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Creating a Philosophy of Life

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In his recent research, Pierre Hadot calls our attention to the original vocation of the philosopher: not as scholar but as sage. Hadot attempts to recapture the early understanding of the study of philosophy as an entry into a mode de vie, a way of life richly satisfying and personally rewarding. The challenge for us today, he claims, is to rediscover the unity between two different visions of philosophy: philosophy as scientific discourse and philosophy as way of spiritual enlightenment. As scientific discourse, philosophy cannot exist as a reality in and for itself. It is only the expression of the experience and reflection of the philosopher. As a way of spiritual enlightenment, philosophy is closely linked to the discourse within which it is expressed. (Qu'est-ce que la philosophie antique? pp. 19-21). For our students today, philosophy is neither scientific nor a way of life. For them, it is either a tiresome activity of word-haggling or a discussion which never settles questions to anyone's satisfaction. In the contemporary atmosphere of Post-Modernism, such a perspective engenders either cynicism or frustration. Hardly ever does it promote the sort of humility before the truth which can be the first step of the philosophical journey. Even less often does it promote in the student the conviction that they do, indeed, have moral stars by which they can navigate in life.

In my ten years of university teaching, I have noticed an increase in student energy and attention when we deal with issues of personal authenticity, the development of the real self and the question of the afterlife. Clearly, our students today are narcissistic, but they also demonstrate an eagerness to engage in philosophy as a "spiritual exercise." Over the past eight years I have tried to develop an introductory course which capitalizes on the current student profile and which re-presents philosophy to the students in its original vocation: as guide from the world of confusion and deception to the world of truth. The writing assignment is the centerpiece for the course and all reading and discussion are designed to create an intellectual atmosphere within which the students can consider, develop and defend their own philosophy of life. The argument for their philosophy of life is developed over the entire semester. Students submit the argument in two stages, as described below.

The first stage is written during the first half of the semester,



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