live life, while opening my mind to new perspectives that could help me improve myself. Also, it delves into other fields of study that involve contemplating, understanding, and changing human nature (history, psychology, sociology, etc.). I agree with the definition that philosophy is "a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way" (107).

However, this contradicts Deleuze’s "What is Philosophy,” when "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts" (2). Present day philosophy strays from spiritual exercises and improvement of human nature by becoming more cynical of philosophy itself, becoming lost in all the complexities of self-realization. Current philosophy has lost its own ability to enrich human nature because its modern principles are unable to correspond with humanity’s new set of ideals and beliefs, rendering the ideas of the past irrelevant or ineffective. As Deleuze notes, "Those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life are the plague of philosophy" (28). There is no dialogue and truth being fought out; philosophy has become a petty subject of arguments with no real world impact. The ancient followers of Stoicism and Epicureanism developed and answered that philosophy is meant to be lived and experienced because "there are some truths whose meaning will never be exhausted by the generations of man" (Hadot 108). Concepts within philosophy don't always have to be new; they can be practical and simple to evoke self realization. Philosophy has strayed from its roots and I hope that we can one day return philosophy back to its original spiritual exercises.

Anemes (talk)

Marshall Powell:

I find the criticisms of modern academic philosophy that Hadot describes to resonate very much with what I see in my own reading. The simple and unadorned language that many of the stoic philosophers use, makes memorization and internalization much simpler than sifting through the complicated, and roundabout language of many modern philosophers. The stoics also focused heavily on recognizing the scope of one's existence relative to the universe, in order to act in a way that befits a being of little significance. Modern western philosophy is much more a theoretical pursuit than it was at the time of ancient stoic philosophers, focused more on changing perspective on specific arguments, rather than influencing a complete change in a persons practice. I strongly agree that philosophy should shape one's actions rather than bolster one's pride.

However, I believe Hadot demonstrates the weaknesses of modern philosophy in his discussion about the use of spiritual exercises. He begins by rejecting the language that people are familiar with and understand well, in favor of spiritual. His argument is that the other words people would commonly use are too narrow to fully describe what the exercises are doing, but he fails to critique his use of spiritual to the same level. Spiritual seems to be an especially bad choice because the preconceptions of spiritual that most people hold are vastly different than the idea he is trying to convey. For the use to make any sort of real sense, the definition must be so vague that it fails to say anything definitive at all. At best people will have to guess at how exactly a change in spirit will practically effect their life, and at worst it might cause a person to wholly misinterpret the meaning of the exercises Hadot describes. He seems to equate the differing ideas of philosophers of very different schools of thought as all engaging in spiritual exercise, but does not provide much evidence in most of the cases. He tries to connect what appear to be people on opposing ends of the philosophical spectrum with out thoroughly explaining the ties and without providing much critique of his claims.

These passages seems to be written by different people, because of how significantly Hadot's style varies between.


Evan Dobbs:

I found that the "Philosophy as a Way of Life" reading by Pierre Hadot was very similar to the ancient philosophers of Xenophanes of Colophon and Heraclitus of Ephesus that I read for my Ancient Philosophy class. All three philosophers exert an enormous amount of emphasis on the value of "wisdom". Xenophanes seems to be one of the first to reject the common belief in the Greek Gods and that a man should be valued only his strength and his skill in battle. He writes, "...these ways are misguided and it is not right to put strength ahead of wisdom." It is amazing to me that nearly two thousand years latter philosophers are still preaching the same idea.

Like Alynna wrote, this text was a refreshing reminder of why I enjoy reading philosophy. From the get-go, Hadot discusses the lost art of "the community" and how we have lost our sense of responsibility to each other. A general concern for the "universal commonwealth" seem to be all but missing in our culture and philosophy today. I was deciding whether to use the word culture of philosophy in that last sentence and I realized they are very much similar. According to Hadot a Philosophy is a way of living, just as a culture can be. Our culture/philosophy has become inherently more selfish and self centered. This may be due to the fact, as Hadot points out, that our philosophy has changed and become a "construction of technical jargon reserved for specialists." We need to again center philosophy around the art of living. At a time when people's morals and principals aren't in accordance with virtue, we need practical, lifestyle philosophy.


Riley Peschon:

Pierre Hadot's descriptions of ancient philosophical schools of thought in Spiritual Exercises represented how far our culture has fallen from the roots of philosophical practice. Hadot’s Philosophy As A Way Of Life proceeded to illustrate the direct changes seen from ancient philosophy through the Middle Ages and beyond 18th century thinkers, leading to the acceptance of a modern day interpretation of philosophical practice.

