Cover Page



Title Page


Notes on Contributors


Chapter 1: Introduction

The Life of Pierre Hadot


The Present Volume


Chapter 2: Ancient Philosophers

How Can We Identify Ancient Philosophers?

The DPhA as a Sample of Ancient Philosophical Society

Discarding Intruders

What is a Philosopher, After All?

Chronological Interval

How Can Philosophers Be Dated?

A Simplified Mediterranean Map

Some Known Artifacts

Available Parameters

Gender Study

So Many Schools

Leading Schools

Schools in History

Greek Philosophers Saved by Direct Transmission

Where Did They Come From?

Where Did They Study?

Where Did They Teach?

Teacher and Students

Teaching and Book Writing

Philosophers on Stone

Statues and Portraits


Philosophers and Politics



Chapter 3: Philosophy as a Way of Life






Chapter 4: Charismatic Authority, Spiritual Guidance, and Way of Life in the Pythagorean Tradition

A Promising Field of Research: The Greco-Roman Tradition of “Guidance of the Soul”

Particularities of the Pythagorean Tradition: Variety, (Dis)Continuity, Source Problems

A Constant Factor: The Practice of the Pythagorean Way of Life as a Path Toward Spiritual Perfection

Pythagoras as “Guide in Education” and Beloved Master: The Testimony of Plato’s Republic

Ipse Dixit: The Charismatic Authority of Pythagoras and its Basis

In Search of the Master’s Authentic Words: The Primitive Catechism Contained in the Acousmata

A Set of Normative Prescriptions Intended to Inculcate a Disciplined Life Conduct56

A “Path Toward Perfection” Aiming at Personal Salvation

The “Communitarian” Dimension: The Pythagorean Sect as Locus for Education and Guidance

Toward a Rational Morality: The Avatars of Pythagorean Spiritual Guidance

A Digest of Spiritual Guidance in Verse Networked With Other Guidance Texts: The Pythagorean Golden Verses


Chapter 5: Alcibiades’ Love


Chapter 6: Stoics and Bodhisattvas






Chapter 7: Philosophy as a Way of Life

Spiritual Exercises and the Aesthetic Analogy

Philosophy and Therapy

Plutarch and the Buddhists: Returning Oneself to the Present Moment

A Life Complete at Every Moment

Taming the self

Philosophy and the Ends of Life


Chapter 8: Approaching Islamic Philosophical Texts


Chapter 9: Philosophy and Self-improvement

Introduction: The Path of Modern Philosophy

Philosophy in Antiquity

A Medieval Shift?

Cartesian Continuities

The Scientific Turn


Chapter 10: Descartes’ Meditations: Practical Metaphysics

Form and Method

Universal Doubt as an Exercise of Thought

Cogito: “Noticing” One’s Own Thought

Attention and Knowledge of God

The Meditations as a Form of Life


Chapter 11: Leading a Philosophical Life in Dark Times

Nelson’s Philosophy as a Way of Life

Nelson’s Spiritual Exercises



Chapter 12: Philosophy as a Way of Life and Anti-philosophy


Does Defining Philosophy as a Way of Life Mean Being an Antiphilosopher?

Antiphilosophy or Archphilosophy?


Chapter 13: Philosophy and Gestalt Psychotherapy


Theory in Psychotherapy

The Origins of Gestalt Psychotherapy

The Central Theoretical Commitments of Gestalt Psychotherapy

Philosophical Reflection on Gestalt Psychotherapy


Chapter 14: Wittgenstein’s Temple












Chapter 15: Observations on Pierre Hadot’s Conception of Philosophy as a Way of Life


