Philosophical Inquiry as Spiritual Exercise Audio + Notes

Here’s the audio and the notes for my part of yesterday’s panel on philosophical inquiry as spiritual exercise (also available as a pdf here). All in all, I’d say it was a great session with lots of good discussion, my demeanor in the below photo notwithstanding. Many of these themes are central to my first comprehensive exam, and my dissertation research in general, so there’ll be more to come along these lines in the next few months.

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Pierre Hadot on Philosophy as a Way of Life

– Pierre Hadot (1922–2010) was a French philosopher and historian of ancient philosophy, especially of Plato and Aristotle and Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism. He was a professor at the Collège de France in Paris where he also wrote and taught on Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, and others. I’m drawing from two of his translated works, What is Ancient Philosophy? and the collection of essays found in Philosophy as a Way of Life. The central question in both these texts is largely the same. 

– What does it mean that philosophy is a way of life? For Hadot the answer is simple. Philosophy, when done right, involves our whole being. It means paying attention to our theoretical and intellectual beliefs, but it also means attending to our values, feelings, and practices. It requires that we pay attention to ourselves and develop a concern for those around us, for the other people in our lives and communities. It’s a whole form of life.

– Philosophy for Hadot is an existential choice in our mode of living. It’s a choice of life but also a way of making a life. In this sense, philosophy is a kind of a self-making that issues from our choice of practice. This is why Hadot argues that philosophical discourse must be understood from the perspective of the way of life of which it is both the expression and the means. Both the expression and the means, both theory and practice conjoined: This is the key to entering Hadot’s reading of philosophy, and perhaps to entering the philosophical life for one’s own self. Continue reading

Article Forthcoming in Explorations in Media Ecology

EMEI’m happy to report that Explorations in Media Ecology, the journal of the Media Ecology Association, will publish my article “Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos: Philosophy as Extended Cognition.” I’m told the issue will be published sometime in June. I’ll post a link here when the essay is available. The abstract is below.

Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos: Philosophy as Extended Cognition

In this article, I take a media ecology perspective on philosophy. This approach supports the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s (2013) claim that first philosophy is not metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, or epistemology but rather practice (askēsis). Sloterdijk’s practice-centered view of philosophy is shared by Pierre Hadot (2004) and Michael McGhee (2000), both of whom give askēsis a central role in philosophy. I draw on the work of these philosophers to show that philosophy is best conceived as an act of extended cognition performed amidst different media ecologies (Clark and Chalmers, 1998). To make this point, I start not with humans and our practices, but with spiders and theirs. When philosophy is seen as an instance of extended cognition, I argue, one can draw parallels between our practices and those of nonhuman species, who like us build artifacts to deepen their perception and understanding of their environments. To this end, I explore the settings that enable philosophical training. Philosophy on this view is facilitated by an ecology of affordance spaces (Gibson, 2015)—academies, libraries, monasteries, and more—whose design helps the philosopher perform certain maneuvers in thought, maneuvers that make apparent the conditions required for the bios theoretikos (the life of contemplation).

The Philosopher’s Training Regime

Periodically, I come across an essay reporting that experts are not especially good when compared to lay people at overcoming the cognitive biases they should be adept at perceiving and transforming—for example, psychologists aren’t better at identifying their own complexes, ethicists don’t make more ethical choices, philosophers of mind don’t better understand their own habits, behavior, and intentions, and so on. The latest in this series of essays comes from Scientific American here. It’s just one example of the type of reporting I’m talking about (though if you take a quick trip down this rabbit hole you’ll find many more essays and studies just like it).

The Scientific American article asks the question, is self-knowledge overrated? The point being that the so-called Socratic principle of questioning and examining oneself—through philosophy, meditation, psychology, etc.—doesn’t seem, at least in the context of the academics being studied, to have the outcomes that it advertises as having (think for instance of the amount of identity-driven in-group signalling and bias we see within certain academic groups). Hence the question, is self-knowledge, in the end, overrated? A good question, but let’s hold off on giving an answer for a moment. Continue reading