The drastic change in the treatment of philosophical practices seems to intertwine with the increase of materialism. Hadot explains the evolution (or de-evolution) of the philosophical lifestyle into a university practice. The description of nearly universal philosophical ideas such as being virtuous and ignoring what one cannot control shows that it is the people who have pushed away the lifestyle. We are far removed from the advice to "take flight every day". There is stark relevance of this concept today, as materialism and perceived image dominate society while study of philosophy has become fairly unpopular, with philosophical living hardly even discussed outside of the classroom. Alynna pointed out how modern philosophy is dangerously far from its roots and I could not agree more. A philosophy for life needs to embody one's "entire psychism". Discourse cannot be the only means towards living a good life. We must practice the discourse, for without it spiritual exercises will not be nearly as effective.

Hadot’s discussion of elevating the soul towards genuine intellect and, ultimately, a holistic view (or One) brought me back to Forms in Human Nature. Specifically, a Form of the soul's freedom. While we pursue the detachment of passion and desire from our soul, is it feasible to achieve? We are told through Stoic and Epicureanism beliefs to strive towards said detachment and imagine oneself experiencing material death. The feasibility of a mortal achieving this can be questioned, as can the feasibility of a mortal understanding Forms.

September 18 2013

Avel Diaz

It seems safe to say that science is a distinct field of study that separates itself from all other forms of disciplines due to its systematic nature that is induced by the scientific method. The scientific method, as put exceptionally well by Schick and Vaughn in "Science and Its Pretenders,” “The scientific method is self-correcting, and as a result it is our most reliable guide to the truth. Undoubtedly, it is significant enough to question what the nature of science, namely, the scientific method wishes to accomplish. Surely, “Science seeks to understand the general principles that govern the universe.” Scientist’s employment of the scientific method helps to eliminate any confounding or misguided errors that could impair the knowledge of such principles. The scientific method strengthens the argument that true knowledge exists outside our senses or “faculties” that supplement our understanding of the world, for our senses aren’t infallible. What makes the scientific method an essential component to the success and validity of science? The vital aspect of the scientific method and of the pursuit of knowledge is a hypothesis that is both testable, and falsifiable. In all scientific inquires, such inquiries must be guided by a hypothesis that Schick and Vaughn agreeably maintain that without a hypothesis, there is no way of attaining the goal of identifying principles that are both explanatory and predictive. In addition, the hypothesis must be falsifiable. It is plausible to distinguish scientific theories from non-scientific ones, based upon the nature of a hypothesis’ ability to be falsifiable, for there is no way to assume a hypothesis to be correct if it doesn’t have the ability to be proven wrong. According to Sir Karl Popper, a falsifiable hypothesis is an essential component to a competent hypothesis and scientific theory. Interestingly, these are only a few insights about the nature of science, and how it is distinct from all other branches of knowledge or study.

Some questions for group discussion

1st part:

  1. Why should philosophy be a "way of life" or "spiritual exercise"? Consider case against and for.
  2. How can the academic study of philosophy intersect with this more traditional model of the ancients (according to Hadot)?

2nd part:

  1. What does it mean for the identity of philosophy that it could be thought of so differently at different periods of time?
  2. Is philosophy of a form of culture?

September 18, 2013: Science and Philosophy

AJ Harmond: The first two readings here seem to be broad descriptions of scientific reasoning. From both of them, it is easy to draw parallels between philosophical deductive reasoning and scientific reasoning. However, the concept of scientific reasoning and general inductive reasoning sometimes seems blurry by the account of both Schick and Giere. For example, Schick claims that, "In general, any procedure that serves systematically to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt can be considered scientific." (166) I would say that a large majority of philosophers are attempting to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt in order to defend their thought. I am not wholly convinced that what Schick describes, at the purely rhetorical level, is necessarily "scientific". Of course, the scientific method does necessitate physical empirical data for justification, which I believe does separate it from philosophy.

But it is possible that my own drawing of parallels between the scientific method and philosophical argumentation is partially due to the historical effect of one on the other. This, at least, is a thought that formed after I read the two chapters by Barnes. Taken together, it seems to attempt to show the growth of scientific reasoning and its effect on the philosophers of the day. Taking in mind the prevalence of scientific reasoning of our own era, its not hard to suppose that science has had a similar effect on my own philosophical thinking.

Of course, I would still maintain a healthy distance between science and philosophy in practice. What Schick and Giere demonstrate as science may overlap with philosophy (particularly when they talk about inductive reasoning) but, as I see it at least, philosophy approaches problems in a radically different way then science.



Sam Olsen:

I found this website a few weeks ago while discussing with my friend who's major is better (chemistry and biology or philosophy and classics). I thought it is nice to take a gander at considering parts of our discussions last week and the articles this week are on both science and philosophy.

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