Living Praxis and Ancient Philosophy

Philosophy that we are studying is not a linear phenomena. There have been several exchanges and transpositions and gigantic metaphora in which all forms of structures and elements of thought have crossed each other. In this exchange there have been loses as well as gains. When Greek thought encountered the Latin or Roman thought, there was mistranslation due to slippages of meaning. This particularly happened with the encounter of Christianity where Hellenism, Latin culture and the Bible interfaced each other.

Theologico-philosophical terms that were then formed often led to controversies and misunderstandings. Thus, for instance, when St Augustine was reading Psalm 4: 9 the expression in idipsum , although the original Hebrew meaning was immediately or at that very moment, he being influenced by Neoplatonist metaphysics , finds the name of God as self-same in Pslam. Thus, God, is understood as immutable and unchanging. Thus, in idispum becomes ‘ in whom who is identical to himself’. Thus, we can trace several elements of symbiosis and contamination in this exchange. We can trace assimilation, rejection and growth when we open the text to exegesis.

Pierre Hadot says that Christianity borrowed the idea of theology, its methods and principles from paganism. It is in exchange with the world before it, that Christianity has emerged. Hadot teaches that both pagans and Christians believe truth is given by God at a particular time. As a consequence of this human, thought could only be exegetical. It had to interpret the initial datum , the revelation given in the myths, traditions and scriptures. This means the principle method derived from the ancient wisdom is explication of a given text. One could not go beyond the text.

But luckily in the context of translations of the early Greek categories, there was development because of several mistranslations and distortions. But this led to the emergence of fresh ideas. Even today Philosophy is exegetical. Although the ancient Greeks schools died in around 1 century BC , we take the thought of these schools from their luminaries like Socrates, Plato , Aristotle etc. But our reading of their ideas is a commentary from our point of view. This reading produces an impression that those luminaries were mainly solitary thinkers and had not engaged their contemporaries. This of course is not true. They did not construct their systems of thought in an autonomous way. This is why we have to understand their contexts and open ourselves to the constrains that weighed upon them. This may allow us to move from our captivity that these thinkers were caged thinkers.

Some schools like Pythagorean school were secretive. They used cryptography which makes us think the initial insignificant and discover the deeper meaning by decoding the hidden figure. Thus, for instance , the Pythagoreans discovered in the letter Y salvation. To them it also signified the ancient paths of virtue and vice. It thought that life provided a forking path and one has to choose the right path and avoid the path of vice.

We can trace a tendency to hide philosophical as well as religious thought within graffiti and inscriptions. We may require techniques that enable us to decode these ancient texts. Even then perhaps, we are reading them from our point of view. Perhaps these secretive techniques could be viewed as language games of the ancients. We may not be able to play these games as we do not know the rules of these games. Therefore, when we draw them into our language games, we might lose their original meaning. This is why we may have to approach the ancient philosophers not only through their written texts but try to unearth their practices of doing thinking.

Writing is only the end result. It fixes in static forms the dynamism of thinking. When we see philosophy as a practice. This way we the mode of philosophizing. This means we enter the zone of living praxis from where thought emanates. The essential part of living praxis is that it is a oral discourses that some of these masters give. The thought that emerged from these life praxis was later frozen into texts that have reached us. We thus have interpretive constrains to read these texts since we encounter them in their later developmental phase.

This is because the essential aspect of living praxis is that they were oral in nature and were later put into words. This distance from oral discourse to writing cannot be bridged by us. it still remains a challenge. It may be overcome by doing inter-textual studies of the contemporaries of that particular period. We still have to keep in mind that the living animated discourse was not primarily produced to take a written form. It was produced to bring about a change in the consciousness of its receivers. This means ancient philosophy like Indian Philosophy aimed at to form rather than to inform. It is a living philosophy and is therefore given in oral forms of conversations and dialogue. Therefore, Hadot says ‘ to philosophize is to learn to dialogue’. Doing philosophy is a spiritual exercise. Lets philosophize like the ancient wise men.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao