This project is concerned with the fundamental question of ancient ethics, which got into the centre of attention of contemporary thinkers by the end of 20th century (P. Hadot, M. Foucault, P. Veyne, P. Sloterdijk). It is the question of the relationship to oneself, i.e. the ways of forming one’s self while establishing relationship to others. The care of the self relates to all fields of moral thought, not only theoretical questions of ethics, but also practices of the self (cf. Foucault 2003a, Foucault 2003b, Hadot 1987 etc.).
Development of the care of the self from Socratic to Stoic problematizations of life, leads historians of knowledge to the opinion that Greeks and Romans created a “culture of the self”, which influenced later early-Christian practice (cf. Foucault 2000, Foucault 2001, Veyne 1985, Veyne 2008; cf. also Davidson’s critical note, Davidson 1999). The basis of the culture of the self consists of man’s consciously formed relationship to himself or herself and practices which he or she applies to his or her own life – all of it in an effort to govern one’s life. Greeks termed the labour on the self as askēsis (“practice”, “exercise”), which has both physical and mental extent. Askēsis aims at a life formed through mental judgements not given in advance and therefore requiring constant practice. P. Hadot called them “spiritual exercises”, i.e. practices we apply on ourselves with the help of others or by our own endeavour in an effort to change ourselves (Hadot 1987). The paradigmatic example of a spiritual exercise is the “Socratic dialogue”. The comprehension of ethics as an effort to become the other has its origin in Socrates. Socrates and his followers founded a historically new type of thought, which puts first the style of life elevating over speculative exposition of the world (Hadot 1987, Foucault 2000).
Socratic problematizations of life influenced almost all streams of ancient thought (Cynics, Stoics, Skeptics, Pyrrhonists). Even those which are often described as “theoretical” (Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Philo, Pythagoreans etc.). The history of ethics understood as the history of various forms of askēsis provides a unique framework for the reinterpretation of ancient thought and simultaneously enables a new approach to grasp the phenomenon of individual, moral, and political autonomy of human being.
Greek moralists did not create any universally valid theory of moral progress (although, until recently, the ancient ethics used to be interpreted exclusively in this sense). Conversely, they put first practices of the self. The precondition of work on one’s own life was the formation of a truthful picture of the self. One of the most important topics of Greek ethical thought was e. g. parrhēsia (literally the “need to tell whole truth”). Without ability to form internally truthful representation of one’s self, it is impossible to govern own life, i. e. to set its direction (telos) and meaning (eudaimonia).
Practices of the self lack any theoretical status – from the perspective of theory, they might seem to be banal. These practices are established with respect to particular situations in which acting individuals occur. Techniques of the self can be described, but cannot be defined, because they acquire meaning only in a relation to the effort of the individual. Practices of the self generate an autonomous field of life identifiable neither with ethics nor with politics, or any other field of some “practical knowledge”. The opposition of theoretical and practical, producing an overall tension in whole of Western metaphysics, loses its significance in hermeneutics of the self, since it is impossible to approach own life with theoretical detachment. Such life would become something strange and insentient.
If we consider ourselves being descendants of the ancient thought, we shall ask the question: Are we also descendants of the culture of the self, or more precisely, what has happened to this heritage? Foucault’s late works (Foucault 2000, Foucault 2001, Foucault 2003b) indicate that techniques of the self were gradually transformed into sets of knowledge (e. g. Greco-Roman practices of searching one’s conscience were transformed into Christian praxis of penitence which eventuated in the institution of confession and making an admission). The knowledge was linked up with various power structures, what resulted in these practices ceasing to be individual instruments of the mastery over life and becoming enforced by power in order to dominate over individual lives.
From the perspective of ethics as the care of the self, the ancient moralists’ paramount interest might be recognised as the conscious pursuit of forming and mastering (governing) one’s life (cf. Nussbaum 2003, Nussbaum 1994). For modern thought rather the opposite tendency is significant, i.e. the sceptical attitude toward possibility of autonomous life. The absence of practices of the self is probably one of the possible explanations of this state. Techniques of the self almost disappeared from the problematizations of life.
In modern thought, the theme of the care of the self covers a wide area of one’s self-creation and self-interest. Inquiry into the questions of the care of the self in context of the problem framework of philosophical anthropology proceeds from general observation of the state of crisis of contemporary culture. Philosophical anthropology focuses on an analysis of one’s possibilities to exceed the situation of conflict of value systems and the contingency of conditions of life through a sustainable degree of openness to risk, creativity in solving conflicts, and developing the ability to transcend the existing state to fulfill the destiny of man as mankind. An endeavour to perform the cultural diagnostics brings together a study of original results of human self-knowledge and fixed self-shaping practices, as well as ways of their re-establishing in culture, and their explication in contemporary philosophizing. The project aims at more complex comprehension of sources and forms of subjectivity (or more precisely, it aims at uncovering the unknown and neglected sources), ways of integration in functional systems of society (especially in symbolic systems of culture), and consequently at recognizing the crucial axiological „attractors” (normative values) asserted in the formation of present conditio humana.
The therapeutic task of philosophy constitutes an important field of its subject. Any current therapeutic process in medical pedagogy, psychology and psychiatry (particularly the one being currently the most successful, i.e. cognitive-behavioural therapeutic approach) is foremostly determined by the philosophical context, conception, and ideal of the good life.
Concerning the therapeutic conception of philosophy we would like to target at its three following areas pointing to the inevitability of re-connection and dialogue between philosophy, psychology and psychiatry:
1. Rehabilitation of philosophy as a therapeutic process focused on particular practices of the care of the self.
2. Exploration of the theoretical and practical implications of establishing the philosophical counselling in Slovakia.
3. Theoretical research of the applicability of new therapeutic methods derived mainly from phenomenological anthropology in psychiatry.
In this respect, an interposition of new philosophical therapeutic techniques of French and German phenomenological anthropologists, psychiatrists and philosophers, such as Ludwig Binswanger, Eugène Minkowski, Erwin Strauss, René Laforgue, Roland Kuhn, Henri Maldiney, would be especially beneficial.
Corpus of relevant bibliography consists primarily of some originally philosophical texts, especially the works of the Socratic tradition of thought, as well as of published results of humanities and social sciences, secondary philosophical literature, theoretical works and legal documents in the field of ethics, different genres of theological works, artworks and journalism, etc. Outlined limits respect a diversity of both past and present philosophical work, and also of various phenomena of the philosophical essay, philosophizing in non-philosophic forms, and the wide spectrum of narrations of human nature.
Research methods standard requirements of scientific investigation and philosophical interpretation. The approaches of critical philosophy, hermeneutics, phenomenology, genealogy, and axiological reconstruction and analysis are foregrounded.
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