The art of living : Stoic ideas concerning the nature and function of philosophy
The aim of this thesis is to consider the relationship between philosophy and biography, and the bearing that this relationship has on debates concerning the nature and function of philosophy. There exists a certain tradition that conceives philosophy exclusively in terms of rational discourse and as such explicitly rejects the idea of any substantial relationship between philosophy and the way in which one lives. I shall argue that the claim that philosophy cannot have any impact upon biography is often based upon an implicit conception of philosophy as primarily rational discourse. In contrast to this I shall draw upon Socratic and Stoic philosophical resources in order to reconstruct an alternative conception of philosophy as an art concerned with one's way of life. Central to this conception will be the relationship between philosophical discourse or argument and philosophical training or exercise. I shall argue that the ancient claim that philosophy is primarily expressed in one's behaviour presupposes a conception of philosophy as an art that involves both rational discourse and training or exercise as two equally important components. I shall argue that by adopting this alternative conception of philosophy as a techne it will be possible to understand properly the relationship between philosophy and biography. In Part One I shall outline the ancient idea that philosophy is something expressed in one's life, the Socratic conception of philosophy as an art, the Stoic development of this conception into an art of living, and some ancient objections to this Stoic conception. In Part Two I shall examine the relationship between philosophical discourse and exercises in Stoic philosophy, focusing upon the neglected concept of philosophical askesis. Central to this will be the literary form of such exercises and so I shall focus upon two texts (by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius) concerned with philosophical exercises.