The Philosophy of Martin O’Hagan

An Innocent in Vancouver: My Encounter with Analytic Philosophy

Hadot, Analytic Philosophy, and the Big Questions





Title Page

Notes on Contributors

Gwenaëlle Aubry

Former Student of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm) and of Trinity College (Cambridge); Agrégée, docteur en philosophie. Researcher at the CNRS (UPR 76/Centre Jean Pépin). Research interests: Ancient Philosophy and its Contemporary Receptions. Major published work: Plotin. Traité 53 (I, 1). Introduction, traduction, commentaire et notes, Paris, Cerf, Collection “Les Ecrits de Plotin” 2004; Dieu sans la puissance. Dunamis et Energeia chez Aristote et chez Plotin, Paris, Vrin, “Bibliothèque d’histoire de la philosophie” 2006; L’Excellence de la vie. Sur l’Ethique à Nicomaque et l’Ethique à Eudème d’Aristote, G. Romeyer Dherbey dir., G. Aubry éd., Paris, Vrin, “Bibliothèque d’histoire de la philosophie” 2002; Le moi et l’intériorité. Etudes réunies par G. Aubry et F. Ildefonse, Paris, Vrin, “Textes et Traditions” 2008.

Michael Chase

After taking degrees in Philosophy and Classics at the University of Victoria, Canada, Michael Chase was awarded a Canadian government scholarship to study Neoplatonism under Pierre Hadot at the Section des Sciences Religieuses of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris (Sorbonne), whence he received his PhD in 2000. Since 2001, he has worked at the French National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), where he is currently Researcher in ancient philosophy at the UPR 76/Centre Jean Pépin in Villejuif-Paris. In addition to English translations of half a dozen books by Pierre Hadot, he has published widely on Late Greek and Latin Neoplatonism, Patristics, Islamic, and Medieval thought.

John Cottingham

Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of London, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading, and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is an authority on early-modern philosophy, especially Descartes, and has published widely on moral philosophy and the philosophy of religion. His recent titles include On the Meaning of Life (Routledge 2003), The Spiritual Dimension (CUP 2005), Cartesian Reflections (OUP 2008), and Why Believe? (Continuum 2009). He is editor of the international philosophical journal Ratio.

Jonardon Ganeri

His work has focused on a retrieval of the Sanskrit philosophical tradition in relation to contemporary analytical philosophy, and he has done work in this vein on theories of self, concepts of rationality, and the philosophy of language, as well as on the idea of philosophy as a practice and its relationship with literature. He is Professor of Philosophy at both the University of Sussex and Monash University, a visiting scholar at Kyunghee University Seoul, and a visiting professor at JNU Delhi. His major recent publications include The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness and the First-Person Stance (OUP 2012), The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450–1700CE (OUP 2011), and The Concealed Art of the Soul: Theories of Self and Practices of Truth in Indian Ethics and Epistemology (OUP 2012, 2nd edition).

Richard Goulet

Emeritus Research Fellow at French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, editor of the Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques (sixth and final volume, for letters S–Z, to be published in 2013). Works on philosophical prosopography, late antique lives of philosophers, stoic philosophy; edited, translated or studied texts of Cleomedes, Diogenes Laertius, Eunapius, Macarius of Magnesia, and Porphyry.

Matthew T. Kapstein

Director of Tibetan Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, and Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Chicago. His publications include The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory (OUP 2000) and Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought (Boston 2001).

Theodore Kobusch

Professor of Medieval Philosophy, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. His research interests lie in the history of philosophy, metaphysics, freedom of will, and personhood. Major published work: Die Philosophie des Hoch- und Spätmittelalters (2011).

Fernando Leal

Professor of Philosophy and Social Science at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico). He currently works on the interface between ethics, economics, and politics; on the history, philosophy, and methodology of the social and cognitive sciences; and on the application of linguistic theory to the study of neurodevelopmental disorders. He co-edited Person-Centred Ergonomics: The Brantonian View of Human Factors (Taylor & Francis 1993) and recently authored two books in Spanish: A Dialogue on the Good (2007) and Essays on the Relation Between Philosophy and the Sciences (2009).

