Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Philosophy as Spiritual Praxis

“Listen, wisdom is something dared, and what matters beyond all else in philosophy, which is the love of wisdom, is a spirit of inwardness, which you have to cultivate for yourself, a practice of inner silence, even before reflection, which philosophy is thought to start with. Inwardness lets in another possibility, a new position from which what has seemed the very terms of reflection may come to be reflected upon. It is a moment of philosophy, therefore, before analysis, which it then inspires, but if it is absent analysis is sterile. Philosophy is also a conversation, and what matters beyond all else here is demeanour, how we listen, how we speak or write, not seeking dominance, not indifferent to the well-being of the other, but encouraging inwardness, a friendly, even an ‘erotic’ spirit, and we have to learn when thinking can be shared, when its communication can only be indirect, and when we have to stay silent.”—Michael McGhee, Transformations of Mind: Philosophy as Spiritual Practice (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

For an article on the possibility of “philosophy as spiritual practice,” please see John Haldane’s, “On the Very Idea of Spiritual Values,” in Anthony O’Hear, ed. Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Haldane is in part inspired by the works of Pierre Hadot but he might have also referenced Martha Nussbaum’s The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994). While I happen to think philosophy—what in the Indic religious worldviews is often termed jñāna-yoga—is an integral and important aspect of spiritual practice, I share the view found in the Bhagavad Gītā that it should be in conjunction with both bhakti-yoga and karma-yoga (the Stoics could be said to have had an appreciation of the latter).

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