Art of Living by Sellars John;

Art of Living by Sellars John;

Author:Sellars, John;
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: 2009-04-21T04:00:00+00:00

5. The Persistence of the Technical Conception of Philosophy

Despite the way in which the technical conception of philosophy may enable one to understand better the relationship between philosophy and biography, and the way in which it may enable one to reconsider one’s assumptions concerning what constitutes a philosophical text, it has been objected that it would be pointless to attempt to revive this conception of philosophy. In particular, it has been suggested that such a conception of philosophy remains tied to the historical and cultural context in which it was produced and that the distance between that context and our own is too great.18 Moreover, it has also been suggested that it would be idle to engage in a debate concerning the nature and function of philosophy, that philosophy as it is conceived today is neither better nor worse than it was in antiquity, just different.19 Consequently it would be foolish to suggest that an ancient conception of philosophy could directly inform contemporary philosophical practice.

What judgements such as these fail to acknowledge is that throughout the history of Western philosophy thinkers have repeatedly returned to antiquity for inspiration and have drawn upon ancient philosophical resources to help them deal with contemporary philosophical problems and to rethink the nature of what it is that they are doing.20 Throughout the Middle Ages, for instance, philosophers such as Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury drew upon the readily available Latin works of Cicero and Seneca not only for philosophical ideas but also for an understanding of the nature and function of philosophy as such.21 In the Renaissance the same happened, as can be seen in a work such as Petrarch’s On the Remedies of Both Kinds of Fortune.22 In the sixteenth century the same occurred as part of the explicit attempt to create a ‘Neostoicism’ by Justus Lipsius.23 More recently, as I have already noted in the Introduction, Nietzsche developed his own version of this conception of philosophy, drawing upon his philological education in ancient philosophy. Under the influence of Nietzsche, Foucault can also be seen to turn to this technical conception of philosophy.24 Although one might argue that it would be a mistake to take Foucault’s comments on ancient philosophy in his A History of Sexuality out of their genealogical context, nevertheless in a number of shorter pieces and interviews Foucault makes it clear that he had a strong personal interest in what he calls ancient technologies of the self (technologies de soi) and thought that they could have a contemporary relevance.25 Although he is careful – and surely correct – to emphasize that it would be a mistake to present this ancient conception of philosophy as some form of originary yet tragically forgotten conception of what philosophy truly is, Foucault is equally clear that he considers that a contemporary engagement with ancient ideas concerning the nature and function of philosophy may well be productive, so long as one remembers that the product of this encounter will itself be something contemporary.26

With so


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