Becoming human
: irony and the practice of philosophy in Lear, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


As it has been convincingly demonstrated by the French scholar Pierre Hadot, philosophy originally consisted in a practice or ‘way of life,’ aimed at personal transformation through the enactment of spiritual exercises. Such a process of personal transformation took the shape of a progressive appropriation of wisdom on the philosopher’s part, and was often described as a transition from a life of foolishness and confusion into one of clarity and insight. The goal of this work is to discuss how “philosophy as a way of life” has been practiced after its falling out of the philosophical mainstream in the 18th century. My thesis is that Jonathan Lear, Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard are all authors who can be described as practicing “philosophy as a way of life.” In order to address their figures, I shall take as a point of entry the spiritual exercise of Socratic irony. Starting with a historical discussion of the practice of irony, I explore how my authors incorporate the latter in the light of their own commitments and metaphysical views. At the same time, I aim to connect irony to their ideals of human excellence, or, to the way in which they articulate the philosopher’s achievement of wisdom. Finally, I shall draw all these elements together in order to present the three different configurations of “philosophy as a way of life” that have emerged from my discussion.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorChristopher Hamilton (Supervisor) & Clare Carlisle (Supervisor)

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