Constantinos Macris

Researcher at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique–Laboratoire d’Études sur les Monothéismes), in Paris. He specializes in ancient Greek philosophy and its relation to religion, from the Presocratics to the late Platonists. After a doctoral dissertation on Iamblichus’ Pythagorean Way of Life (Paris 2004), he has published numerous articles and book chapters on Pythagoras and the Pythagorean tradition, focusing on their Neoplatonic reception. He is also the author of a commentary on Porphyry’s Life of Pythagoras (Athens 2001). Since 2004, he has been contributing to the Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques (ed. R. Goulet, Paris: CNRS Editions). Forthcoming book: Under the Shadow of Pythagoras: Contributions to an “Archaeology” of the Pythagorean Tradition (in French 2014). He is currently directing a program entitled “Revisiting Monotheisms,” and co-editing the Acts of an international research project on Ancient Mysticism: Greek, Jewish, and Christian (Paris: Champion 2013).

Michael McGhee

Formerly taught philosophy at the University of Liverpool and is now retired. He is the author of Transformations of Mind: Philosophy as Spiritual Practice (CUP 2000) and co-editor with John Cornwell of Philosophers and God: At The Frontiers of Faith and Reason (Continuum 2009). He has written articles in various journals in the areas of moral philosophy, esthetics, and philosophy of religion.

Paul O’Grady

Lecturer and Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. He works on Epistemology, especially relativism and Philosophy of Religion, especially Aquinas. He has published Relativism (Acumen 2002), Philosophical Theology (Priory Institute 2008), edited The Consolations of Philosophy: Reflections in an Economic Downturn (Columba 2011) and is currently completing a book entitled Aquinas’s Philosophy of Religion. He is also a psychotherapist.

Sajjad H. Rizvi

Sajjad H. Rizvi is Associate Professor of Islamic Intellectual History at the University of Exeter. He specializes in the history of philosophy, hermeneutics, and mysticism in the Islamic East, and has written extensively on philosophy in Safavid Iran and Mughal India. Having already published two books on Mulla Sadra (OUP 2007; Routledge 2009), he is currently working on his third book on the same author focusing on the account of the Soul (for Edinburgh University Press). His next projects include an intellectual history of Islamic philosophy in India (jointly with Asad Ahmed), and a history of apophatic discourses in Islamic thought (for Stanford University Press).

John H. Spencer

PhD on the Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Physics (University of Liverpool, 2008). Author of The Eternal Law: Ancient Greek Philosophy, Modern Physics, and Ultimate Reality (2012),

Richard Shusterman

Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the Humanities and Director of the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida Atlantic University. His major authored books include Thinking through the Body (CUP 2012); Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics (CUP 2008); Surface and Depth; Performing Live; Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life; and Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (now published in 15 languages).

Jan Zwicky

An independent scholar, living on Quadra Island, British Columbia. Her monographs include Lyric Philosophy (1992), Wisdom & Metaphor (2008), and Plato as Artist (2010). She has also published seven collections of poetry, including Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1998) and Forge (2011).


John H. Spencer

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, has many branches reaching out from its elusive primordial center, but these manifold paths may seem to be rather pointless mental excursions unless we simultaneously strive for self-knowledge and seek the best possible ways to live our lives. Unfortunately, suggesting that philosophical inquiry should be guided by an unwavering desire for wisdom, or that it could lead to profound self-transformation, is not likely to win one many friends at most academic conferences. Why has the profession of philosophy generally eschewed the idea of the philosophical life, and why has it become so far removed from its historical roots? The reasons are complex, but a brief and partial response would note that several influential analytic philosophers in the last century rejected deep metaphysical exploration and shunned ancient philosophy in general. With a misplaced desire to mimic their parochial and often distorted view of the sciences, they essentially restricted the aims of philosophy to mere linguistic or logical analysis. Such approaches to certain types of questions can be valuable, but they certainly do not apply to all areas of philosophical inquiry. Ironically, several of the greatest pioneering physicists in the last century were far more in tune with the ancients than many contemporary philosophers. For example, Einstein certainly knew the power of ancient thought: “in a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed” (1954, p. 274). He also offered these relevant remarks:

The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the world of art and scientific endeavours, life would have seemed to me empty. The trite objects of human efforts – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible (1954, p. 9).

