Philosophy as a Way of Life(2)

Term: SPRING 2013

Subject Code: GPHI

Course Number: 6673

In recent years, a handful of philosophers (including Foucault and Stanley Cavell) have resurrected the classic Socratic theme of living an examined life, proposing as well new ways of thinking about the self. This seminar offers a historical survey of the biographical sources for this sometimes neglected aspect of the philosophical tradition. We start with a quick survey of classical texts recounting the lives of two exemplary seekers after wisdom in ancient Greece, namely Socrates (in Plato's Apology) and Plato (in his seventh letter). We then examine two of Plutarch's brief biographies that shed light on Socrates and Plato respectively, before turning to three examples of biography (and hagiography) in late antiquity, studying three brief lives of Plotinus, St. Anthony and St. Augustine. The heart of the course will be a close study of The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius - the most important source for what little we know about Greek philosophy apart from the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and (to a lesser extent) Cicero. In particular, we will examine the lives of select pre-Socratics; of Plato; of the early Cynics; of the early Stoics; of Pyrrho and the early skeptics who followed him; and of Epicurus. What is the relation of doctrine and life within this constitutive genre of philosophical writing? Why have modern philosophers and historians of philosophy, from Hegel on, generally heaped scorn on the philosophical biographies of Diogenes Laertius, even while treating his doctrinal excerpts as the solid ore of genuine philosophy? And what are the implications for modern philosophy of a restoration of the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life?

< back

Connect with the New School