Philosophy as a way of life (á la Hadot) is Orphic: the Philo extract

Hadot begins his eleven-page essay with a lengthy passage written by Philo of Alexandria[1], stating (1995:265) that the extract brings to the forefront “one of the fundamental aspects of philosophy in the Hellenistic and Roman eras”: during this period, “philosophy was a way of life”. Turning now to the first sentence of the extract (1995:264): Philo recommends to “every person…who is in training for wisdom[2] that they avoid a certain kind of individual; Philo refers nebulously to the latter kind of individual he has in mind as “busybodies”, but he does specify precisely “the places where they spend their time”: “courts, councils, marketplaces, assemblies – in short, every kind of meeting or reunion of thoughtless people”. Philo immediately contrasts the ‘busybodies’ and ‘thoughtless people’, and the places in which he says they spend their time, with people who “contemplate nature and everything found within her: they attentively explore the earth, the sea, the air, the sky, and every nature found therein. In thought, they accompany the moon, the sun, and the rotations of the other stars, whether fixed or wandering”.

Partly apparent right from the outset of the Philo extract, therefore, is a broad dichotomy: on one side of the divide, “courts, councils, marketplaces, assemblies” – all of which can be tentatively associated with aspects of the Promethean context established in Chapters 3 and 4, specifically in the instances of Capitalism (marketplaces, councils, assemblies) neoliberal Democracy (courts, councils, assemblies), and Christianity (courts, assemblies, councils) – while on the other side of the divide can be found ‘contemplators of nature’. The ‘contemplators of nature’, from what has been seen so far from Philo, partake in activities resonating with at least some aspects of the Orphic context established throughout this study, specifically regarding the sense of ‘observing nature’ (Philo’s words) – for example, the following were heavily involved in ‘observing nature’ in some important ways: permaculture, morphic resonance, older cultures, Hancock’s ‘lost’ civilisation, and the Zeitgeist Movement’s resource-based-natural-law-economy. Attention must here explicitly be drawn to the fact that in Science – one of the areas of ‘Promethean focus’ in Chapter 3, where some ideological precursors to the ecological crisis were examined – nature is also observed, but in the Promethean context, Science, together with Technology, has largely been used in the mechanical sense[3] of formulating methods to extract from the ‘standing reserve’ of nature various resources solely for human use, at an immense cost to nature – see Chapters 1, 2 and 3; and more about this issue follows shortly, specifically when instrumental value is contrasted with inherent value, the latter of which (as I will show) is the domain of Philo’s ‘contemplators of nature’. Nevertheless, the initial part of the Philo passage is immediately instructive, if somewhat indirectly so: stay away from courts, councils, marketplaces, assemblies, the tentative arenas of the Promethean, and instead observe nature. Observation of nature (without immediately acting upon nature for whatever reason) does not involve any kind of action, whereas courts, councils, and assemblies, due to the sheer logistics of such arenas, requires an imposition on nature (the ‘hardware’ of these places comes from nature), while in marketplaces there occurs the for-profit sale or exchange of resources or goods sourced from nature.

The passage by Philo quoted by Hadot (1995:264-265) continues for another few sentences in much the same manner, expounding on some features of the ‘contemplators of nature’, describing them as “citizens of the world” and “companions of wisdom”; “they have received their civic rights from virtue, which has been entrusted with presiding over the universal commonwealth” – the resonance here with the diverse organisations traced in Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, as well as with some aspects of Eisenstein’s sacred economy, is again notable, because in these Orphic arenas people have worked to protect the commonwealth, among other aims. The commonwealth has, on the other hand, been subject to systemic dismantling in the context of a Democracy hijacked by Capitalist Business interests – see Chapters 3 and 4 for more information on this phenomenon. Clearly then, a dichotomy is evident in the background of Philo’s sentiments, a dichotomy with some tenable initial links to the nature of the Prometheus-Orpheus divide, and Philo is clearly elevating the Orphic over the Promethean.