Einstein held in contempt what our society teaches us to esteem, for superficial success and luxury are like shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave distracting us from our pursuit of truth, turning us away from our most significant goals. Instead, his real guiding principles, the highest ideals, were Truth, Beauty, and Kindness (or what he would also call the “morally good” (1954, p. 66)). Such metaphysical concepts would not be out of place for contemporary mathematical physicist Roger Penrose or for Werner Heisenberg, the formulator of the uncertainty principle in quantum theory. Heisenberg also stated repeatedly that modern physics had definitely decided in favor of Plato and Pythagoras over the materialism of Democritus. Through a deep personal experience, Heisenberg came to an intuitive and immediate understanding of Plato’s Timaeus, where we find abstract, nonphysical geometric forms and relationships at the foundation of physical reality. Indeed, several pioneering physicists have admitted the importance of intuition and imagination beyond discursive analysis, and even recognized the importance of the mystical, of some sort of direct experiential contact with ultimate reality (Spencer 2012). In contrast, many philosophers in the last century have ignored or belittled the Platonic tradition, and have fled from the sort of metaphysical notions that Einstein openly admitted were essential to his way of life.

During my time as a PhD student at the University of Liverpool, one of my former professors, Pierre Grimes, directed me to the writings of Pierre Hadot, whose ground-breaking work in the revival of the ancient ideal of the philosophical life inspired me in 2004 to create a “Philosophy as a Way of Life” conference. I asked my friend and fellow student John Adams to assist me, and with his tireless commitment and keen attention to detail the two of us discovered the joys and challenges of hosting a three-day international conference, bringing together thirty-nine speakers from around the world (Adams and Spencer 2007). One thing that we all learned from this experience is that regardless of the diversity of philosophical backgrounds – from Nietzsche to Neoplatonism – there are many graduate students who are seeking a philosophical life as an integral part of their academic studies. We were fortunate to have Michael McGhee and Michael Chase as part of our group of keynote speakers, and along with Stephen Clark they have prepared the present volume of papers, inspired in part by the success of our conference. Jennifer Bray and Jeff Dean at Wiley-Blackwell have also been very helpful throughout the long process of bringing this volume to fruition, and we should also thank the courageous student presenters who voiced their dissatisfaction with the status quo of academic philosophy.

Hadot (1995, p. 272) is generally correct that “ancient philosophy proposed to mankind an art of living,” whereas “modern philosophy appears above all as the construction of a technical jargon reserved for specialists.” It is my hope that the papers presented in this volume will help to bridge the gap between the importance of academic rigor and the necessity of experiencing and living what we teach.



Michael Chase

The Life of Pierre Hadot

Pierre Hadot, Professor Emeritus of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France and Director of Studies at the Fifth Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, died on the night of April 24–25, 2010, at the age of 88.

Born in Paris in 1922, Hadot was raised at Reims, where he received a strict Catholic education, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1944. But he soon became disenchanted with the Church, particularly after the conservative encyclical Humani Generis of August 12, 1950, and he left it in 1952 (Eros also played a role in this decision: Hadot married his first wife in 1953).

Now employed as a researcher at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), Hadot was free to devote himself to scholarship. He began with Latin Patristics, editing Ambrose of Milan and Marius Victorinus. This was the period, from the late 1950s to the 1960s, when, under the guidance of such experts as the Jesuit Paul Henry, he learned the strict discipline of philology, or the critical study and editing of ancient manuscripts, an approach that was to continue to exert a formative influence on his thought for the rest of his life. Also during this period, Hadot’s deep interest in mysticism led him to study Plotinus and, surprisingly enough, Wittgenstein, whose comments on “das Mystische” (Tractatus 6.522) led Hadot to study the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations and publish articles on them, thus becoming one of the first people in France to draw attention to Wittgenstein (reedited as Hadot 2004). Hadot wrote Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision (Hadot 1993) in a month-long burst of inspiration in 1963, a lucid, sincere work that is still one of the best introductions to Plotinus. Hadot would continue to translate and comment upon Plotinus throughout the rest of his life, founding in particular Les Écrits de Plotin, a series, still in progress, that provides translations with extensive introductions to and commentaries on all the treatises of Plotinus’ Enneads, in chronological order.1 On a personal level, however, Hadot gradually became detached from Plotinus’ thought, feeling that Plotinian mysticism was too otherworldly and contemptuous of the body to be adequate for today’s needs. As he tells the story, when he emerged from the month-long seclusion he had imposed upon himself to write Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision, he went to the corner bakery, and “seeing the ordinary folks all around me in the bakery, I […] had the impression of having lived a month in another world, completely foreign to our world, and worse than this – totally unreal and even unlivable” (Hadot 2011, p. 137).

