METHOD IN PHILOSOPHY : What Do Philosophers Do and Is There Method in Their Madness?
Dr Paul Grosch


With a view to saying something about the ways in which philosophers go about their business I attempt the following four things. First, I describe briefly two competing philosophical schools of thought, or traditions of philosophy: the Anglo-American analytic and the continental phenomenological. Second,  I draw a distinction between first order activities, and second order practices; the former is what philosophers, to a greater or lesser extent, all concern themselves with; the second is the particular school or tradition which they follow. Third, I concentrate specifically on the first order activities, in the belief that it is the sum total of these which define philosophy and the philosopher's task, rather than the second order practice which has tended to be the focus for whatever defines philosophy. These first-order activities are, in the opening analysis, taken largely from Hadot who bases his account on the works of Philo Judaeus. For Hadot, these first-order activities are defined under the heading 'spiritual exercises.' Finally, I conclude with a quotation from Wittgenstein which provides a single, (but perhaps unsatisfactory) terminus to the thesis advanced in this paper.

INTRODUCTION : The Philosophical Outlook 
My overall purpose here is to begin a definitional account of what it means to be a philosopher, and hence, to engage in philosophical activity. In this way some idea of what constitutes a specifically philosophical method might emerge, a method perhaps distinct from that found in other disciplines and activities. Now, there are various ways of dividing up philosophical positions or traditions, depending on their respective methodologies or concerns over content. One might be an analytic philosopher, or a phenomenologist, or an existentialist [1].  Or, one might be a Thomist or a Platonist or an Aristotelian, or some reconstituted version of  all three. One could, conceivably still be a Cartesian modernist of sorts, or an Hegelian idealist, a Derridean deconstructionist, a Lyotardian postmodernist, or a Blondian post-secularist [2].  Even more specifically, one could be a Kantian epistemologist, a Wittgensteinian linguist,  a meta-ethicist, or a utilitarian, an emotivist or an intuitionist and so on. The list of possiblities is almost endless, given the various nuances derived from each particular philosopher or each general tradition and branch. With what might each of the above be concerned? What follows is a brief account of only  two broad traditions, as they are are largely distinguished from each other geographically as well as methodologically and conceptually : the Anglo-American analytic and the continental phenomenological. The account, of course, constitutes a massively, (and, therefore, crudely) compressed version of the two traditions, and the compression inevitably distorts the rich complexity of  both; but hopefully the benefits of brevity are worth some of the costs. In any case, the intention is not to sketch the entirety of the traditions, merely to point to some of the more obvious problems when a single or uniform definition of philosophical activity is being attempted.
Two competing traditions : Anglo-American Analytic and Continental Phenomenological 

The analytic tradition has, since Frege, Russell, the early Wittgenstein and the Vienna School been preoccupied with the place and significance of logical form and expression in relation to the nature and scope of human knowledge. As a consequence, the systematic translation of formal arguments into symbolic logic has often taken precedence over the use of  everyday language to express a view about the world and its complex operations. Overall, the analytic tradition owes its allegiance to the empirical sciences and mathematics both in terms of its aims and methods, believing that the sciences and mathematics are the paradigmatic disciplines in so far as a serious pursuit of truth is concerned [3]

Arguably, the continental tradition is a little more diverse in its growth and development. In essence the tradition began, historically, with Kant, whose philosophical concerns were also, principally, epistemological. For Kant, the knowledge we, as subjects, have of  the world, as an external object, is knowledge of how the world appears to us.  Therefore, we can only ever fully experience and know the world and its contents as phenomena.  However, the formally recognised  school  of phenomenology is generally traced back to Husserl, for whom philosophy, in the twentieth century, had all but lost its way. Hence, he sought to ground it in a proper investigation of the world as it appears to us, without reference to a world behind or beyond the one we inhabit. The existential and linguistic concerns of the phenomenological movement involve a deeply complex configuration of German idealism and romanticism and French social and political critique. 

A second broad strand of continental philosophy is that concerned with the postmodern imperative, a wide-ranging attack on the overarching ambition of all modernist philosophy, but in particular, the analytic project of trying to mirror nature in a singular, neutral and scientifically-accurate fashion. It combines a number of both congruent and competing theories and positions from deconstruction to difference, but its principal thesis is that there are no longer any metanarratives, any grand and totalizing narratives or stories to be told about the world and the truths corresponding to it. Instead, there is simply an infinite sum of petit narratives, all vying for recognition in a cultural and inter-cultural game of patriarchy, power and politics. Overall, the continental tradition, in terms of style and content, owes much of its allegiance to literature, art and psychoanalysis, rather than to science and mathematics, the principal distinguishing features of the analytic tradition.

These two broad characterisations help to distinguish the current, competitive nature of the discipline. At the analytic extremity one's method is exclusively to do with the reduction of all human conduct and understanding to the precise formulae of symbolic logic, whilst at the extremity of the continental tradition, one's method is to do with the poetic celebration of human differences in a mystical, metaphoric or disjunctional manner. However, whatever the tradition, the method or the style and content, it is becoming increasingly clear that philosophy, as a composite discipline, has begun to align itself with the bureaucratization of intellectual inquiry, much to its discredit. Teaching and learning, scholarship, research and inquiry have tended to become subordinated to an ill-conceived project initiated by educational mandarins who maintain an implicit belief in a model of efficiency, effectiveness and value for money which is universally applicable and quantitatively measurable [4].  And so today, Schopenhauer's words appear to be even more relevant [5] :

"Generally speaking university philosophy is mere fencing in front of a mirror. In the last analysis, its goal is to give students opinions which are to the liking of the minister who hands out the Chairs...As a result, this state-financed philosophy makes a joke of philosophy." 

Arguably, philosophy as a discipline has become all too readily associated with the schools and traditions which are its by-product, rather than with the daily activities of which it is constituted. The ultimate result of all this is the loss of any meaningful relationship between philosophy and the world, and between philosophers and the culture which they both share in and help to create. Hence, much philosophy has become, almost, a dead-letter discipline in which intellectual trench-warfare is carried on between rival and competing traditions. 

Traditions and Second-Order Practices 

However, when considering what it is that philosophers actually do, and how they fashion a method for exploring the issues or questions which concern them, all of these competing, and often conflicting or complementary traditions exist on a much higher level of generality than one might initially suppose. It is, of course, true to say that one is "initiated" or "inducted" into a particular tradition by a significant other, an influential text or a singular event. And so, inevitably, one then begins to develop an allegience to that tradition, and part of demonstrating a philosophical allegience is, rightly, to subject the tradition to close scrutiny and critical analysis, searching for, and discovering problems and faults wherever one can. That is the only way in which a tradition avoids becoming ossified and static [6] .  The particular school or tradition to which one, as a philosopher, becomes attached is, however, a second-order matter derived from a first-order activity.  But  this is the way in which philosophy itself is often characterised. The argument goes that there are any number of first-order activities and disciplines, such as fishing, rugby, and stamp-collecting, or geography, farming and ship-building. These are all first-order activities because they are geared to fairly specific ends, deal in collections of particular kinds of facts, and prescribe certain sorts of practices. Moreover, they all manifest themselves as identifiable language games in a Wittgensteinian sense, as they adopt specialist terms, and construct and follow certain procedures and rules which are publicly agreed and understood. On the whole we know exactly what we are doing when we let ourselves in for a Saturday afternoon's fishing. We may go fly-fishing in the local river, or mackerel fishing in coastal waters. Either way, the purpose is reasonably clear, even though we may disagree about its particular function, namely, competitive fishing for sport, commercial fishing for food, or simply, idle fishing for pleasure. We know the kinds of equipment that will be required, and the ways of handling that equipment and so on. Much of what is needed to be known can be taught in a fairly pragmatic and straightforward manner, although to achieve deep enjoyment, to possess real skill and judgment, and to gain personal success, many years must be devoted to constant practice and correction of the activity. The same is largely true of the other activities mentioned, although one might wish to object to the inclusion of a specific theoretical and practical discipline, such as chemistry or geography. But it could be argued that these, no less than fishing, are first-order activities, without in any way suggesting a diminution of  their intellectual status. 

However, the same is not quite true of philosophy. Philosophy has no obvious content of its own, no clearly-discernible aim which governs its course, nor seemingly any identifiable reason why anyone should wish to pursue it. There are no empirically-based fact-finding missions which it must support and no set routines for teaching nor learning, as one is never quite sure at the outset if there is anything either to teach or to learn. So, one way in which it gains some semblance of purpose is to look around for first-order activities and practices on which to fix its questioning gaze. The purpose then becomes second-order in nature : to subject to rigorous scrutiny all of the concepts and terms, practices, rules and regulations  by  which other first-order activities and practices are governed. Philosophy, as a second-order practice on this view, is wholly uncommitted to, and unconcerned with the first-order activity under inspection;  instead it is simply concerned to try to understand and make sense of the language-game of that first-order activity. It is concerned, in as distinterested way as possible with what it is that is going on under the umbrella term of fishing or geography, rugby or farming [7]

Unfortunately, this is the means by which philosophers have sometimes promoted their discipline to an unwarranted olympian position. The assumption is that philosophy, as an elite, second-order inquiry, can provide the grand narrative or the distinct method by which all other first-order disciplines and activities can get clear about themselves, their behaviours, beliefs and identities. Now, although philosophy may assist in the clarification of language about certain first-order activities, it is presumptuous for it to claim ultimate authority as an over-arching practice, or supreme meta-discipline, which clears up all the intellectual problems embedded in primary pursuits. 

By contrast, the claim here is that philosophy qua philosophy is not this grand second-order practice, but is itself a first-order activity. And it is the various philosophical traditions, and their discourses, which have gradually transformed philosophy into the meta-discipline it sometimes claims for its identity and justification [8],  and transformed the philosopher into a) the intellectual personification of whatever tradition to which she might, however tenuously, be attached, and b)  the embodiment of a universalist, academic problem-solver. However, contrary to this, a philosopher cannot be identified by virtue of the tradition or second-order practice to which she may belong because, ultimately, the philosopher is atopos - unclassifiable. In the Theaetetus Plato frequently describes Socrates as atopos - or out of place [9].  His behaviour, his conduct, his intellectual disposition and his constant quizzical stance were all out of kilter with the prevailing culture. His first-order activities never, somehow, seemed to fit. Hence, given that he was out of place, it were better for society that he was also out of the way. And so, to conclude this first, major claim : philosophy qua philosophy is a first-order activity and the various philosophical traditions and discourses are simply derivative second-order practices. 

Philosophy as a set of first-order activities. 

