Spiritual Exercises and Early Modern Philosophy

Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza


In his renowned collection Philosophy as a Way of Life, Pierre Hadot suggests that the original aspect of philosophy as a method by which one exercises oneself to achieve a new way of living and seeing the world fails with the rise of modernity. In that period, philosophy becomes increasingly theoretical, tending toward a system. However, Hadot himself glimpses at the dawn of modernity some instances of the original aspect of philosophy still very much present, and in his wake, Michel Foucault warns that between the late 16th and early 17th centuries the philosophical question of the reform of the mind attests to a still very close link between asceticism and access to truth.

This book aims to develop just such an idea by thoroughly analyzing the most representative works of the reform of the mind in the early modern period: Francis Bacon’s New Organon (1620), René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method (1637), and Baruch Spinoza’s Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1677). From this analysis it will emerge that these modern works fully deserve to be counted among the tradition of philosophy as way of life. On closer inspection, the inquiries about method elaborated in these works are fully understandable only when read in the light of a broader and more complex philosophical need: to establish the spiritual conditions for accessing truth and aspiring to full self-realization.

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Simone D’Agostino is Full Professor of History of Early Modern Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has published in Italian, French, and English on early modern philosophy, epistemology, and ethics, with special focus on Maurice Blondel, Paul Ricœur, René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and John Locke.
List of Abbreviations

 1 Ancient Philosophy and Spiritual Exercises
 2 Ancients and Moderns
 3 Spiritual Exercises and Modern Philosophy

1 Renewing the Mind: Francis Bacon’s New Logic
 1 A Total Reconstruction
 2 The Interpretation of Nature
  2.1 The New Instrument and the Medicine of the Mind
  2.2 Idols and Ideas
  2.3 Errors and Hopes
  2.4 The Form of Baconian Science
  2.5 The Desire of Being
 3 Natural History
 4 Conclusion

2 Directing the Mind: René Descartes’ Discourse
 1 A Discourse in Six Parts
 2 The Regimen of Method
 3 Metaphysical Morals
 4 From Medicine of the Mind to that of the Body
 5 Conclusion

3 Freeing the Mind: Baruch Spinoza’s Treatise
 1 The End
 2 The Means
 3 The Way
 4 The Method
 5 Conclusion


Philosophy graduate students and specialists interested in early modern theory of method and logic, and in philosophy as a way of life.
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