Elected Director of Studies at the Fifth Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études in 1964, Hadot married his second wife, the historian of philosophy Ilsetraut Marten, in 1966. This marked another turning point in his intellectual development, for it was at least in part thanks to his wife’s interest in spiritual guidance in Antiquity that the focus of Hadot’s interests would gradually shift, over the following decade or so, from the complex and technical metaphysics of Porphyry and Marius Victorinus to a concern for the practical, ethical side of philosophy, and more precisely the development of his key concept of philosophy as a way of life.

At Hadot’s request, the title of his Chair at the EPHE Ve was soon changed from “Latin Patristics” to “Theologies and Mysticisms of Hellenistic Greece and the End of Antiquity.” In 1968, he published his thesis for the State doctorate, the massive Porphyre et Victorinus (Hadot 1968; 1971), in which he attributed a previously anonymous commentary on Plato’s Parmenides to Porphyry, the Neoplatonic student of Plotinus. This monument of erudition arguably remains, even today, the most complete exposition of Neoplatonic metaphysics.

It was around this time that Pierre Hadot began to study and lecture on Marcus Aurelius – studies that would culminate in his edition of the Meditations,2 left unfinished at his death, and especially in his book The Inner Citadel (Hadot 1998). Under the influence of his wife Ilsetraut, who had written an important work on spiritual guidance in Seneca (Hadot 1969), Hadot now began to accord more and more importance to the idea of spiritual exercises, that is, philosophical practices intended to transform the practitioner’s way of looking at the world and consequently his or her way of being. Following Paul Rabbow, Hadot held that the famous Exercitia Spiritualia of Ignatius of Loyola, far from being exclusively Christian, were the direct heirs of pagan Greco-Roman practices. These exercises, involving not just the intellect or reason, but all of a human being’s faculties, including emotion and imagination, had the same goal as all ancient philosophy: reducing human suffering and increasing happiness, by teaching people to detach themselves from their particular, egocentric, individualistic viewpoints and become aware of their belonging, as integral component parts, to the Whole constituted by the entire cosmos. In its fully developed form, exemplified in such late Stoics as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, this change from our particularistic perspective to the universal perspective of reason had three main aspects. First, by means of the discipline of thought, we are to strive for objectivity; since, as the Stoics believe, what causes human suffering is not so much things in the world, but our beliefs about those things, we are to try to perceive the world as it is in itself, without the subjective coloring we automatically tend to ascribe to everything we experience (“That’s lovely,” “that’s horrible,” “that’s ugly,” “that’s terrifying,” etc.). Second, in the discipline of desire, we are to attune our individual desires with the way the universe works, not merely accepting that things happen as they do, but actively willing for things to happen precisely the way they do happen. This attitude is, of course, the ancestor of Nietzsche’s “Yes” granted to the cosmos, a “yes” that immediately justifies the world’s existence.3 Finally, in the discipline of action, we are to try to ensure that all our actions are directed not just to our own immediate, short-term advantage, but to the interests of the human community as a whole.

Hadot finally came to believe that these spiritual attitudes – “spiritual” precisely because they are not merely intellectual, but involve the entire human organism, but one might with equal justification call them “existential” attitudes – and the practices or exercises that nourished, fortified, and developed them, were the key to understanding all of ancient philosophy. In a sense, the grandiose physical, metaphysical, and epistemological structures that separated the major philosophical schools of Antiquity – Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism4 – were mere superstructures, intended to justify the basic philosophical attitude. Hadot deduced this, among other considerations, from the fact that many of the spiritual exercises of the various schools were highly similar, despite all their ideological differences; thus, both Stoics and Epicureans recommended the exercise of living in the present.

