Academic journal article Philosophy Today

How It's Not the Chrisippus You Read: On Cooper, Hadot, Epictetus, and Stoicism as a Way of Life

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

How It's Not the Chrisippus You Read: On Cooper, Hadot, Epictetus, and Stoicism as a Way of Life

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

INTRODUCTION: PHILOSOPHY, WHICH WAY OF LIFE? COOPER VERSUS HADOT

In 2012, John M. Cooper published his Pursuits of Wisdom.1 Based on the previous year's John Locke lectures, Cooper's opus examines ancient philosophy as involving not one, but six "ways of life." Each ancient school, up to and including the (for him) liminal neoPlatonists, was moved by the conviction that "philosophical thought ... on its own, must on its own, and directly, provide the motivation ... on which one lives one's life in just the way that one does."2 Yet Cooper's plural subtitle Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy serves not simply to qualify this generic metaphilosophical claim about the ancient philosophies. It also marks Cooper's contribution off from the influential work of the French historian of ideas, Pierre Hadot, whose studies on ancient philosophy comme manière de vivre (in the singular) influenced Michel Foucault and many oth- ers. Indeed, for all of Cooper's proximity, and avowed debt, to several of Hadot's key claims-notably, Hadot's claim that the restriction of philosophy to a solely theoretical pursuit came with the medieval hegemony of Christianity3-one leitmotif of Cooper's important book is a strong criticism of Hadot's conception of ancient philosophy.4

Cooper makes two central claims against Hadot's idea of ancient philosophy as a way of life, in favour of his own interpretation. First, ancient philosophy-although it was agreed from Socrates onwards to involve an existential commitment, wherein one lived 'from,' or on the basis of, the philosophical truths one theoreti- cally assented to5-did not essentially involve what Hadot calls exercises spirituels or "spiritual exercises."6 Cooper sees Hadot as equivocating on the meaning of this term "spiritual exercises" between a narrower meaning of "voluntary, personal practices, intended to bring about a transformation of the individual" and a wider sense, embracing "any activity of living, for example activities of daily life in which one infuses one's actions with one's knowledge of [e.g.] Stoic logic or Stoic physical theory."7 The latter sense Cooper finds consistent with his sense of ancient philosophy as a way of life, but for just this reason as involving nothing meaningfully "spiritual." Indeed, it is this term, which Hadot recognised would be controversial, that Cooper sees Hadot as drawing from Ignatius Loyola in the six- teenth century, rather than from ancient Greek or Roman texts.8 Indeed, Cooper's second claim is that Hadot illegitimately projects backwards an understanding of philosophy drawn from late antiquity (Hadot's earliest, and an enduring, period of historical research). This was a period which Cooper (citing Hadot's "La Fin du Paganisme") however sees as one of decline of ancient philosophy. In these times, with the ascent of syncretic forms of neoPlatonism, philosophy became infected by a wider cultural malaise and sense of alienation from the natural world that fed the rise of the mystery cults and Christianity.9 In this context alone, Cooper claims, were Hadot's "spiritual exercises" (in the narrower sense specified above) adopted by philosophers: involving "meditation, self-exhortation, memorisation, and recitation to oneself of bits of sacred texts, causing in oneself devoted prayer- ful or prayer-like states of consciousness and mystical moments."10 But such forms of askesis for Cooper reflect a later antique "contamination of philosophy by religion"11 rather than in any way constituting an essential part of the ancient philosophies, properly conceived as ways of life somehow founded in "rigorous analysis and reasoned argument" alone.12

This essay wants to challenge Cooper's criticisms of Hadot, and his concep- tion of ancient philosophy as a way of life involving spiritual exercises. Its method is to take a single case from the Roman period, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. The stakes of our argument should be made clear from the start. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.