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jeudi, 27 février 2020

Philosophy as a Way of Life

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Philosophy as a Way of Life

Natella Speranskaya
Ex: https://medium.com

The Philosophy has long ceased to be a way of life, a manner of being, it has become a field of research, a “philosophical speech”; it no longer thinks of the basic principles, it no longer deals with the transformation of thinking, the formation of the mind and soul, the inner transformation of man. The ancient Greek was engaged in philosophy, which was for him an existential choice, a form of life, a way of thinking. And reading the works of Heraclitus, Pherecides, or Empedocles was for him a “spiritual exercises” (Pierre Hadot), a strong-willed personal practice.

The philosophical writings of thinkers of the Hellenistic and Roman era were not aimed at informing, but at forming and transforming the thinking of readers. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle did not philosophize in front of their students to provide them with as much information as possible, they were engaged exclusively in the formation of minds, opening up to their listeners other ontological levels, other modes of being they pushed them to an internal transformation comparable to that experienced by initiates in the mysteries.

9782253943488-475x500-1.jpgAs Pierre Hadot rightly points out, the texts of early thinkers were not a statement of a certain system (for the first time the idea of systematic philosophy will appear only in the medieval scholar Francisco Suarez), they were “spiritual exercises” aimed at transforming the individual. Philosophy in Antiquity was a mode of existence that required the philosopher to be internally transformed and personally involved in every moment of his life. Spiritual exercises involved the whole Mind. Nevertheless, modern historians of philosophy continue to approach the philosophy of Antiquity with the standards of the Middle Ages and Modern times, i.e. they persist in seeing it as a theoretical and abstract activity, but not as a practice. Philosophy has ceased to be thought of as a way of life. Hadot believed that this was a consequence of the absorption of philosophy by Christianity.

In the scholastics of the Middle Ages, theology and philosophy were at a considerable distance from each other, and philosophy was relegated to the rank of “the Handmaid of Theology”. It was only during the Renaissance that we rediscovered Seneca, Epictetus, and later Marcus Aurelius, and then also Cicero, and Epicureanism, and realized that philosophy can be a way of life. Andre van der Braak also writes that philosophy ceased to be a way of life with the rise of Christianity. He points out that Nietzsche sought to revive the Greek approach to philosophizing as a way of life. We can add that the same goal was pursued by Michel Foucault and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

When we begin to read the texts of ancient thinkers, we should once and for all abandon the habit of applying to them the value system of modernity. “Before that, I considered philosophical texts — whether they are texts of Aristotle, or St. Thomas, or Bergson-as if they are timeless and words always have the same meaning that does not depend on the epoch. I realized that we need to take into account the evolution of thoughts and mentalities over the centuries, “ admits Pierre Hadot. The texts of ancient philosophy and the texts of modern philosophy cannot be perceived in the same way. Hadot believes that the philosophical texts of Antiquity were always intended for limited public and had very specific recipients-either a group of students or a specific follower to whom they were written. For example, according to the testimony of Porphyry, Plotinus wrote his work in response to the questions asked by the audience. The teaching of philosophy for three centuries, that is, from Socrates to the first century, was almost always presented in a question-and-answer scheme. Dialogue as a philosophical genre has almost disappeared today, replaced by systematic treatises. Hadot himself is very skeptical about the possibility of reviving the Dialogic character of ancient philosophy in our days.

PH-philo.jpgTo know that Pierre Hadot means by “spiritual exercises”, need to find out what he invests in the concept of “Spirit.” Spirit he calls what Plotinus called Intellect, Nous, the Highest Reality. Nous is that which is between the One and the plurality. Pierre Hadot: “I would define spiritual exercises as voluntary, personal practices intended to bring about a transformation of the individual, a transformation of the self.” Before to stop the choice on the epithet of “spiritual”, he considered various options: intellectual exercises, ethical exercises, mental exercises, soul exercises, and finally, in his intention to talk about the philosophical tradition in Greco-Roman antiquity, Hadot stopped at «spiritual exercises». Then he explained at length than these spiritual exercises are not exactly (for example, they are not synonymous with “theological” or “religious”, since the latter are no more than a part of them).