Hadot first published the results of this new research in an article that appeared in the Annuaire de la Ve section in 1977: “Exercices spirituels.” This article formed the kernel of his book Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique (Hadot 1995), and was no doubt the work of Hadot’s that most impressed Michel Foucault to the extent that he invited Hadot to propose his candidacy for a Chair at the Collège de France, the most prestigious academic position in France. Hadot did so and was elected in 1982. Hadot’s view on philosophy as a way of life consisting of the practice of spiritual exercises was given a more complete narrative form in his Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique? (Hadot 2002).

Another aspect of his thought was more controversial: if philosophy was, throughout Antiquity, conceived as a way of life, in which not only those who published learned tomes were considered philosophers, but also, and often especially – one thinks of Socrates, who wrote nothing – those who lived in a philosophical way, then how and why did this situation cease? Hadot’s answer was twofold: on the one hand, Christianity, which had begun by adopting and integrating pagan spiritual exercises, ended up by relegating philosophy to the status of mere handmaid of theology. On the other, at around the same historical period of the Middle Ages, and not coincidentally, the phenomenon of the European University arose. Destined from the outset to be a kind of factory in which professional philosophers trained students to become professional philosophers in their turn, these new institutions led to a progressive confusion of two aspects that were, according to Hadot, carefully distinguished in Antiquity: doing philosophy and producing discourse about philosophy. Many modern thinkers, Hadot believed, have successfully resisted this confusion, but they were mostly (and this again is no coincidence) such extra-University thinkers as Descartes, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. For the most part, and with notable exceptions (one thinks of Bergson), University philosophy instruction has concentrated almost exclusively on discourse about philosophy rather than on philosophy itself, conceived as a practice or living act. Indeed, one might add, extending Hadot’s analysis, that contemporary universities, whether in their “analytic” manifestation as the analysis of language and the manipulation of quasi-mathematical symbols, or in their “continental” guise as rhetorical display, irony, plays on words, and learned allusions, seem to share one basic characteristic: they are quite incomprehensible, and, therefore, unimportant to the man or woman on the street. Hadot’s work, written in a plain, clear style that lacks the rhetorical flourishes of a Derrida or a Foucault, represents a call for a radical democratization of philosophy. It talks about subjects that matter to people today from all walks of life, which is why it has appealed, arguably, less to professional philosophers than to ordinary working people, and to professionals working in disciplines other than philosophy.5

Pierre Hadot taught at the Collège until his retirement in 1992. In addition to Plotinus and Marcus, his teaching was increasingly devoted to the philosophy of nature, an interest he had picked up from Bergson that he had first set forth in a lecture at the Jungian-inspired Eranos meetings at Ascona, Switzerland in 1967 (Hadot 1968). Combined with his long-term love of Goethe (Hadot 2008), this research on the history of mankind’s relation to nature would finally culminate in The Veil of Isis (Le Voile d’Isis), a study of the origin and interpretations of Heraclitus’ saying “Nature loves to hide,” published a mere four years before his death (Hadot 2006). Here and in the preliminary studies leading up this work, Hadot distinguishes two main currents in the history of man’s attitude to nature: the “Promethean” approach, in which man tries to force nature to reveal her secrets in order better to exploit her, and the “Orphic” attitude, a philosophical or aesthetic approach in which one listens attentively to nature, recognizing the potential dangers of revealing all her Secrets.


Having won a grant from the Canadian government to pursue my doctoral studies in Neoplatonism anywhere in the world, I followed an old teacher’s advice and contacted the author of the book on the subject that I most admired: Porphyre et Victorinus. I first met Pierre Hadot at a conference at Loches, France, in the summer of 1987, where he gave a memorable lecture on “The Sage and the World” (Hadot 1991). He was kind enough to read and comment on the M.A. thesis I had written on Porphyry and, while I could not officially enroll under his direction for my PhD since the Collège de France was not a degree-granting institution, I did enroll under his successor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Philippe Hoffmann. After attending Hadot’s lectures at the Collège for a couple of years, I persuaded him to allow me to translate some of his works into English, and this marked the beginning of a close friendship between Pierre and Ilsetraut Hadot and my wife Isabel and myself. As I continued my studies, he continued to help me out with advice, books, and articles and, when times got rough, with a few hundred francs per month from his own pocket as well.

