A quiet revolution may have taken place over the last three decades in our understanding of the history of Western philosophy. So quiet, in fact, that few have noticed it. Three recent books give us a sense of the significance and extent of this paradigm shift: Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche, by James Miller; How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell; and The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, by Bettany Hughes. What has this revolution brought forth? The realization that some of the most influential Western philosophers (primarily the ancient philosophers, but also Montaigne, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others) intended their philosophy to be not just a body of doctrines, of pure intellectual content, but to be above all an “art of living.”
…While predominant among the ancient philosophers, as well as among some modern ones (Montaigne and Nietzsche, for example), the understanding of philosophy as an “art of living” is far from characterizing mainstream academic philosophy in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. Now philosophy is primarily a “job.” When they are done with it, philosophers don’t take it home with them; they leave philosophy at the office, behind locked doors. The work they produce, outstanding as it may be, is not supposed to change their lives.
I was captivated by precisely that practical, life-transforming aspect of philosophy when I first encountered it as an adolescent. Now, I just call it “foolosophy” to differentiate it from the academic profession.