If this is the case, what is philosophy's first-order activity which its discourse expresses? It is, quite simply and unremarkably, all those daily activities in which the philosopher engages, and which can  be grouped in the following way. First, there are those activities which may be said to do with intellectual commitments : reading, listening, discussing, writing, thorough investigation, analysis and so on. Second, there are those activities which are more to do with creating a sense of an internal philosophical character : meditation, remembrance of good things, reflection, therapies of the passions, and third, there are those particular activities and behaviours which mark out the philosopher's external commitments : the conduct governing one's duties and responsibilities as a human being, which may or may not include regular academic tasks. These particular activities are, or at least should be part of any philosopher's daily manner of conduct, whether or not she be a logician, a phenomenologist or an existentialist. I say, "these activities", rather I should say, some or even most of the activities, for a logician may claim that as long as her technical skills, related to the construction of arguments in symbolic form, are undimmed, she is under no moral or philosophical obligation to attend to the therapy of  her passions, nor should she be under any compulsion to recapture past pleasant memories, although it might be quite enjoyable and therapeutic to do so now and again. 

In so far as these first-order activities are concerned I take my cue from the French philosopher and historian Pierre Hadot. In a number of articles [10] Hadot has carefully mapped out the kinds of  activities, habits, behaviours and undertakings  which philosophers in Graeco-Roman antiquity engaged in on a daily basis, and which lent form, meaning and substance to their lives. Hadot calls these activities spiritual exercises for a number of reasons, the first few of which appear to bear no relationship to the word "spiritual" at all, but the reasoning soon becomes clear. First, these activities or exercises marked out the kinds of  bodily behaviours the self ought to initiate and enact, and secondly, they prescribed the kinds of mental states, conditions and dispositions which ought to accompany such behaviours and actions. The central point is that both physical actions and mental states are of equivalent value when engaging in the exercises, for there was an implicit understanding in much Greek philosophical inquiry about the unitary nature of the relationship between mind and body, soul and self. Far from being wholly dualistic, as much subsequent scholarship has maintained, ancient Greek inquiry recognised only too well that mind and body are, in one sense, utterly indivisible, and a brief analysis of the terms spirit and soul will help to show why this is so. 

Soul and Spirit

'Spirit', from the Latin spiritus, is one loose translation of the Greek word pneuma meaning 'breath', or more accurately, the breath which grants a minimum level of life to an otherwise inanimate material body. However, it also means the controlling or animating force or principle which allows that breathing material body to move and act according to some inner, autonomous imperative. The Greek term for this is psuche and the subsequent Latin term for it is anima, as in the animating principle  [11].  Lastly, soul is an Anglo-Saxon term used to describe the twin principles, of breath of life and of  the animate vitality of the autonomous self, combined in the two Latin terms, spiritus (breath) and anima (animating principle) , and the two respective Greek terms pneuma (breath) and psuche (animating principle) [12].  What then, does this brief etymological inquiry tell us? It establishes at least two things. First, that what marks out life from death is the soul or the spirit; and that second, the soul or spirit, is indissolubly linked with the bodily living of this life through breathing freely and moving independently. Take these two mysterious gifts away  and death is the inevitable result. Moreover, it is not just a bodily death, but a spiritual death which leaves the body static, still and lifeless, unable to think and act,  devoid of any sense of autonomy, identity or function. Such a mysterious metaphysical event which exchanges life for death, breath for no breath, movement for stillness, vitality for blankness, and self for no-self, requires an extraordinary metaphysical description and explanation. Therefore, the careful treatment of the dead, the conferring of honour, remembrance and status upon the lifeless corpse must  inevitably reflect that only partially-understood cosmic event of self-identity, lest one's own physical death brings about a corresponding metaphysical death wherein memories of the achievements in life go unrecorded, and one's identity is erased from history. The living of a material and bodily life is, therefore, the living of a definitively spiritual life. Unfortunately, this ancient philosophical account of living a spiritual life soon inherited, largely from religion, a  vast speculative description of another so-called spiritual world above and beyond, or perhaps behind, this material one which is directly lived and experienced [13]

So, on this understanding the spiritual life comes to mean the all-embracing concept of a material or physical  body having been given the means of experiencing self, others and the world  through the mysterious processes of breath, motion, and autonomy allied to the twin marvels of thought and action. Arguably, it is only with Plato that some kind of substantive dualism is created, but even there, scholarship may be fooled as a consequence of examining much of Platonic thought through the misty lense of over a thousand years of Christian philosophy, and over three hundred years of Cartesian reasoning. 

How one lives a life then is no small matter, as Socrates so clearly observed. In living a life we must pay attention to the small detail of our daily existence, and in so doing, the larger canvas which, over the years characterises our self and gives some notion of identity, will effectively take care of itself. In other words, if we attend to the first-order activities, the second order practices will gradually emerge and take shape, not of their own accord as if they were divorced from the first-order activities, but it is they which emerge from such activities, not vice-versa.

Philo reclarified by Hadot

So, what are these spiritual exercises? According to Hadot, they are best summarised and expressed by Philo Judeaus in two extraordinary works Allegorical Interpretations of Genesis ll, and Who is the Heir of Divine Things. In the former, the story of Jacob and Laban, is taken as an allegory of the soul being pursued by the passions. The soul and some of its attendant disciplines of "readings, ponderings, self-control (and) discharge of daily duties" [14] are, for a while, insufficient to the task of  resisting or even modifying the passions, the persistent wants and desires of an unregulated life. In the latter text, the characters of Jacob and Esau are sketched and the metaphorical food of the soul, offered up by Jacob, is described as "inquiry, examination, reading, listening to instruction, concentration, perseverence, self-mastery and power to treat things indifferent as indeed indifferent."[15].  Hadot's translation and rendering of the two lists is instructive, and points to his having been influenced more by the Stoic undercurrents of Philo's account, than the scriptural contexts within which they are to be understood. Having said that, Hadot's concern is more philosophical than theological, although what it does is to indicate yet another way in which the subtle relationship between theology and philosophy may be explored  [16].  Hadot refers to Philo's lists of  philosophical "therapeutics" thus :

