Pierre Hadot

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Direct language is not adequate for communicating the experience of existing, the authentic consciousness of being, the seriousness of life as we live it, or the solitude of decision making.

Pierre Hadot (21 February 1922April 24, 2010) was honorary professor at the Collège de France (Chaire d'Histoire de la pensée hellénistique et romaine), perhaps the world's leading historian of ancient philosophy, and a philosopher of note in his own right (among other accomplishments, one of the first to introduce Wittgenstein to France).


  • À mes yeux, c’est seulement l’ascèse de la rigueur scientifique, ce détachement de soi qu’exige un jugement objectif et impartial, qui pourra nous donner le droit de nous impliquer nous-mêmes dans l’histoire, de lui donner un sens existentiel.
    • To my eyes, only the ascesis of scientific rigor, this detachment from oneself which requires an objective and impartial judgment, can give us the right to implicate ourselves in history, to give it an existential sense.
      • Preface to Nietzsche : Essai de mythologie (1990) by E. Bertram, p. 34

Qu'est-ce que la philosophie antique? (1995)

  • Incommensurables donc, mais aussi inséparables. Pas de discours qui mérite d’être appelé philosophique, s’il est séparé de la vie philosophique, pas de vie philosophique, si elle n’est étroitement liée au discours philosophique. C’est là d’ailleurs que réside le danger inhérent à la vie philosophique: l’ambiguïté du discours philosophique.
    • Incommensurable; but also inseparable. No discourse worthy of being called philosophical, that is separated from the philosophical life; no philosophical life, if it is not strictly linked to philosophical discourse. It is there that the danger inherent to a philosophical life resides: the ambiguity of philosophical discourse.
  • Si ces expériences sont rares, elles n’en donnent pas moins sa tonalité fondamentale au mode de vie plotinien, puisque celui-ci nous apparaît maintenant comme l’attente du surgissement imprévisible de ces moments privilégiés qui donnent tout leur sens à la vie.
    • “If these experiences [of union with the Absolute] are rare, nonetheless they lend their fundamental tonality to the Plotinian way of life, for that way of life appears to us now as a waiting for the unforseeable surging-forth of these privileged moments which give their full sense to life

Études de philosophie ancienne (1998)

  • Ce sont les contresens et les incompréhensions qui, très souvent, ont provoqué une évolution importante dans l’histoire de la philosophie, et qui, notamment, ont fait apparaître des notions nouvelles.
    • It is misinterpretation and incomprehension which, very often, provoked an important evolution in the history of philosophy and which, notably, led to the appearance of new notions.

La Philosophie comme manière de vivre (2001)

