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Pierre Hadot-About Ascesis

‘Most of the philosophical schools propose ascesis exercises (the Greek word askesis meaning precisely ‘exercise’) and self-mastery: 

There is the Platonic ascesis, consisting in renouncing the sensatory pleasures, in practicing a certain diet, leading sometimes-due to neo-Pythagorean influences-to the waiving of animal meat; this ascesis is meant to weaken the body by fasts and wakes in order to better commune into the life of the spirit. 

There is the Cynic ascesis, practiced also by some stoics, that help bare hunger, cold, mockeries; It suppresses all luxury, comfort, and tricks of civilization, provides endurance and facilitates the conquest of independence.

There is the Pyrrhonian ascesis that considers that all things are indifferent, as we cannot comprehend whether they are bad or good.

There is the Epicurean ascesis consisting about limiting one’s desires in order to access to pure pleasure.  

There is the Stoic ascesis consisting in re-evaluating one’s judgement about things, acknowledging the necessity to abstain attaching ourselves to indifferent things, supposing a certain doubling-up, in which the self refuses to identify with its desires and appetites and takes a distance with the objects of its lust, encouraged in its efforts by its own power to distance itself. It rises from a partial and fragmented perspective to a universal vision, let it be nature’s or the spirit’s.


The spiritual exercises correspond almost always to the dynamic in which the self concentrates in itself, discovers it is not what it fancied and that it cannot be mistaken for the objects it had attached itself to.’

From Pierre Hadot’s landmark and influent 1994 study, ‘Qu’est ce que la Philosophie Antique?’, Gallimard, part II-chapter IX, page 291 and 292. Picture Credits: A conversation between philosophers. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy. Copyright Lessing Photo Archive.
Pierre Hadot-About Ascesis

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