"One of (the) lists enumerates the following elements : research (zetesis), thorough investigation (skepsis); reading (anagnosis), listening (akroasis), attention (prosoche), self-mastery, (enkrateia), and indifference to indifferent things . The other names successively : reading, meditations (meletai), therapies of the passions, remembrance of good things, self-mastery and the accomplishment of duties."  [17]

These exercises are not rank-ordered, but are each considered vital to the philosopher's task of living and shaping a life. It is inevitable that some form of research, some kind of systematic inquiry into self and the world, should occupy a place in the philosopher's  gamut of pursuits. The mere re-articulation of the thoughts and comments of others is insufficient for the intellectual and spiritual health of the philosopher. The persistent working at a challenging question or a demanding problem ensures a sharpening of the critical faculties and opens up the possibilities for intellectual renewal. The entire constellation of the Aristotelian intellectual virtues of, for example, understanding, judgment and deliberation, as well as practical wisdom, intuition and the technical and scientific arts, are all necessarily brought into play when some form of original inquiry is undertaken. Wittgenstein's entire life was given over to the patient unravelling of complex thought patterns and the cultural embeddedness of everyday practices, including that of philosophy. No matter that his inquiries were not published in his lifetime; the point was to conduct the research, and in conducting the research, the aim was to get it right, in so far as that is possible. Without research, of whatever kind, whether it be in metaphysics, ontology, epistemology or ethics, the philosophical life withers and dies. What is left is not philosophy, but exegesis or doctrinal incantation.

Research inevitably involves many of the remaining exercises. Without the thorough examination of what has gone before, and of what is currently open to view, research cannot get underway. The logician who does not conduct a thorough examination of the relevance of all of the connectives or logical constants will be unable to proceed, and the ontologist who fails to map out all of the definitional concerns of Being will be at a loss as to where to go next. Reading, listening and attention all go together as aspects of the continual task of investigating thoroughly prior to, or parallel with, the activity of research. The exercise of thorough examination recalls that distinctive Socratic pronouncement on the unexamined life not being worth living. Self-examination is a natural precursor to the exploration of problems which impinge upon the self.

The injunction is an ancient one, and Philo's recommended exercise of  self-mastery is only made possible after careful self-examination. The Delphic inscription, "Know Thyself" [18] , is a necessary preliminary to the mastery of that enigma - the self -  which one gradually attempts to understand and to know. However, the task will always be an incomplete one as Heraclitus avers : "If you travel every path you will not find the limits of the soul, so deep is its account." [19].  Nonetheless, the continual exercise of mastering oneself can only occur if one is aware of what it is that one is attempting to master. It is partly a matter, as Aristotle maintained, of reigning in the irrational appetites of the soul, and encouraging, instead, the rational faculties to temper or modify the seemingly irrational wants and desires, whilst seeing to the needs of, and nutrients for, a positive bodily existence. If philosophy is to become something other than self-conceit, then self-examination and self-mastery must accompany the philosophical quest. Socrates's re-telling of Diotima's disquisition on beauty and desire is a clear example of the means for instructing the self in this respect. This mastery of self is synonymous with one of the four cardinal virtues, that of self-restraint or sophrosune.  Moreover, it connects, logically, with the therapies of the passions and the indifference to indifferent things. Unfulfilled desires produce frustration and longing; tragic events prompt despair and sorrow, or anger and bitterness. External events which prompt certain passions are, ultimately, indifferent as to the individual self who suffers. It matters not at all the identity of the self;  tragedy, in one form or another, generally visits everyone. The Greek tragedians understood this only too well. Their works were formal public instructions in the moral art of teaching about that particular passion which needs to be mastered : pride or hubris. However, if  the Gods whoever they are, or if the cosmos, however it is ordered, dictates that some tragedy must befall the individual irrespective of the self-mastery of pride, if  this is the case, then indifference to this fate about which the self can do little, is surely the best policy. This ought to be especially true of the philosopher whose sole concern is the pursuit of truth whether or not that truth is satisfying to the individual. According to an entry in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus [20]. Xanthippe, Socrates's wife, was once asked what was the most extraordinary and blessed aspect of Socrates's life. By all accounts she replied, "The fact that he doesn't change his expression in prosperity or adversity." Truths, generally, are uncomfortable entities; therefore, to regard them all with equanimity is an attractive goal. Internal desires which produce constricting and disabling passions are clearly targets for therapy. Anything which impedes the regular exercise of research, thorough investigation and the contributory disciplines of reading, listening and attention, must be treated with seriousness; the intention being to deny these passions the licence to wreak havoc on an otherwise purposeful existence.