The Philo extract next raises a theme that has not yet been encountered explicitly in this study. This theme will broadly be referred to as the theme of inner peace. Hadot (1995:274) employs this phrase later on in the essay: “To be sure, there is an equilibrium – almost impossible to achieve – between the inner peace brought about by wisdom, and the passions to which the sight of the injustices, sufferings, and misery of mankind cannot help but give rise”. Note for now the dichotomy apparent in the extract: “inner peace” versus “the passions to which the sight of the injustices, sufferings, and misery of mankind cannot help but give rise” – this idea will be elaborated upon later in this Chapter. Here is an initial indication of the specified meaning of ‘inner peace’ (1995:264) as Philo depicts it; it pertains to people “who are “in training for wisdom, leading a blameless, irreproachable life”. They are accustomed

no longer to take account of physical discomforts or exterior evils, and they train themselves to be indifferent to indifferent things; they are armed against both pleasures and desires, and, in short, they always strive to keep themselves above passions… they do not give in under the blows of fate, because they have calculated its attacks in advance. … It is obvious that people such as these, who find their joy in virtue, celebrate a festival their whole life long. … But if only people everywhere felt the same way as this small number, and became as nature meant for them to be: blameless, irreproachable, and lovers of wisdom, rejoicing in the beautiful just because it is beautiful, and considering that there is no other good besides it… They would know nothing of the things that cause grief and fear, but would be so filled with the causes of joy and well-being that there would be no single moment in which they would not lead a life full of joyful laughter; indeed, the whole cycle of the year would be a festival for them.

One initial observation in light of the extract is that the latter part thereof does contain concepts ostensibly alien to the themes and issues encountered in this study so far – especially insofar as conceptually the focus is explicitly on inner peace, and ‘joy’ associated with wisdom, an imperviousness to “the passions” and to ‘changing circumstances’ – these themes were not encountered during Chapters 1 to 6. Furthermore, the description of people knowing “nothing of the things that cause grief and fear” seems out of place considering that “grief and fear” do not necessarily seem like incompatible reactions to knowledge of the ecological crisis (Chapter 1), its direct physical causes (Chapter 2), the ruthlessness of some of the dominant attitudes underlying ecologically harmful action (Chapter 3), and the perpetuation mechanisms of these ideologies (Chapter 4) – to put it bluntly, these are serious ‘issues worth worrying about’, issues warranting a ‘rousing of the passions’ (to use Hadot’s expression) considering the extent to which life on earth is having the natural conditions for its survival destabilised by these ‘issues’. I will re-approach this theme of inner peace later on.

On closer inspection, however, there are two more areas of conceptual overlap between the latter part of Philo extract (most recently quoted) and the contents of this study. First, when Philo describes ‘lovers of wisdom’ as people who rejoice “in the beautiful just because it is beautiful”, and that they consider “that there is no other good besides it”, the concept of inherent value is foregrounded. Inherent value is the opposite of instrumental value; instrumental reason (synonymous with operational and utilitarian thinking) was explored in Chapter 3 in the analysis of Technology as it developed under the Promethean paradigm. Inherent value can be aligned with the Orphic, in the sense of ‘a thing’ being valued not because it is useful to people (i.e. its utilitarian value), but because it is valuable in its own right. It is clear that the inherent/instrumental approaches to valuing things are dichotomous – Philo seems to be aligning ‘the wise’, ‘the joyful’, and ‘inner peace’ with at least one aspect of what has been identified with ‘the Orphic’ in this study, namely inherent value. Indeed, Philo causally links ‘inner peace’ with the ‘inherent approach’ to value: to re-quote – “lovers of wisdom, rejoicing in the beautiful just because it is beautiful, and considering that there is no other good besides it… would know nothing of the things that cause grief and fear, but would be… filled with the causes of joy and well-being…”. The causal link here may be that the ‘approach to value as inherent’ (already aligned with the Orphic) is something generating ‘inner peace’. I will come back to this theme later on in this chapter, but for now I will point out that Philo clearly associates the blameless and irreproachable life (and here I will add emphasis on the context of the ecological crisis) with the approach of inherent value.

A final brief observation with regard to the Philo extract is that at the very end of it, he mentions the “cycle of the year”; awareness of cycles was aligned with ‘the Orphic’ in Chapter 5 and with permaculture-practice in Chapter 6, so again (in this instance of the awareness of cycles) it would not be unreasonable to suggest here that Philo’s observations about ‘the wise’ and ‘the joyful’ can be aligned with ‘the Orphic’.

[1] Hadot points out that this passage is “inspired by Stoicism” (1995:264).

[2] Philo’s emphasis.

[3] …coterminous here with the notion of ‘applied Science’.