Speaking at Villanova

On February 22 at the Young Scholars Colloquia: Spirituality in Philosophy and Theology. It’ll be my usual banter, this time with a bigger focus on aesthetics. Abstract below.

The French philosopher and historian Pierre Hadot dedicated his career to rendering an image of philosophy as a way of life. This way of life, Hadot often underscored, was anchored to a set of spiritual exercises (askēsis) that were neither merely preparations for nor complements to philosophical theory. Instead, the practices were themselves the vehicles by which philosophical illumination could be achieved. But in what do these practices consist? And to what extent can one treat philosophical practice as a whole as a spiritual exercise? I will draw on two sources to show how we can think of philosophy as itself a spiritual practice. In the first example, I will position transcendental idealism as a mode of spiritual or contemplative inquiry. In the second, I will recount Gabriel Trop’s wide-ranging study on aesthetics as a way of life—as an askēsis concerned with the forming and unforming of the individual’s inner and outer sensibilities—to explore the role of art in philosophical transformation. To conclude, I will suggest that askēsis, as a specifically spiritual set of exercises, is the central fact of philosophical development. Philosophy is in this sense a way of transforming the person such that new modes of perception and understanding become possible.

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