As suggested, these activities, practised if not on a daily basis, then at least on a regular basis, contribute to the flourishing of  the moral and intellectual virtues or human excellences described and analysed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. For Aristotle, the moral virtues such as courage, friendliness, truthfulness and so on are cultivated and developed through constant habit, beginning perhaps with an externally imposed discipline until the habits are so ingrained that they become a matter of self-discipline. The intellectual virtues, on the other hand, such as deliberation, judgment, understanding, and practical wisdom, are generally fashioned through education and instruction. Each of us, according to Aristotle, is in possession of these excellences in their potential state; it is only through constant use, practice and perfection that they become actual virtues of qualities of mind and character. For Hadot, the above exercises characterise a life of askesis [21].  This is not to be understood in its Greek-Christian sense of absolute asceticism, a view given added austerity and purity through the Latin Christianity of Ignatius of Loyola and his exercitium spirituale. Instead, the original meaning of  the term askesis related to the sum total of those exercises, both mental and physical, which were understood to be associated with the pneuma and psuche of the individual. Moreover, the individual psuche and pneuma were somehow inexplicably connected with the animating principles and breath of life shared by all other persons within the living community. Hence, for the Stoics in particular, what unites us as living beings is far greater than what separates us as cultural beings. Hence, the Stoics advocated a fairly rigorous form cosmopolitan ethic.

Of the great schools of philosophical antiquity, the Stoics are particularly helpful in this respect. For the Stoics philsophy was first and foremost an "exercise", not a body of knowledge, still less a specific method simply to be applied whenever a philosophical problem arose or a philosophical debate was in progress. Instead, philosophy, as an exercise, was a gradual but utterly transformative activity. Philosophy, of course, includes, but must not be confused with or simply confined to theoretical abstraction or textual analysis and interpretation. Instead, philosophical inquiry is necessarily connected to the whole manner and conduct of living a life. It involves a comprehensive and continuous process of reflection and action which penetrates to the inner world of belief and feeling, and shapes the outer world of behaviour and bearing. Consequently, philosophy is about fashioning 

"a concrete attitude and determinate lifestyle, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he (sic) attains self-consciousness, and exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom. "  [22]
In re-drafting Philo's lists and modifiying them so that they more fully reflect contemporary concerns, as well as emphasising the ways in which they are echoed by the existential imperatives of Heidegger and Sartre, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Hadot talks of four means of learning : learning to live, learning to die, learning to dialogue and learning to read. These are, if you like, the generic activities which inform our daily conduct. Education, both formal and informal, is nothing other than learning to live, learning to be a person, or at least  the kind of person which the culture in which one is inducted and initiated into deems important and worthy. In this respect, a philosophical approach to learning to live is essential. One should always adopt a critical stance to the kinds of learning preferred by culture in general and bureaucratically-organised education in particular. Living a life is an art fashioned through practical wisdom, the Aristotelian virtue of phronesis

Learning to die is about learning how to enjoy, but not become enslaved to this particular life. An enlarged vision of an eternal cosmos, and the liberation of the mind, the imagination, and the contemplative faculty allows us the capacity to begin to face death with courage, humour, and above all equanimity. Death is not to be feared. For Socrates it could, logically, only be one of two things: either the sharing of an everlasting banquet with friends who have gone before, as well as the longed for meeting with Homeric heroes and ancient sages, or it is the most peaceful, eternal sleep imaginable. Either way, it is not a condition which should prompt mourning and despair, unless this life has been such a disappointment that the idea of leaving it without ever having tasted its fruits would seem a cruel blow. Wittgenstein had learned to live and to die, and so was able, by all accounts, to utter the memorable phrase, "Tell them I had a wonderful life," [23]  whereas in fact it appeared to the casual observer that his life was simply a catalogue of anxious events and tragic experiences. Moreover, doing philosophy is about, as Socrates famously says, "learning how to play dead." The mind or the soul is trained to roam the cosmos, the capturing of that sublime vision of truth, beauty and goodness which prompts most impulses to better the individual and collective lot.

Learning how to read, and learning how to dialogue are central features of any philosophical way of life. It is of paramount importance how one reads the text, the tradition, the practice into which one has been initiated so that all three do not perish as a consequence of blind faith and obedience. Learning to read means learning how to become critical, self-critical, analytic and poetic. It is both an art and a science, and as such transcends them both. Similarly, learning how to dialogue both with oneself and with others, is an activity which is at the heart of philosophical inquiry. The internal imperative to "know thyself" involves a joint quest, a journey of interiority as well as exteriority. To traverse the path into the inner self, glimpsed and understood in moments of philosophical prayer and contemplation where, paradoxically, the aim is, in fact, to escape the self altogether represents the interior quest, the dialogue with self. To take the outer path and dialogue with others is to recognise the fundamental connectedness one necessarily enjoys with others who are particular bearers of the human tag. In dialoguing with self and with others one becomes gradually aware of the particular instance of personhood the self represents, as well as the general class of personhood the self shares with others. This can only be done through listening carefully to what others have to say, and to speak openly and honestly about the things which require thinking through. Thorough research in order to lessen ignorance, quiet meditation in order to compose thoughts and the accomplishment of daily duties in order to regulate potentially chaotic lives are all involved in the four means of learning described and analysed by Hadot. 

Moreover, the therapeutic aspect of philosophy is what binds the four generic activities together. It is about the Stoic activity of being indifferent to indifferent things. Again, Socrates, although not a Stoic in the strict sense of being a member of the school, is the prime example here, as Xanthippe's description testifies.  There is, of course, another interpretation of the therapeutic purpose, and it is Wittgensteinian. Philosophy is therapy - a therapeutic endeavour designed to rid ourselves of the desire to construct vast and intricate metaphysical systems which, although appealing and satisfying to its adherents, have little basis in the reality of everyday life as we experience and know it. Philosophy is not an activity to prop up crippled souls through the promulgation of falsehoods; it is instead about the intellectual purging of the mind through the singular pursuit of truth. This is the principal Platonic definition of the philosopher. Glaucon's question : "...who are the true philosophers?" elicits Socrates's reply : "Those who love to see the truth."  [24].

