Volume 72, 2018
The Social, the Spiritual, and the Political
Hadot’s Account of Philosophy as a Way of Life
In this paper, I propose to undertake the following four things: first, I want briefly to point up the fractured state of western society which, according to many commentators, has permitted individualism to thrive unchecked and left collective well-being to wither. Second, I wish to rehearse the broad Aristotelian argument that human beings are essentially social animals, and that, therefore, human flourishing is best undertaken in social gatherings or communities. This, then, leads to the third, and main argument that the fashioning of a particular way of life is likely to aid human flourishing, and one of the best accounts of just such a way of life is to be found in the works of the French philosopher, Pierre Hadot. My concern is to offer a (necessarily truncated) analysis of Hadot’s overall thesis which rests on the recasting of certain ancient spiritual exercises as four ‘learnings-to’: learning to live, learning to die, learning to dialogue, and learning to read. Fourth, and last, I wish to say something about the central and iconic figure that embodies these spiritual exercises, namely, Socrates. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate that Socrates’ example of how to live a life is central to our current concerns, and that the reasons for actions in contemporary society may be derived from what I call ‘the Socratic imperative’: a transformation of the self, and a counter-cultural critique which aims at the transformation of society.