Hadot on Philosophy as a transformative process

At the beginning of Chapter 6 some attention was drawn to the urgent need (in the context of the ecological crisis) “to transition away from ACID[1] – the Promethean writ large – towards a more Orphic dispensation, where a cooperative (versus competitive) approach is taken by human beings towards nature”. In order to support the focus on the urgent need to transition, relevant comments by Kovel, Baer, Harvey and Vetlesen were offered. Considering the comments by the listed thinkers as a backdrop, and with the focus of this chapter being partly on philosophy in hindsight of the broad context established during Chapters 1 to 6, attention will now be drawn to the penultimate paragraph[2] of Hadot’s essay, Philosophy as a Way of Life[3] (1995:275):

Such is the lesson of ancient philosophy: an invitation to each human being to transform himself. Philosophy is a conversion, a transformation of one’s way of being and living, and a quest for wisdom. This is not an easy matter.

Considering that the words “conversion” and “transformation” are synonymous with the idea of “transition”[4], in that they all denote a ‘movement’ from one state to another, then the relevance of Hadot’s remarks to the focus of this study should immediately become clear. In this study, a dichotomy has arisen between what has broadly been referred to as the Promethean attitude and the Orphic attitude, with the focus being on the process of transition (or conversion, or transformation) from the former to the latter via, first, ‘Orphic ideas’ (Chapter 5), and second, the implementation of permaculture principles (Chapter 6). The sense of transition / transformation / conversion is thus common to both (aspects of) this study and Hadot’s work. This sense of transition / transformation / conversion was also apparent in the first half of this chapter where I explored the role of philosophy as explained by Badiou and Žižek – as seen above, Badiou stated explicitly that part of the role of philosophy is to “think the transformation of life”; that the role of philosophy is absolutely not to perpetuate the established model of humanity. Clearly then, this theme of transformation away from one state towards another resonates thematically with various focal areas of this study.

The common ground between the various areas of focus of this study and Hadot’s essay does not end with the fact that aspects of this study and the essay focus on transition/transformation. There are several important themes evident in the essay that can be related directly to themes and issues explored during this study. Importantly, there are also some considerable differences. Some of these similarities and differences will be considered in some of the following sub-sections.

Before moving on to the points of consideration I have just mentioned (and other points of consideration not yet mentioned), I would like to explore as a starting point a theme that is often heralded as a central one to emerge from Hadot’s exploration of philosophy as a way of life: the theme of discourse about philosophy versus philosophy as a way of life. This is my starting point in a longer process in which ultimately I argue that philosophy as a way of life is thoroughly Orphic in character, and that it is of particular importance considering the context of the ecological crisis as it has been explored so far in this study.

[1] ‘Advanced’ competitive consumer Capitalist industrial Democratic dominion – the Promethean ‘writ large’. This theme has been extensively established at this point of the study.

[2] Note that the final paragraph of the essay is not written by Hadot, but is rather constituted by a quote from Spinoza.

[3] Note that the title of the essay is indicated by the italics as well as proper noun capitalisation, ‘Philosophy as a way of life’. When used as the title of the essay, italicisation and proper noun capitalisation will be used; but when used to denote the concept of philosophy as a way of life, the phrase will simply be: philosophy as a way of life. Note that I may still use italics to emphasise the phrase.

[4] …as used in the phrase, ‘the urgency to transition’, at the start of Chapter 6