The main theses of Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life

This is the fourth set of reflections on Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). The first set of reflections can be read here.


Let us review what we know about Stoterdijk’s basic philosophical orientation.

1.) Human beings are first and foremost practicing animals. Most practice what they do implicitly: even an ignoramus, Stoterdijk contends, has to ‘work hard’ to continue to be ignorant. (Imagine him continuing to get a math problem wrong and continuing to work on it in this wrongheaded fashion.) Meanwhile, the few and the rare are immersed in explicit training programs aimed at radically changing their lives.

2.) Stoterdijk’s most elementary question is, ‘How does one become extraordinary?’ The other way of articulating the question is, ‘How is it possible for a human being to uproot himself from his poor habits?’

3.) Stoterdijk is an elitist in the sense that he insists that some human beings dare to be extraordinary while most do not. He is not so much concerned with what impediments stand in the way of virtuosity as he is to analyze the project of extraordinary human beings.

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Kissing a ‘thing which is human’


At bedtime, I lie on my side, facing her. Her hand is so warm, rough from climbing.


After I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I lie back down and listen. There: her breath.


Epicetus says, ‘If you kiss your wife, say you only kiss a thing which is human. Thus you will not be disturbed if it dies.’ His words sound cruel, but they are not that at all.


One hand is firmly around the middle of her back, feeling muscle and vertebrae. The other wide-pinches the nape of the neck. Her lungs fill. Her ribs fall.

Plotinus on sculpting the self

In Enneads I 6, 9, Plotinus writes,

Go back inside yourself and look: if you do not yet see yourself as beautiful [i.e., as participating in the Idea of Beauty], then do as the sculptor does with a statue he wants to make beautiful; he chisels away one part, and levels off another, makes one spot smooth and another clear, until he shows forth a beautiful face on the statue. Like him, remove what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, clean up what is dark and make it bright, and never stop sculpting your own statue, until the godlike splendor of virtue shines forth to you…. If you have become this, and seen it, and become pure and alone with yourself, with nothing now preventing you from becoming one in this way, and have nothing extraneous mixed with your self… if you see that this is what you have become, then you have become a vision.

Thus, on this analogy, removing the inessential reveals to one the ‘godlike splendor of virtue.’ The technique (by which I mean: spiritual exercise) does not mean modeling oneself upon another; it is not about accepting oneself as one is; it is not about willing oneself to be other than one’s nature would allow; it is not mimicry. None of these but the slow, attentive, and gentle ‘chiseling away’ of one’s vices, one’s clumsinesses, and one’s uglinesses with the result that one can, only now, participate in the Idea of Beauty. Look to the coursenesses. Let them all go. Then will you not espy a vision close-up or from afar since now it is that ‘you have become a vision.’ You are mystical art.

A right discipline: Daily practice

A right discipline is not a regime that one imposes upon oneself from without. A right discipline begins with lived experiences of what is best, of intimations of the elongation and prolongation of what is best. Taking the idea of prolongation seriously, a right discipline makes explicit to one how it is possible to maintain oneself in the way of what is best.

The following is an example of right discipline from my own life. This thought I first expounded upon, in more generals terms, in this short post on living according to nature.


Waking with love before dawn

Walking meditation with love before and during sunrise

Preparing and eating a light breakfast in silence

Writing as spiritual exercise (ascesis(as I do now)

Philosophical conversation with conversation partner

Brief rest and stretching (taciturnitas)


Preparing and eating a light lunch lovingly, in the spirit of laughter

Mysore ashtanga yoga or climbing alone (tranquillitas)

Light snack


Philosophical conversation with conversation partner or Writing as spiritual exercise

Reading as spiritual exercise or Enzo as spiritual exercise


Making dinner as spiritual exercise

Eating dinner with spirited, lighthearted conversation


Walking meditation with love before and during sunset

Reading aloud in bed as exercise in natural eloquence or Eros as beautiful expression of love

Sleeping gently