La Philosophie comme manière de vivre: Entretiens avec Jeannie Carlier et Arnold I. Davidson. Paris: Albin Michel, (2001)
  • Celui qui étudie un texte ou des microbes ou les étoiles doit se défaire de sa subjectivité... c'est là un idéal qu'il faut essayer de rejoindre par une certaine pratique. Disons que l'objectivité est une vertu, d'ailleurs très diffice à pratiquer.
    • He who studies a text or microbes or stars must have nothing to do with his subjectivity... that is an ideal that one must try to find by a certain practice. Let us say that objectivity is a virtue, and a very difficult one to practice.
  • Il faut se défaire de la partialité du moi individuel et passionné pour se hausser à l’universalité du moi rationnel.
    • One must have nothing to do with the partiality of the individual, passionate self in order to raise oneself to the universality of the rational self.
  • ...replacer, autant que possible, les œuvres dans les conditions concrètes où elles ont été écrites, conditions spirituelles d’une part, c’est-à-dire tradition philosophique, rhétorique ou poétique, conditions matérielles d’autre part, c’est-à-dire milieu scolaire et social, contraintes venues du support matériel de l’écriture, circonstances historiques. Toute œuvre doit être replacée dans la praxis dont elle émane.
    • ...to replace, as far as possible, works in the concrete conditions wherein they were written, spiritual conditions in part, that is to say, philosophical, rhetorical or poetic tradition, material conditions in part, that is to say, scholarly and social milieu, constraints stemming from the material support of writing, historical circumstances. Every work must be replaced in the praxis from which it emanates.
  • To know oneself means, among other things, to know oneself qua non-sage: that is, not as a sophos, but as a philo-sophos, someone on the way toward wisdom.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 90
  • Only he who is capable of a genuine encounter with the other is capable of an authentic encounter with himself, and the converse is equally true…From this perspective, every spiritual exercise is a dialogue, insofar as it is an exercise of authentic presence, to oneself and to others.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 91
  • From the preceding examples, we may get some idea of the change in perspective that may occur in our reading and interpretation of the philosophical works of antiquity when we consider them from the point of view of the practice of spiritual exercises. Philosophy then appears in its original aspect: not as a theoretical construct, but as a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way. It is an attempt to transform mankind. Contemporary historians of philosophy are today scarcely inclined to pay attention to this aspect, although it is an essential one. The reason for this is that, in conformity with a tradition inherited from the Middle Ages … they consider philosophy to be purely abstract-theoretical activity.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 107
  • With the advent of medieval Scholasticism, … we find a clear distinction between theologia and philosophia. Theology became conscious of its autonomy qua supreme science, which philosophy was emptied of its spiritual exercises, which, from now on, were relegated to Christian mysticism and ethics. Reduced to the rank of a “handmaid of theology,” philosophy’s role was henceforth to furnish theology with conceptual—and hence purely theoretical—material. When, in the modern age, philosophy regained its autonomy, it still retained many features inherited from this medieval conception. In particular, it maintained its purely theoretical character, which even evolved in the direction of a more and more thorough systemization. Not until Nietzsche, Bergson, and existentialism does philosophy consciously return to being a concrete attitude, a way of life and of seeing the world.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 107
  • Socrates splits himself into two, so that there are two Socrates: the Socrates who knows in advance how the discussion is going to end, and the Socrates who travels the entire dialectical path along with his interlocutor.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 153
  • Here we come upon one of the most profound reasons for Socratic irony: direct language is not adequate for communicating the experience of existing, the authentic consciousness of being, the seriousness of life as we live it, or the solitude of decision making.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 156
  • Here we come upon one of the most profound reasons for Socratic irony: direct language is not adequate for communicating the experience of existing, the authentic consciousness of being, the seriousness of life as we live it, or the solitude of decision making.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 156
  • Socrates had no system to teach. Throughout, his philosophy was a spiritual exercise, an invitation to a new way of life, active reflection, and living consciousness.
    • trans. Michael Chase, p. 157
  • It is precisely because the Epicurean considered existence to be the result of pure chance that he greeted each moment with immense gratitude, like a kind of divine miracle.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 252
  • Every person—whether Greek or Barbarian—who is in training for wisdom, leading a blameless, irreproachable life, chooses neither to commit injustice nor return it unto others, but to avoid the company of busybodies, and hold in contempt the places where they spend their time—courts, councils, marketplaces, assemblies—in short, every kind of meeting or reunion of thoughtless people. … People such as these, who find their joy in virtue, celebrate a festival their whole life long.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 264
  • There was a Socratic style of life (which the Cynics were to imitate), and the Socratic dialogue was an exercise which brought Socrates’ interlocutor to put himself in question, to take care of himself, and to make his soul as beautiful and wise as possible.
    • trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 269
  • Philosophy—reduced, as we have seen, to philosophical discourse—develops from this point on in a different atmosphere and environment from that of ancient philosophy. In modern university philosophy, philosophy is obviously no longer a way of life, or a form of life—unless it be the form of life of a professor of philosophy.
    • trans. Michael Chase, p. 271
  • One could say that what differentiates ancient from modern philosophy is the fact that, in ancient philosophy, it was not only Chrysippus or Epicurus who, just because they had developed a philosophical discourse, were considered philosophers. Rather, every person who lived according to the precepts of Chrysippus or Epicurus was every bit as much a philosopher as they.
    • trans. Michael Chase, p. 272
  • Ancient philosophy proposed to mankind an art of living. By contrast, modern philosophy appears above all as the construction of a technical jargon reserved for specialists.
    • trans. Michael Chase, p. 272

La voile d'Isis: Essai sur l'histoire de l'idée de Nature (2004)

  • Les progrès scientifiques ont amené les philosophes à détourner leur attention de l’explication des phénomènes physiques, abandonnée désormais à la science, pour la diriger vers le problème de l’être lui-même.
    • Scientific progress has led philosophers to turn their attention from the explanation of physical phenomena, abandoned to science, in order to direct it towards the problem of being itself.
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