Philo's list is not, of course, exhaustive; neither is Hadot's, although the latter's four-part generic account of the various "learnings-to" are clearly intended to be more comprehensive than Philo's. Learning to live, to die, to read and to dialogue cover a multitude of differentiated activities, including all of Philo's particular exercises. But, the engagement with others in discussion, argument and conversation, loosely gathered in by Hadot's all-encompassing exercise of learning to dialogue, is only hinted at in Philo's enumeration of the important undertakings. However, what is of principal value in both Philo's and Hadot's description of the philosopher's everyday tasks, is the specific refocussing on the fundamental first-order activities as opposed to the abstracted second-order practices to which they may give rise. It is the combined expressions of thought and action which primarily interest us, and not the growing corpus of a second-order tradition spawned by such expressions. 

One possibility emerging from this comparison is the characterisation of, say, the analytic tradition (and its associated concerns), and the phenomenological tradition, as middle-ranking directive arts, while, obviously, philosophy qua philosophy remains as the single and overarching directive. The above, first-order activities, reading, writing, listening and so on, then become the subordinate aims which feed into these higher directive functions. However, and this is where the overall argument parts company from Aristotle's analysis (of superior and subordinate aims) [25] , the central contention here is that these so-called subordinate arts are, in fact, the overarching directive arts, and it is the combination of these subordinate arts which lead to the creation of a philosophical life. The reason why they are directive in themselves, is because there is nothing beyond them. Philosophers do not engage in these activities in order to become philosophers, in a linear means-end fashion. Nor, even more absurdly, do they engage in them in order to become a member of the analytic tradition, or phenomenological tradition. These activities are what constitute philosophy. The sum total of  these activities are both what philosophy is, and what a philosopher does. This distinction between first-order activities and second-order practices was clearly understood by the Stoics who maintained a substantive distinction between doing philosophy and discoursing about philosophy [26].  Russell's famous chapter on "The Value of Philosophy" contains an analysis of the possible benefits accrued from doing philosophy, but much of it appears instrumental, as though there were a chain of causation involved, with an end result - namely a string of epistemological conclusions. Wittgenstein, somewhat harshly, detested the chapter and all that it meant.  Trying to reason about why one does philosophy, as though one could then point to a finished product beyond it, was to miss the point altogether. Philosophy is, in a sense, a tautological activity : philosophers do what they do, because it is what philosophers like to do. Russell despaired of Wittgenstein's attack on his position : "he says people who like philosophy will pursue it, and others won't, and there's an end of it." [27]

The subverting of the traditionally-held beliefs about primary and secondary aims, and the importance attached to the traditionally-held relationship of first-order activities to second-order practices, is what, for Hadot, leads to a spiritual understanding of the philosophic way of life. It is not about subscribing, ultimately, to one second-order tradition of inquiry, (such as analytic philosophy, phenomenology or whatever) that makes for a philosophically-governed life, but the primary commitment to those, or at least most of those first-order activities which make up a measured, spiritual life which acknowledges the spiritual content, the animating force, of a daily life, lived as well as possible. It is this which Socrates appeared to have achieved, and which much professional philosophy appears to ignore. It is the recognition and acknowledgement that it is the collection of small things and routine daily actions and habits which contribute to the philosophical life, which is equated with a deeply spiritual life. The spiritual life is that which recognises the place and importance of a daily life lived well, or at least to the best of its capabilities; for the potential virtues or human excellences, to gradually become transformed into actual virtues. In this way the human telos begins to take recognisable shape as a guiding principle, a principle which, arguably, religion finds it easier to fashion than does secularism. 


In the choosing of first-order activities, and consequently in the fashioning and shaping of the second-order practices we begin to fashion a philosophical life, and engage in a philosophical method. By the reflective and careful choice of the activities we undertake, the critiques we care to mount, the arguments we wish to advance, the texts we wish to read, the manner of our interpretations, discussions and dialogues all point to a change in the possibilities of knowledge and morality. 

The philosopher could easily spend her time constructing arguments in symbolic logic as in poetic form, or spend her time in the close reading of Philo as opposed to Hare or Nozick. Moreover, she has the choice of whether to lecture in didactic fashion or in discursive form. Whatever she chooses gradually and cumulatively leads to what she is or what she is to become. This fashions her spiritual self, the expression of her inner psuche, or animating principle, and her pneuma, the breath which confers life on her. Under Hadot's classification, we learn to dialogue with self and others by the means of the choices we make in terms of what we believe it is important to say and to whom we think it necessary to say it. Moreover, what we choose to think about, to dream about and to despair of, gradually makes us what we are. We learn to read by the choice of texts we make, the manner of our reading and with whom we undertake that journey of articulated language. We learn to die by positioning ourselves in relation to death, which, necessarily involves how we shall conduct ourselves whilst alive. To philosophise is to learn to play dead, to try to transcend the particularities of the here and now, in order to glimpse the generalities of the nowhere and nowhen. And we learn to live by consciously choosing those activities which conform to our abilities and proposed quests, by the continual exercise of the virtues, those qualities of mind and character, which, by choice we believe to be of paramount importance. 

On this view of first-order activities, there is no fundamental and final distinction between thought and action or theory and practice. Indeed, arguably, the whole of western philosophy has been an attempt to articulate the subtle complexity of the relationship between theory and practice, between what one knows or believes and what one does or how one acts. The internal "logic of practice" [28] which dictates, governs, modifies and gives rise to our daily undertakings, at whatever level of subtlety and complexity, is inherent in our conscious as well as unconscious thinking and doing, or in another theoretical register, our daily praxis.  What is of interest to us is the interplay between thinking and doing, and what gives rise to this interplay within what Taylor refers to as the perception of an "embodied agent"  [29].

