Who Defined Philosophy as a Way of Life?


Diego Sanchez

Philosophy is often considered an abstract and theoretical subject, but there are those who argue that philosophy should be thought of as a way of life. This idea has been around for centuries, but who first defined philosophy as a way of life?

One name that often comes up in discussions about philosophy as a way of life is Pierre Hadot. Hadot was a French philosopher and historian of ancient philosophy who argued that the goal of ancient philosophy was not just to understand the world, but to transform oneself through philosophical practice.

Hadot’s view was heavily influenced by the Stoics, who believed that philosophy was not just an intellectual pursuit, but a practical one. According to the Stoics, the goal of philosophy was to cultivate wisdom and virtue in oneself, which could then be applied to everyday life.

Hadot argued that this idea was present in other schools of ancient philosophy as well, including Epicureanism and Neoplatonism. In each case, he claimed, philosophers saw their work as a means of transforming themselves and leading better lives.

For Hadot, this emphasis on philosophical practice distinguished ancient philosophy from modern academic philosophy. He argued that modern philosophers were too focused on abstract theories and arguments, rather than on how these ideas could be applied to one’s own life.

Of course, Hadot was not the only philosopher to see philosophy as a way of life. The idea has roots in both Eastern and Western traditions. In India, for example, there is the concept of dharma (often translated as “righteousness” or “duty”), which involves living according to certain ethical principles.

In China, Confucianism emphasizes the importance of cultivating virtues such as compassion and humility through everyday interactions with others. Similarly, Taoism encourages individuals to live in harmony with nature and cultivate inner stillness.

In the West, thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault also saw philosophy as a way of life. Nietzsche famously wrote about the idea of “becoming who you are,” arguing that individuals should strive to create their own values and live according to them.

Foucault, meanwhile, saw philosophy as a form of critique that could be applied to various aspects of society and culture. He believed that by questioning established norms and power structures, individuals could create new ways of living and being in the world.

Overall, the idea of philosophy as a way of life has a long history and many different interpretations. Whether one agrees with Hadot’s emphasis on philosophical practice or prefers a more theoretical approach, it’s clear that philosophers have been thinking about how to live well for centuries. By studying their ideas, we can gain insights into our own lives and perhaps even transform ourselves in the process.