Nietzsche's askesis and philosophy as a style of life
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In its original Greek sense askesis means ‘exercise.’ As such askesis is practical; it names the very idea of practice as an activity, and askesis is aspirational; it indicates an aim for which the practice is undertaken. While the word has its etymological roots in the sportive realm of Olympic athletics, and finds its later, now common, meaning in the ascetic practices developed in early Christianity, askesis also has a place within the context of the philosophical tradition. More particularly, within the context of an ancient Greek inspired conception of philosophy as a way of life. Current scholarship done in this area predominantly defines philosophical askesis as therapeutic in aim, referring to inwardly orientated, contemplative or meditative exercises concerned with attaining, as Pierre Hadot has described it, “perfect peace of mind.” This research project is an attempt to develop a conceptual definition and concrete demonstration of what may be termed ‘Nietzsche’s askesis’ as situated within an understanding of philosophical practice as immanent to life. But in contrast to the above, I propose that therapeutics is but one aspect and not the overall aim of Nietzsche’s askesis. Instead, I will hold that Nietzsche’s askesis is essentially critical and even agonistic in aspiration. And further, that askesis as practice does not only suggest an inwardly orientated focus but demands an outward dimension. It is, I will argue, precisely by virtue of this outward, corporeal dimension that the agonistic potential of Nietzsche’s aksesis comes to light – a potential that, in turn, is what gives Nietzsche’s askesis contemporary relevance beyond the realm of meditative practices of therapeutics.