Philosophers, like all persons as embodied agents, are continually ascending and descending platforms of conditional understanding [30], each of which prompts the question posed previously : What should I do now? For the philosopher, as for everyone else, the question lurks always beneath the surface of daily practice and daily action; it is the prompting of praxis - that symbiotic relationhsip of theory to practice. But what happens when a platform of conditional understanding can no longer provide us with a theorem and a purpose for action. This is the point at which reasoned explanation stops and the logic of  felt, or pre-linguistic, experience is evoked. My various theorems, comprised of their 'verdicts' and 'noticings', [31] provide me with rules for understanding and action, and analyses of reasons and purposes. They provide the notions of intelligible action and narrative unity described by MacIntryre. But where do I turn for explanation or reason when all justifications and rules cease? For an answer we turn to Wittgenstein :

"If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say : 'This is simply what I do.'" 
In doing philosophy, one chooses no single method, joins no independent tradition, and cleaves to no particular technique. Moreover, although initiated and inducted into a particular second-order practice, be it logical analysis, phenomenology or postmodernism, one may reject the label and abandon the camp, but never do so without respect for the tradition which sustains the practice. What one does choose, however, is to do philosophy through engaging in the performance of a range of first-order activities such as those described by Philo, re-clarified by Hadot, hinted at obliquely by Wittgenstein, and  fully embodied in the unique character of Socrates.  To read, think, talk and reflect: to discuss, argue, worry and care; to learn to live and die; to read and dialogue; and to attempt to become not just the better person that my Aristotelian telos bids me become, but symbiotically, the better citizen I must necessarily become if  the engagement with philosophy is to be worth anything at all. To repeat Wittgenstein's dictum : "This is simply what I do." 


