A training program in transformation: Implications of Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life

This is the tenth and final 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. A summary of Sloterdijk’s principal theses is available here. An overview of my posts (what I term ‘the thrust of his argument’) can be found here


Let us recall that Sloterdijk has investigated whether human beings qua practicing animals can overcome their bad habits. His conclusion is that in the past some extraordinary persons and groups of practitioners have. Let us remind ourselves further of the conceptual muddle shining forth in the modern period:

Modernity is the time in which those humans who hear the call to change no longer know where they should start: with the world or with themselves–or with both at once. (323)

I believe Sloterdijk’s answer clearly resounds that am called to change my life, a project of self-cultivation that can occur alongside those who have also heard such a call addressed to each of them. This untimely time Sloterdijk designates ‘antique.’

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Philosophical portraiture: The common ear

The screen shot included below is an example of philosophical portraiture by Aleksandra Marcella Lauro. Philosophical portraiture is concerned with the project of self-cultivation–specifically, with how one comes into contact with what is higher. Here, the figure on the viewer’s left is wholesome, earnest, yet naive in the ways of the world. The figure on the viewer’s right is more world-weary, more worldly, less unwise. The common ear shows the way that one can become the other. Listen. The figure who is looking at us is gently holding us to account for our lives. Aleksandra suggests that I am on the humble path which leads from the first figure, who I am no longer, to the second, the man I would like to be.

The portrait can be viewed in full-scale here.

Philosophical Portrait screen shot

Invitation: 3 months, 3 small patrons, 1 life transformed


This post is  an investigation of a perplexing case concerning how a young person and I can work together as well as an invitation to a young person who would like to. If the following scenario applies to you and you’d like to get in touch with me, you can do so through the Contact Form of my main website.

I begin first by setting up the puzzle.

The Puzzle of Proper Generosity

It’s not uncommon for me to speak with a young person who would like to have some philosophical conversations with me but who would not be able to offer much, if anything, in order to meet my material needs. He would like to be more generous if he were so able, yet as things stand being properly generous would prove to be a financial burden for him. Indeed, were he to offer more than he should, it could soon be impossible for him to care for what matters most, to care properly for himself.

Now, proper generosity requires that each see to the other without putting one in another’s (bad) debt. In the scenario above, however, proper generosity is held to be desirable yet appears to be impossible. Either something will have to give, or something novel will have to be introduced.

In what follows, I want to consider the introduction of A Third. What further could be introduced in order to bring about proper generosity?


Let us specify first. This young person (let’s say) would like to speak with me once every two weeks for a season (3 or 4 months).  Let us also say that we are both committed to an immanent aim: namely, putting him or her on the path to transforming his or her life.

Candidate Solutions

How would it be possible for this person to speak with me 6-8 times in order to set forth on that path?

One could look to crowdfunding. Here, two immediate problems arise. The first is that the ‘genre’ of crowdfunding is the project, not the project of self-cultivation. Crowdfunding is about getting something or other done, not about caring for the state of the self.

Secondly, crowdfunding builds into its design the free-rider problem: most will look on, some would be willing to use whatever the project intends to complete, but few will actually chip in. This is to say that most won’t care or care enough that this thing (or person) come into being. Better: most won’t care so much that they would feel impelled to help make it possible for this thing to come into being.

Rule out crowdfunding, then. Another approach would be to find a patron who cares about the project of self-cultivation. The objection, though, is clear: although this patron may care about the project of self-cultivation, he may not care that this person be so transformed. Who is this person to him? the skeptic might ask.

The inadequacies of the first two approaches enjoin us to think more about how we could specify more narrowly what sort of funding model we are after. We can say at least two things:

First, that whoever is to support this young person (call this ‘whoever is to support’ The Third) must not only know him and care about him but also care that he be so transformed.

Second, that The Third must also not feel that supporting this young person’s project of self-cultivation for 3-4 months would be onerous.

A Couple of Clues

1. The reconsideration of the concept of collateral in microfinance provides one clue. Someone who wishes to start a business but who has no collateral may get assistance from a group of community members who would serve as guarantors.

2. Rites of Passage: When someone is going on a journey, he may be paired up with an elder who may (while in the background) hold him to account.

The Answer: Three Small Patrons

The answer to the puzzle lies in the young person’s seeking out and securing (say) three small patrons who already know him, care about him, and care that he transform himself into a more excellent human being. Each patron would provide a small contribution that altogether would count as ‘proper generosity.’ No patron would find himself burdened not least because generosity would be ‘spread over’ the three. (We are imagining a number between The One (the single patron) and the Demos (the crowd).)

To each patron, the young person would have to ‘render an account’ at the end of each month in order to show that he  or she is on the path to becoming a more excellent human being. During our philosophical conversations, the young person and I would go through directed inquiries to ensure that the questions continue to lead to answers he is living by. That is, we would have a clearly laid-out path.

At the end of the 3 or 4 months, the young person would have to show that his practice of living can ‘manifest’ itself in some artistic way. That is, he would have to provide evidence (a self-portrait? a spoken word performance? a night of hosting friends?) that demonstrates that he is transforming his vision of the world.

The Invitation Re-Issued

If you fit this profile and wish to get in touch with me about ‘3 months, 3 small patrons, 1 life transformed,’ you can write to me on my Contact Form.

Roberto Unger on ‘the future of the left’

A breathtaking interview with Roberto Unger, “The Future of the Left,” The European (October 24, 2011) about the need to think differently. My curating below.

(If you grant Unger’s conclusions, then you’ll have to also grant how truly “paradigm-shifting” his ideas are.)

Rethinking Modern Institutions

“My view is that all the fundamental problems of the European societies, and the world as a whole, require the reinvention of the conventional institutional arrangements for the organization of democracies, market economies, and civil societies.”

Rethinking Leftist Principles

Equality is not the first principle. A good life is! Hence, the question of social justice follows from the more basic question of human flourishing. This thought represents a fundamental reorientation of leftism. Unger states that the true leftist is “[s]omeone who understands that the goal of greater equality is subordinate to the goal of raising the ordinary man and woman up to a greater life.”

Reconceptualizing Labor

We need to make “a fundamental change in the nature of work and production. All the liberal and socialist thinkers of the 19th century understood that wage labor is a compromise, and retains many of the aspects of slavery and serfdom. There are two other forms of labor, self-employment and cooperation, and combined in some way they could help solve the problems of scale and wage labor could become the residual rather than the dominant form of free labor.”

If you really get this point, then you can regard union talk and so on as secondary and take  first principles about the nature of good work as primary.

Revaluing Jeffersonian Small Businesses

“The truth is that there are more petit-bourgeois in the world and certainly in Europe than there are industrial proletarians, and if the criteria is subjective rather than object, that is, the aspiration towards economic independence, it is the majority of the population, and what they fail to do is to meet that aspiration on its own terms and provide it with instruments so that it doesn’t have isolated independent family business as its only form of expression.”

This line of thought is Jeffersonian in spirit. The small business owner exercises virtues of autonomy, industry, frugality, self-control, etc. By virtue of her financial independence, she is able to participate actively in community life and to cooperate with others in the spirit of giving.

Waking Up: Philosophical Thought and Social Change

“The way that politics and culture are organized, you have to wait for a crisis. The crisis is like the meteor visiting the world and suddenly life becomes alert, then it goes away and you go to sleep again.”

Agreed. I argue in parallel fashion about the “life need” of philosophy.