What I remember most about Pierre Hadot was his simplicity. Although he had reached the highest echelons of the hierarchical French academic scheme, he never let it go to his head: in his lectures he spoke clearly, without excess rhetorical flourish. When he wrote on the blackboard, he did so with complete grace and relaxation, and often with that self-deprecating laugh that was so characteristic of him. On one occasion, he invited Isabel and me to lunch, along with half a dozen others; we were to meet at his office at the Collège de France. We all showed up, and Hadot began to lead the whole bunch of us off to the restaurant. In the hallway, however, he came across a lost-looking young couple, obviously foreigners, and asked them if he could help them. They were looking for the cafeteria, they told him timidly, and Pierre Hadot, instead of merely giving them directions, insisted on accompanying this unknown couple all the way to the cafeteria, leaving his “invited” guests to twiddle their thumbs. Each individual, known or unknown, deserved respect and courtesy in the view of Pierre Hadot. Yet he also spent a good deal of his life as an administrator, particularly at the EPHE, where he showed himself to be a tough and uncompromising negotiator, especially when questions of principle were at stake.

Over the years, my wife and I enjoyed the Hadots’ hospitality on many occasions, often at their home in Limours, a suburb some 20 miles south of Paris, where he was very proud of his well-kept garden and loved to go for walks in the neighboring woods. When he was in Paris, we would often go for dinner to a Vietnamese restaurant on the Rue des Écoles, no longer extant, to which Michel Foucault had introduced him. He always encouraged us to have the deep-fried banana for dessert, mainly because, although he loved the dish, his delicate health and vigilant wife would not allow him to order it for himself, but he could always sneak a bite from someone else’s plate. In every circumstance, he was the same: simple, unpretentious, with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Seldom has a man worn his erudition more lightly. Seldom, as well, has a man practiced so well what he preached. Although he won numerous awards and distinctions,6 he never discussed them in any tone other than that of self-deprecating humor. He liked to tell of how Jacqueline de Romilly once telephoned him to let him know he had been nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix de Philosophie of the Académie Française: “We didn’t have anybody this year,” she allegedly told him, “and so we thought of you.” He also had great fun with the fact that two volumes of his articles were published by Les Belles Lettres in a collection entitled “l’âne d’or” – “The Golden Ass.”7 He claimed, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, that he had posed for the fine portrait of the golden donkey that graced the cover of these books.

As a young philosophy student, I had often been disillusioned by finding that my philosophical heroes had feet of clay: although they wrote fine-sounding phrases in their books, they were often vain, disdainful, or otherwise unpleasant when one met them in person. Not so Pierre Hadot: like Plotinus he was always available to himself, but above all to others. For his eightieth birthday, Hadot reserved a restaurant near Limours for over a hundred guests, who were distributed at tables in groups of six to eight. As the meal progressed, Hadot made sure to come and sit for a while at each table, laughing and joking with everyone, making each guest feel as though he or she were truly special to him. Waiters and hostesses received, unfailingly, the same friendly, non-condescending treatment.

I last saw Pierre Hadot on April 12, 2010, when, despite his weakness, he made the trip from Limours to Paris to attend a celebration devoted to him at the library of the École Normale Supérieure. At age 88, he was extremely fragile, and his eyesight and hearing were failing rapidly. Yet he held out for 2 hours, answering questions from the audience – something he always disliked, convinced that he was not sufficiently eloquent in unrehearsed repartee – and seeming to regain strength as the evening progressed. At the end, he thanked the organizers and participants, emphasizing that what was important was that the event had been organized and carried out in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect. Soon afterward, he entered the hospital at Orsay and was diagnosed with pneumonia. He died less than two weeks after his appearance at the ENS accompanied, as he had been for 45 years, by his beloved Ilsetraut.