If Pierre Hadot had stopped at the adjective “ethical”, he would have had to go into lengthy explanations. How do we interpret the word “ethics”? Commonly it is believed that ethics is a doctrine of morality, of virtue, however, let’s turn our attention to the Greek word ἦθος, ethos (“character”, “disposition”, “temper”), and especially to the famous dictum of Heraclitus: ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων (which can be translated as: “A man’s character is his daimon”). Daimon, i.e. the intermediary between the divine world and the human world (without the negative connotations that appeared in the post-antique era). The word ἦθος also has the meaning of “whereabouts”. And what are these whereabouts, if not the intermediate midpoint where a person and a deity meet/merge and/or collide? The middle, according to Aristotle, is that which always chooses virtue. This is her whereabouts. When the immoralist Nietzsche attacked modern morality, he did it in the name of “virtue in the Renaissance style, virtù, virtue free of moralic acid.”

71sddGtqu+L.jpgAccording to the Hadot, the formation of minds was the basis of the Humanities. Can philosophy be attributed to the Humanities? Andrii Baumeister emphasizes that the term “Humanities” appeared in the Renaissance, in the XV century, but the philosophy is much older. In this case, can philosophy be considered a humanitarian science? The Humanities focus on man, on an anthropocentric understanding of the world, while philosophy can act as a path that leads beyond the “ Human, All Too Human”. (Nietzsche).

The philosopher Peter Kingsley was able to revive the Greek approach to philosophy as a way of life. “As I was drawn back into the world of the Presocratics, as I became absorbed into the ancient Greek texts they had left behind, I soon started discovering something different. These so-called philosophers weren’t theoretical thinkers or speculators, and they were nothing like rationalists in the modern sense. Many of them were immensely powerful spiritual beings. Greek texts which I was soon to realize had been misunderstood and mistranslated for centuries reveal when the distortions and mistaken interpretations are blown away, extraordinary spiritual teachings and extremely potent meditation techniques that can still be applied and practiced nowadays. I practiced them myself and was transformed. I had been brought into direct contact with the lineage and teachings of the ancient Masters who, at the dawn of our civilization, helped shape the Western world and bring our culture into being, “ says Peter Kingsley.

“He recounts a conversation in the Classics Department at UCLA after a talk on Parmenides. A faculty member complained that Kingsley is too dogmatic, that his interpretation is no better than anyone else’s. Kingsley responded: “But you and I are not the same. You read Parmenides so that you can change his meaning to suit yourself. I read Parmenides so that he can change me,” John Bussanich writes.

PH-citadelle.gifThe very concept of “philosophy” should receive a different meaning. Remember Nietzsche’s words: “The very fact that Dionysus is a philosopher, and that therefore Gods also philosophize, seems to be a novelty which is not unensnaring”? It is known that Nietzsche called himself a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus. It is certain that by philosophizing, the man enters into the sphere of the divine. Much earlier, in the Renaissance, Pico della Mirandola had said something similar: “The sacred names of Apollo, if anyone examines their meanings and hidden mysteries, will sufficiently show that that god is no less philosopher than prophet.”

You can only be a philosopher if you are the one who carries out the action, for thought is action. Get rid of the misconception that a philosopher is a boring know-it-all who communicates with the world through endless scientific studies. Similarly, we should banish the other idea that the mindless fuss that most people produce is an action.

Philosophy implies active intervention in an endlessly lasting cosmogonic act by transforming the external world, subtly influencing it by identifying the paradigmatic structures that underlie the universe; philosophy is an attempt to transfer “archetypal images” from mundus imaginalis to the material world, the world of forms.

A philosopher is not a profession, it is impossible to become one. This is a kind of ontological task that a person either implements or allows it to fade away. There is an old beautiful legend about the Angel of Death, whose wings are dotted with countless eyes. When an Angel arrives too early, it only touches the person with its wing and, so that the person does not forget about this meeting, gives him an additional pair of eyes. An eye that looks into pre-being. So, philosophy is such a “gazing” into pre-being. The philosopher receives his second pair of eyes at the same time as the first, but these eyes do not open immediately. Sometimes this requires a teacher, a book, a sudden shock, a collision with death, an experience of the numinous. In ancient times, Mysteries were used for this purpose.


Russian philosopher, cultural scientist, a specialist in Antiquity, curator of Janus Academy.

jeudi, 20 février 2020

The Future Belongs to Polymaths


The Future Belongs to Polymaths

Ex: https://medium.com

I want to start with a little story. Many years ago, I saw a fresco by Raphael. “The School of Athens” is one of the pearls of Renaissance art. On it, the artist depicted immortal images of great thinkers: Heraclitus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates…and there was among them the only one woman who has always been for me a kind of model, an archetype of female wisdom — Hypatia of Alexandria. Raphael gave her the features of his beloved Margherita Luti. I looked at this collection of great minds of mankind and even then I understood that I knew the one secret. Lorenzo de’ Medici also knew it.


