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Western philosophy as a way of life

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Jean-Léon Gérôme, Diogenes (Jean-Léon Gérôme, Diogenes, 1860. Romantic portrait which represents also the dog (in Greek “κύων”) which gave its name to cynicism.)

The philosophy was understood very early as a way of life and not just as a theoretical reflection. In other words: be a philosopher, is also live and act in a way not just to confront abstract questions. The etymology of the term “philosophy” makes clear that the philosopher is one who tends toward wisdom, which seeks to live properly and specifically seeking happiness. Philosophy understood as lifestyle focuses on the implementation in his own life the results of philosophical reflection. The idea that philosophy is a way of life also have led some philosophers to imagine that, for this reason, they had to guide others and help them live their lives properly. Philosophy, personal ethics, could be a political collective project. These “collective” ambitions of philosophy take different forms. A true community of life could be around a philosopher. This partly explains the birth in antiquity of the philosophical schools (around Epicurus, Plato or Aristotle, for example). Since the pre-Socratic and especially from Socrates, a tradition has defended this conception of philosophy as a way of life. These include the Stoics, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Descartes, Spinoza, Sartre and Russell. But these are far from excluding the idea that the philosopher is concerned with theoretical problems. ‘Wisdom’, or more accurately sophia, that wants to possess the philosopher is also a knowledge and understanding. The philosopher, in line with the tradition founded by Socrates, knows how it is to live; it can justify its choice and lifestyle. Socrates, for example, in the pre-Socratic dialogues of Plato, requires its partners they are able to give the logos of their value judgments and their choice is to say to justify them rationally. This requirement of rationality may even lead to give genuinely scientific foundation for philosophy. Of course the definition of philosophy as a modus vivendi (way of life) can claim to be sufficient to define philosophy as a whole. Many philosophers have understood philosophy as an intellectual activity and not as a way of life: so it is clearly in academia and research today. It is quite different, especially in India. The Western perspective can be applied to philosophical concepts in force in this part of the world, although there were attempts to assimilate the Roman era, especially with Plotinus. We know that during the conquests of Alexander the Great (to -325), the Greeks were beaten by Hindu asceticism and deprivation that resulted. Hence their name, false, of “gymnosophists” (of gumno, “naked”). These ascetics practiced the teachings of the Upanishads. In this confrontation of philosophical ideas it is involved ethnophilosophy.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his inaugural lecture at the College de France, entitled “Praise to the philosophy, suggests a conception of philosophy as a way of life.

For Pierre Hadot in “Philosophy as a way of life“: “The true philosopher is not the speaker, but the doer [daily]” (p 176). “There would be up again in our contemporary world, for philo-sophers (sic), in the etymological sense of the word, that is to say researchers of wisdom, which would not renew philosophical discourse, but seek [ …] a more conscious life, [more coherent], more rational, more open to others and the immensity of the world. […] speech and life [philosophical daily] are inseparable “(p 179). “[…] The concentration on the present moment, wonder at the presence of the world, looking from above [concept that is familiar to him, and it also comes in view of Sirius] focused on things, awareness of the mystery of existence “(p 180). “[…] Strive for objectivity, the impartiality of the historian and scholar, and also break away from his ego to open up to a universal perspective” (p 262). “[…] To open our heart to all living creatures and the whole of nature in its splendor” (p 263).

Western philosophy and society

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates (Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates (1787), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

Over time the relationship between society and philosophers have varied greatly but generally can be determined three types of reports. On the one hand the relationship between society and philosophers are sometimes characterized by a violent attitude of rejection because it is common that the philosophy stands out. Suspicious vis-à-vis traditions, critical of all forms of prejudice, philosophy did not fail to experience clashes more or less hard with the society. Some symbolic dates to remember:

  • in 432 BC: Anaxagoras was expelled from Athens within the scope of a charge of atheism;
  • in 399 BC: Socrates was condemned to death under the charges of moral corruption of youth and impiety;
  • in 529 AD: the Christian Emperor Justinian prohibits the teaching of (pagan) philosophy in Athens. It is on this date that the Greek philosophers took refuge in Syria and Lebanon, where some philosophical works will be translated into Arabic by translators working for the first Abbassides caliphs.
  • the years 1188-1189: Sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur banned the philosophy, studies and books in Morocco and Spain. Averroes and his works are targeted;
  • February 17, 1600: Giordano Bruno was tortured at the stake for his rejection of transubstantiation, the trinity, his blasphemy against Christ, his denial of the virginity of Mary;
  • February 7, 1752: In France, the Encyclopedia of Diderot is censored because it involved the ideological foundations of the society of the time;
  • May 16, 1849: Karl Marx was expelled from Cologne after the 1848 German Revolution for seditious items.

But then, paradoxically, philosophy has also managed to become institutionalized. The existence of universities where it is learned, philosophical scholarly societies (like Kant-Gesellschaft), or prestigious competitions such as aggregation in France clearly show. Leaders can then take advice from philosophers and be inspired by philosophical principles such as enlightened despots of the eighteenth century.

Finally, philosophy can consider that it should develop theoretically a political project that the philosophers (like Plato) or the head of a State (as Machiavelli) or the masses themselves (Marx) should put in place. The classic example of political ambitions of philosophy naturally remains Plato and his famous Republic, in which it outlines a genuine political utopia breaking radically with traditional modes of thought and action. In another context, Russell and Sartre held the philosophy inseparable from political involvement.

Translated from Wikipedia

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