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on 31 July 2010
What is Ancient Philosophy? The answer Hadot gives is the title of another of his books: Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Both books cover the same ground, but complement each other very well, so both are worth reading. "What is Ancient Philosophy?" is a broad overview of the area, while "Philosophy as a Way of Life" focuses on specific topics in greater depth.

Hadot stresses the importance of philosophy ("the devoted pursuit of wisdom") as a way of life, not just as an abstract system of thought. His book starts with Plato's Symposium, with Socrates pursuing a discourse and way of life that tends towards wisdom without ever achieving it. For the ancients, the wise person was someone who knew how to live in happiness, and applied that knowledge.

The author goes on to consider the schools that followed Socrates in viewing philosophy as a way of life. These include the schools of Antisthenes the Cynic, Epicurus, Plato, Aristotle and Zeno the Stoic. He considers in some depth the spiritual exercises that each school adopted to bring positive changes to the lives of their followers.

The adoption, and perversion, of the practices of the Ancient schools by Christianity is briefly considered before Hadot takes on the more fruitful theme of seeing how these practices were taken up by modern philosophers like Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Foucault. Finally, Hadot gives the reader some level-headed advice on how he or she can adopt and adapt the exercises to the conditions of modern life.

The book is very well written, showing none of the opacity of writing encountered in writers like Derrida or Heidegger. Hadot has been widely acclaimed by leaders in the field, and most of his works can be recommended to the general reader as well as the student of philosophy. I've never read a better book on ancient philosophy, or on philosophy in general. Not only is it a great read, and a work of the highest scholarship, it's life changing.
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on 17 December 2004
This book is a revelation. The author makes each ancient school come alive as a way of real human thinking, and not just a collection of disembodied ideas. This book shows the thinking process behind the different philosophies. I think this book will take the reader to a new level of appreciation. Thank you.
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