In the XV century, he established the Platonic Academy in Florence, headed by Marsilio Ficino. This Academy brought together outstanding philosophers, artists, architects, sculptors, and poets of the Renaissance. This was the time of the total triumph of a new type of man — homo universalis, a prominent representative of which was Leonardo da Vinci-painter, architect, sculptor, inventor, writer, musician and scientist. The very embodiment of the Union of music and mathematics, science and art. Why did this type of personality disappear today-in an era of deep specialization, and the place of the universal thinker who saw the whole picture of the world was taken by the one who looks at the world through the keyhole of his profession? These are the questions I started asking.

The XXI century presents us with global challenges. We are watching the rapid development of new technologies. But it seems that neither politicians, nor businessmen, nor inventors know the opportunities and risks associated with the development of Artificial Intelligence and biotechnologies. The problems we will soon have to deal with are beyond our comprehension. Fundamental climate changes and the risk of environmental disaster, the growth of the world’s population and migration processes, unknown epidemics and pandemics, unemployment-these are just some of the problems that can radically change our lives. These are the main questions that we have to answer.

But to solve these problems, you need a different type of thinking. As Albert Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” To understand these problems, we need a global perspective. But where does the global perspective come from if narrow specialization is imposed everywhere? However, it is not enough today. I told you I knew a secret. It’s time to tell it.

The future belongs to polymaths. The polymaths were the most influential people in the history of mankind. They could create atypical combinations of skills, to combine and synthesize knowledge from different disciplines. Only polymaths can comprehend and respond to the challenges facing man in the XXI century.

How to create conditions for the formation of individuals with polymathic thinking? To do this, it is necessary to transform the entire educational paradigm and create a new educational model. How? We need to unite the best minds of mankind. Lorenzo de ‘Medici had a Big Idea. She inspired me. We live in an era when we need to dare to think on a larger scale. For many years, while developing a project called Janus Academy, I tried to create a matrix of the future educational system that will replace or become a real alternative to the educational model being implemented today.

The modern educational model is focused on the formation of a specialist of a narrow profile who has passed the “school of skills and competencies”, but not the “school of knowledge”. The result is obvious: the skills and competencies acquired today need an immediate upgrade tomorrow because they are outdated. A student enters an endless race by replacing one worn-out part with another. Without a basic knowledge axis, he simply has nowhere to integrate the acquired skills. As a result, we do not get a person who has realized his potential, but a “one-button specialist” with a “passport of competencies”, who adapts flexibly to changing trends. An individual who knows how to use Agile, but knows nothing about the history of civilizations, structural linguistics, world culture, classical and modern art.

Today, education has ceased to be a way of inheriting culture and has become a tool for achieving career success.

However, if we look at the founders of the five largest companies in the world - Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos - we find that they are all polymaths, universal personalities, but not narrow specialists.

The same universal personalities were Aristotle, Ptolemy, Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Kepler, Leibniz, Descartes, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and others.

Leonardo_self.jpgWhen we dream of succeeding in a rapidly changing world, we often forget that the most successful people are polymaths. And gradually, interdisciplinary employees, people with polymathic thinking become one of the most valuable assets.

We are afraid that soon robots will replace us in the workplace and all processes will be automated. The machine will surpass man in his abilities. Of course, it will surpass — if we are talking about the abilities of a narrow specialist. But she would never be able to beat the polymath. Historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto emphasizes: “Specialists can invent gadgets, formulate algorithms and exchange blows. But to transcend experience and change the world, ideas need mental space where influences from all disciplines can mingle alchemically. Those spaces are in polymaths’ brains. To conquer empires of the intellect, you have to exceed your own domain. Classical Greece, Renaissance Italy and Victorian England all revered and rewarded generalists, for whom today universities have little or no space or patience. “

Society abandoned the idea of polymaths after the industrial revolution. As Ellwood Cubberley, was an American educator and a pioneer in the field of educational administration, said in 1898: “Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.”

What problems do polymaths face today, does society accept them, does it allow them to discover their deep potential, apply all their knowledge and skills and be at the center of world processes? In one of the articles I met the opinion that in our society there is a clear rejection of people who lead a polymathic lifestyle. However, it does not get tired of encouraging narrow specialists in every possible way. This is one of the consequences of industrialization: the idea that man is just a mechanism in a huge machine. Moreover, this is the result of the industrialization of consciousness. Because of the reaction of society, many polymaths avoid calling themselves polymaths. Some people start deliberately talking about themselves as specialists, believing that this will help them have a successful career. Others name different functions, depending on the context. Still, others are waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate their many skills, i.e. they are waiting for a “request” from the society itself.

