For the Stoic Musonius Rufus, manual work is philosophy too

For the Stoic Musonius Rufus, manual work is philosophy too

I’ve recently been reconnecting with my love of nature; and as part of this, I’ve been doing quite a bit of camping and bushwalking (or hiking).

Although I wouldn’t label this “work”, it’s definitely, at times, physically hard.

Which for me, and for many who spend a large proportion of their lives at desks, in front of screens, thinking and working their minds, makes for a change.

And for me, it’s a really positive change. Getting out of my head and into my body is great for my mental health. All of which is why I found this article, by Lee Clarke from Psyche, so interesting and worth sharing …

Philosophy these days has a reputation problem. It is often dismissed as useless and outdated, among other things, by a variety of people including politicians and scientists, as well as the general public. Philosophers are also characterised as being disengaged from ‘real life’, preferring to sit intellectualising in ‘ivory towers’ unlike the average person. As a result of these stereotypes, philosophy is seen as being entirely cerebral, abstract, and without any physical element to speak of. There is thus an imagined gulf between the intellectual and the physical, and this extends especially to types of work. ‘Intellectual’ and ‘manual’ jobs are seen by many as the complete anthesis of each other. Such a perspective, however commonly held, is mistaken – for a number of reasons.

Firstly, thanks to the work of the French historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot, we know that philosophy was not always entirely theoretical in nature. Hadot rediscovered the idea that philosophy in the ancient Greco-Roman world was seen, not just as something to be studied, but as a way of life to be lived and practised. Ancient philosophy taught that humans are living inauthentically in their everyday existence, the goal of which was ataraxia, or inner peace or tranquillity. In order to achieve this goal, Hadot wrote in Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique (1981), or Philosophy as a Way of Life, philosophers engaged in what he called ‘spiritual exercises’, or physical exercises that were supposed to transform how the practitioner saw the world and their place in it. Theory was there, and it was important, but it often took a secondary position to the role of practice. One was deemed a philosopher by living a philosophical way of life – simply knowing the ideas intellectually was not enough. Philosophy thus had a lived, practical dimension that went beyond mere intellectualising.

Secondly, there were many philosophers throughout history who, even if they were not manual workers themselves, have had positive views of such occupations. An example of a thinker who expressed such views was the Roman Stoic Musonius Rufus, who lived in the 1st century CE. Rufus argued that the best means of earning a living for a philosopher was farming. In response to someone hypothetically saying that an educated man should not work ‘like a peasant’ in the fields, Rufus replies:

Yes, that would be really too bad if working the land prevented him from the pursuit of philosophy or from helping others to its attainment. But since that is not so, pupils would seem to me rather benefitted by not meeting with their teacher in the city, nor listening to his formal lectures and discussions, but by seeing him at work in the fields demonstrating by his own labour the lessons which philosophy inculcates – that one should endure hardships and suffer the pains of labour with his own body rather than depend upon another for sustenance.

… keep reading the full & original article HERE