1 See, for example, Alasdair MacIntyre's division of philosophy into these three competing 'schools'.
A. MacIntyre, 1985, After Virtue: a study in moral theory .(London : Duckworth), chapter 1, p. 2. 
2 The configurations of philosophical views and positions are (almost) infinite.  One recent text which lays claim to a newly-emerging 'school' is that by P. Blond. See P. Blond (ed), 1998, Post-Secular Philosophy : between philosophy and theology. (London : Routledge). 
3 One of the key texts for understanding this tradition is P. Hylton 1990 Russell, Idealism and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy. (Oxford : Clarendon Press).
4 See, for example, W.H. Hart, 1997, "The Qualitymongers" in Journal of Philosophy of Education. Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 295-308. 
5 A. Schopenhauer, 1958, The World as Will and Representation, (trans. E.F.J.Payne, 2 vols., Indian Hills CO; London/Toronto 1909), ch. 17, vol. 2, pp. 163-4.  The source of this quotation is P. Hadot who makes a similar point in a short, pithy article entitled "Philosophy as a Way of Life" in P. Hadot, 1995, Philosophy as a Way of Life : Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. (trans. M. Chase; Oxford : Blackwell) p. 271. 
6 Popper distinguished between first-order and second-order traditions; the former being followed blindly and obediently by its adherents, the latter undergoing constant self-renewal as a consequence of critical scrutiny. See K. Popper, "The Rationality of Traditions" in  K. Popper, 1963, Conjectures and Refutations : The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), p. 127.  However, according to Heelas, postmodernism has supposedly led to the establishment of a post-tradition culture. There are those who subscribe to the "radical thesis" - the view that tradition has been so eroded that no tradition is now discernible - and those who subscribe to the "coexistence thesis" - the argument that contemporary intellectual culture is by no means devoid of tradition, or subject to what has become known as "detraditionalization". See P. Heelas, 1996, "Introduction : Detraditionalization and its Rivals" in P. Heelas, S. Lash & P. Morris (eds.), 1996, Detraditionalization, (Oxford : Blackwell), pp. 2-3. 
7An interesting example of the way in which this distinction is transferred to a particular branch of philosophy can be found in G. Langford, 1985, Education, Persons and Society : A Philosophical Enquiry. (London : Macmillan). Langford argues for the retention of the distinction by isolating the philosophy of education (second-order) from a philosophy of education (first-order). pp 45-7. 
8 I am partly prompted to this view by Wittgenstein's remark which can be used both to support and to attack the position which I am advocating. L. Wittgenstein, 1953,  "121. One might think: if philosophy speaks of the word "philosophy" there must be a second-order philosophy. But it is not so: it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word "orthography" among others without then being second-order." Philosophical Investigations. (Oxford: Blackwell). p 49.
9 For a good analysis of this aspect of Socrates, see Hadot "The Figure of Socrates" in P. Hadot, 1995, op.cit.,  p 158. 
10 See P. Hadot, "Neoplatonist Spirituality : 1 : Plotinus and Porphyry" in A H Armstrong (ed.), 1989, Classical Mediterranean Spirituality : Egyptian, Greek, Roman. (SCM: London), pp 230-249; P. Hadot "Spiritual Exercises" and  "Ancient Spiritual Exercises and  'Christian Philosophy'" reproduced in 19
Philosophy as a Way of Life:Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. (Oford : Blackwell),  pp. 81-125 and pp. 126-144 respectively.
11Hence, the medieval Latin translation of Aristotle's treatise, On the Soul, is still used, namely De Anima. 
12 see J. Barnes, 1979 The Presocratic Philosophers : Vol 1: Thales to Zeno. (London: RKP), pp 6-53. Also, K. Corrigan 1986 "Body and Soul in Ancient Religious Experience" in A. H. Armstrong (ed) 1989 Classical Mediterranean Spirituality : Egyptian, Roman, Greek. (London: SCM), pp. 360-383.
13This is, however, not to say that Greek philosophy was therefore devoid of any theological content. From Xenophon onwards theological speculation was a legitimate area of concern for philosophical inquiry. (See, for example, L P Gerson 1994 God and Greek Philosophy : Studies in the Early History of Natural Theology. (Routledge)). However, the idea of a spiritual life was, in Greek terms, essentially a matter of how this bodily life was lived, not how this body specifically related to a supra-sensible world inhabited by spirits.
14 Philo, Allegorical Interpretations of Genesis ll, 18. Source : Philo, (trans. F.H. Colson & G.H. Whitaker; 10 volumes; 1931, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press & London : William Heinemann : Loeb Classical Library)  vol. 1, p. 313.
15 Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things, 253. Source : Philo, ibid., vol. lV, p. 413.
16 A. MacIntyre talks of the need to explore once again the complex relationship between theology and philosophy. A MacIntyre, 1988, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (London : Duckworth) p 402.  MacIntyre's is an explicit appeal to the Thomist system which he claims is a tradition superior to its two, current rival traditions : the genealogical and the encyclopedic. See A McIntyre, 1990,  Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry.  (London : Duckworth).
17 Hadot., 1995, op. cit., p 84.
18 See C. H. Kahn, 1987, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. (Cambridge University Press). p 116.
19 Diels-Krantz B series, B45. Source : J. Barnes, 1987,  Early Greek Philosophy. (Penguin) p 106. For Barnes, both here and in the two volume series, nothing much is attached to this statement, the principal concern being about knowledge of the cosmos rather than knowledge of the self. C H Kahn 1987 op.cit., on the other hand, makes much of it. Contemporary accounts of the self, particularly those found in the analytic tradition, seem to assume that the investigative issue began with Descartes; see, for example, Quassim Cassam (ed.), 1994, Self-Knowledge. (Oxford:Oxford University Press). 
20 See L. Sternbach (ed.) 1963 Gnomologium Vaticanum (Berlin), 573: source : J Ferguson, 1970 Socrates. (Open University Press), p 301.
21 Hadot, 1995, op. cit., p. 128.
22 Hadot, 1995, ibid., p. 83. 
23 See R. Monk, 1991, Wittgenstein : The Duty of Genius, London : Vintage, p. 579.
24 Plato  Republic Part 7; Book 5; 475e, (Penguin edition, p 209)
25Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 1; 1094a1-22, (Penguin edition, pp. 63-4). 
26 e.g Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers. 7.39. Source : P. Hadot, 1995, op. cit., "Philosophy as a Way of Life" p 226.
27 Letter from Bertrand Russell to Ottoline Morrell. 17.3.12. source : R. Monk 1990 Wittgenstein : The Duty of Genius. p 45.
28 see, for example, P. Bourdieu's 1990, The Logic of Practice. (tr. Richard Nice; Cambridge: Polity Press) First published 1980 Les sens pratique. (Les Editions de Minuit). "Practice" here is used in a slightly different way to that proposed, for example, by MacIntyre. Here Bourdieu refers both to the specific first-order activities that go to make up a practice, as well as the complex social agreements and activities which constitute that (which I have called) second-order practice. MacIntyre, for example, would want to say that turnip-picking is simply an activity, but farming is a practice. I think the ultimacy of the distinction is too difficult to sustain. Approaching it from Bourdieu's perspective, turnip-picking depends upon the subtle interplay of theory and practice: knowing which turnips appear ripe and ready for picking, choosing your time judiciously, making sure the vegetable is not damaged through lack of skill or technique. Now clearly, this is but a small (although not insiginificant) activity when compared with all the activities which constitute farming proper, but it is not open to us to say simply that, therefore, one activity can only be defined as an activity, whereas a collection of such similar activities can, and is, only defined as a practice. All activities, to a greater or lesser degree require some understanding of the relationship between theory (per se) and practice (per se), even if that understanding is at a level below conscious articulation.
 29 See C Taylor , 1995, Philosophical Arguments. (Harvard University Press). Chapter 2 : "The Validity of Transcendental Arguments" (p 23). As Taylor himself acknowledges, his analysis of the embodied agent owes much to the work of Merleu-Ponty.
30 This is Oakeshott's phrase and forms part of his unique thesis concerning the theoretical specification of human thought and action. M. Oakeshott, 1978 "On the Theoretical Understanding of Human Conduct" in On Human Conduct. (Oxford University Press). 
31 These terms, 'verdicts' and 'noticings', are taken from Oakeshott, 1978, ibid.
32 L Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations. 217. Taylor favours the second of two broad interpretations of Wittgenstein's remark. The first, derived principally from Kripke, is the view that there can be no kind of explanation, reason or understanding as to why "this is simply what I do." It is where understanding terminates. The second interpretation, however, makes allowance for some final or end-position understanding of "what I do", but that that understanding is of a non-articulated kind. It is as though I were to say, "I have given you every conceivable kind of articulated reason for doing what I do; I am now at the point where I can no longer find nor express any further justificatory reason, despite the fact that there is some deeper kind of purpose or reason for my activity which I somehow understand, but cannot articulate." See C. Taylor 1995, "To Follow a Rule" in Taylor, Philosophical Arguments. (Harvard University Press)  esp. pp 167-8.

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