Volume 18, 1998
Contemporary Forms of Askesis and the Return of Spiritual Exercises
This paper examines recent philosophical retrievals of the ancient idea of askesis and argues that they face a dilemma. On the one hand, these retrievals embrace certain assumptions often associated with "antitheory" and moral particularism in ethics; yet ancient forms of askesis were based on assumptions that most antitheorists would reject. After presenting a threefold critical typology of approaches to askesis—existential (Hadot), aesthetic (Foucault), and therapeutic (Nussbaum)—the paper demonstrates the limitations of each model and presents an alternative reflexive model, drawn in part from the work of Charles Taylor and Iris Murdoch, as a more adequate approach.