I’m heading down to the Esalen Institute next week to give this talk . . .
The philosopher Pierre Hadot famously advocated for an image of philosophy as a way of life. For Hadot, philosophical insight emerges in the context of spiritual exercises he collected under the term askēsis. Examples of askēsis include contemplative prayer, meditation, fasting, examinations of conscience, dialectics, discursive reasoning, physical training, aesthetics, and visionary experience. It was Hadot’s emphasis on spiritual exercise that led him to affirm Henri Bergson’s definition of philosophy as a transformation of perception. But in what does this transformation consist? More specifically, what is the relation between askēsis and perception? Using resources from phenomenology and transcendental philosophy, I will show that askēsis acts upon what phenomenologists call the intentional structure of perception, and that what is shaped through such practice is the manifold of sensibility described in transcendental philosophy. What emerges from this discussion is a view of perception as itself a type of practice, where attention is an act of shaping the arrangement of consciousness. Philosophy, then, is the art of folding the manifold.