I read an essay by Pierre Hadot’s main translator Michael Chase about philosophy as a way of life (PWL). In “Observations on Pierre Hadot’s Conception of Philosophy as a Way of Life,” Chase proposes that PWL could be a ‘third way’ of doing philosophy that is neither analytic nor Continental. In my experience (which chimes, I would wager, with that of others who are equally disenchanted with professional philosophy), analytic philosophy is logically rigorous but also too narrowly focused. In contradistinction, Continental philosophy has tended to be more prescient and wide-ranging yet also muddled, baroque, bombastic.
Interestingly and quite apart from their stylistic differences, both analytic and Continental philosophy would–notwithstanding such important exceptions as Bernard Williams, Bergson, and Nietzsche–both instantiate the Theoretical Vision of philosophy. Hadot’s general orientation, which I hereby interpret in the light of my own thinking, gives us the lineaments of a Practical Vision of philosophical life.
1. Philosophy is not theoretical discourse but a way of being. Philosophical discourse, accordingly, appears only when necessary and is always put in the service of leading a certain kind of life.
2. This way of being is realized through and only through ongoing spiritual exercises: exercises meant to form and transform one’s perception of, and being within, the world.
3. The philosophical inquirer sets off on the path of self-transformation. His ultimate aim is to lead a radiant life.