Leonardo da Vinci, the most outstanding example of a polymath, also faced serious problems. Waqas Ahmed, the author of the fundamental study “The Polymath: Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility” says in an interview: “If you look at Leonardo Da Vinci, who’s considered the archetype of the polymath in the Western mind, he faced a lot of adversity. He did not have the socioeconomic status to excel in one field, let alone multiple fields, but he had an innate curiosity and that curiosity overcame any obstacles that he faced in his work environment or in his social environment. And so that curiosity does inevitably build in a kind of fearlessness that you see in many polymaths over history. ( … ) You need to have unfaltering belief in your method to creativity and to progress and you need to be able to deal with the kind of cynicism and skepticism and even envy that you will inevitably face moving forward.”

I face this problem. The question of the nature of my work has always puzzled me. Of course, over time, I had to introduce myself as: “Philosopher, publicist, cultural scientist, a specialist in Antiquity, curator of Janus Academy” (sometimes even shortening all this to: “philosopher, a specialist in Antiquity”). But the field of my interests and intellectual practices covers the entire field of Humanities, and if I am so passionate about antiquity, it does not mean that I am limited by It. Also, I specialized in personalized learning, developing individual educational programs. Organizing conferences, seminars, presentations, and cultural events; strategic planning; experience in public speaking; working with experts, embassies, and public figures; negotiating; creating (and curating) intellectual and art clubs; developing educational programs for cultural venues; conducting interviews; and working as an editor-compiler of scientific magazines. Besides, writing books, playing in the theater. So who am I? And most importantly, how can I design my life so that the diversity of my knowledge and experience can open up to the world and change something in it?

And in response to this question, I decided to release my “Black Swan”. To create a project that will mark the beginning of a revolution in education. The mission of this project is to consolidate all the most important thinkers, researchers, cultural figures and scientists who set themselves the goal of creating a new interdisciplinary educational program that meets the challenges of the XXI century and can maintain its main task — to be a way of inheriting culture.

1-proportions-of-the-face-leonardo-da-vinci.jpgOften can you see students who do not listen to what their lecturers say? And only imagine that this very lecture is given to a student by his favorite writer or scientist, whose books he reads with great interest. Will he be more attentive to every word, will he take the learning process more seriously and most importantly-will he has a passion, a passion for learning, for mastering new disciplines, new areas, and directions? Would you like to learn from the best of the best? Learn in the process of live communication?

In Janus Academy students do not acquire a narrow specialization, but fundamental knowledge that allows them to unlock their cognitive and intellectual potential.

1. interdisciplinary program “POLYMATH” (2 years of study)

2. 32 directions

3. more than 150 author’s courses that form a unique educational complex:

- a complex of humanitarian disciplines that give students fundamental knowledge,

- a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) complex that develops innovative thinking and the ability to collect, analyze, systematize and critically comprehend information.

4. brilliant teaching staff (about 200 leading Russian and European scientists and specialists, researchers, philosophers, cultural and artistic figures)

5. training of international communities of polymath teachers to solve global problems of mankind.

My friend told me that you should be able to explain an interesting idea even to a 6-year-old child. And he asked me to explain to his 6-year-old daughter the purpose of my project. “How will you tell her about the polymaths, about the Renaissance man?” And I said to the little girl,” Imagine a small island. Did you imagine? Now imagine a vast continent, no! — imagine a whole world! See how different they are? In ordinary educational institutions, people are made into small Islands, and in my Academy, everyone will have the opportunity to become a whole world!” And the little girl understood me.

How do I see the project, for example, in 10 years? From the very beginning, I laid the Foundation of Janus Academy not only with the revolutionary potential but also with the potential for growth. In other words, I have a good idea of how this project will grow to an entire Empire within a few years, with its well-thought-out, branching structure. It will cover the whole world and unite the best minds of mankind. And at the center of this Empire will be the idea of a polymath.

If this type of personality does not begin to form now, if it is not allowed to express itself as much as possible in all areas of human activity, if it is not allowed to find the key to the global challenges that the XXI century throws at us, we will disappear as metaphysical beings, as intellectual individuals, and as a biological species. We have entered a transitional stage, Interregnum, when the outdated paradigm has already been destroyed and the new one has not yet emerged. It’s time to “reinvent the world”.

Russian philosopher, cultural scientist, a specialist in Antiquity, curator of Janus Academy.