Needless to say, it is too soon to give a definitive evaluation of Hadot’s thought, and only the future will verify, or fail to verify, Roger-Pol Droit’s judgment on him: “discrete, almost self-effacing, this singular thinker might well be, in a sense, one of the influential men of our epoch.”8 What is certain is that he has trained a generation of students and scholars who continue his work, and that his writings, translated into many languages, have continued to inspire readers from throughout the world, many of whom wrote him to say in a variety of formulations: “You have changed my life.” Pierre Hadot was a man almost destitute of personal vanity, but if there was one thing he was proud of, it was not the multiple honors he received throughout his career, but the effect he had on the average reader.

The Present Volume

The idea for this volume arose in the course of discussions between Michael McGhee and me as a result of a conference on Philosophy as a Way of Life held at the University of Liverpool in November 2004. Initially, Michael McGhee was responsible for soliciting and editing the British contributions, and I for the North American and European ones. If this book has finally seen the light of day, it is due, above all, to the collaboration of Stephen Clark, who contributed his editorial expertise and efficiency to the project beginning in the spring of 2012.

The publication of this volume has, needless to say, taken much longer than initially foreseen, and I would like to thank the contributors and publisher for their patience. In the interim, some of the articles have appeared elsewhere in various forms.9 It is regrettable that Pierre Hadot did not live to see this publication. I believe, however, that in its breadth and variety, the present volume retains its value as a testimony to the importance of his notion of philosophy as a way of life.


1. Les écrits de Plotin publiés dans l’ordre chronologique, sous la dir. de P. Hadot, Paris: Éd. du Cerf (Coll. Textes). More than a dozen volumes have appeared in the series, two of them (Traité 38 [VI,7], 1988; Traité 50 [III,5], 1990) by Hadot himself.

2. Marc Aurèle, Écrits pour lui-même. Tome 1, Introduction générale. Livre I, éd. et tr. Pierre Hadot, avec la collab. de Concetta Luna. Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1998. (Collection des Universités de France).

3. Nietzsche, Posthumous Fragments, end 1866-Spring 1887, 7, [38], cited in Hadot (1995, p. 277).

4. I leave out Cynicism and Skepticism, partly, because it is debatable whether they were actually “schools” as opposed to philosophical tendencies and, partly because, unlike the other schools they refrained from metaphysical speculation.

5. As of 2006, Hadot’s works had been cited by researchers working in management studies, economics, the study of Chinese thought, education, sociology, political science, and women’s studies, to name but a few.

6. 1969: Prix Saintour décerné par l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres; 1969: Prix Desrousseaux décerné par l’Association pour l’encouragement des Études Grecques; 1972: elected Corresponding Member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur of Mainz; 1979: Silver medal, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; 1985: Docteur honoris causa de l’Université de Neuchâtel; 1990: Prix Dagnan-Bouveret de l’Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; 1992: Prix d’Académie (Fondation Le Métais-Larivière Fils), Académie Française; 1999: Grand Prix de Philosophie de l’Académie Française; 2000: elected Corresponding Member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften at Munich; 2002: Docteur honoris causa de l’Université de Laval (Québec).

7. Études de philosophie ancienne, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1998. (L’âne d’or; 8); Plotin. Porphyre. Études néoplatoniciennes, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1999. (L’âne d’or; 10). These works contain some of Hadot’s more technical works on the history of Greek and Latin philosophy, but also some of his early studies on the philosophy of nature. There is material for many more such volumes, among the 100 or so articles Hadot penned throughout his career.

8. “Pierre Hadot, 86 ans de sagesse,” Le Point. Débats, 17/04/2008, accessed at

9. The present introduction is based on the obituary of Pierre Hadot which I contributed to the Harvard University Press Blog in 2010 ( A version of my later contribution to the volume was published in Adams and Spencer (2007, pp. 5–17). A French version of Gwenaëlle Aubry’s contribution appeared in Davidson and Worms (2010); see also Rizvi (2012) and Ganeri (2010) for earlier versions of their essays. Constraints on the volume’s size mean that some papers originally intended for the volume, by Philippe Vallat, David Cooper, Stephen R. L. Clark, and Catalin Partenie, have been omitted. Cooper’s essay on Beauty is to be found at Cooper (2012).