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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912

Abstract

ROSSOUW, Johann. The weal and woe of the spirit: The ancient Greeks, the Church Fathers and modernity. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp. 558-577. ISSN 2224-7912.

In an introductory fashion Pierre Hadot's image of ancient and classical philosophy as self-transformation in the pursuit of wisdom, in which spiritual exercises played an important role, is presented as normative. The fact that Hadot himself, after a mystical experience, apparently in his own philosophical discourse - his written work - and his life practice rekindled the ancient philosophical life is interpreted as proof not only of the existence of the spirit, but also of the fact that cultivating the spirit need not lead to a pseudo-mystical alienation from the world. Then three matters are discussed successively. First, the discovery and cultivation of the spirit by the ancient Greeks and the Church Fathers are discussed. With reference to the examples of figures like Socrates and Aristotle it is argued that the cultivation of attention was a central aspect of the ancient philosophical life, and that a strict distinction between theology and philosophy did not occur in ancient philosophy. As far as the Church Fathers are concerned it is argued that notwithstanding their differences with the ancient Greeks, continuities occurred inasmuch as they also cultivated attention, the proto-monastic philosophical schools of antiquity found their Christian equivalent in monasteries and the ancient Greek view of the integration of spirit, reason and body was nuanced further by the Church Fathers. Secondly, the way in which this Greco-Christian legacy has been subject to growing pressure with the rise of the modern territorial state, with special reference to the modern conception of philosophy within the university is discussed. It is argued that where the relationship to the good was seen in antiquity and the classical era as erotic and to be cultivated with persuasion, modernity replaced the pursuit of the good with the pursuit of order, in which persuasion was replaced with enforcement and social control. The effect of all this on philosophy is considered, especially with reference to how philosophy came to be reduced to a mere cognitive activity, how the integrated image of the human being was lost, and how philosophy itself was fragmented into differentfields of specialisation. Thirdly, the question is asked how the spirit could be cultivated anew today and what the implications are for a contemporary understanding of philosophy and the university. Here three proposals are made. First, that philosophers need to rekindle the spiritual exercises of antiquity and the classical era. Secondly, that philosophers must contribute to an integrated ontology and anthropology in order to overcome modern fragmentation. Thirdly, that the university and philosophy as university subject need to be rethought, both inside and outside the university.

Keywords : spirit; ancient philosophy; classical philosophy; modernity; spiritual exercises; attention; university; Church Fathers; tradition; Hadot.

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