Self-awareness of Life in Western Philosophy

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The first part of this paper analyzes what is meant by “self-awareness of life”, a term that is used by some prominent Chinese philosophers as a characterization of the specific nature of Chinese philosophy. From a Chinese perspective, self-awareness of life is a concretization of philosophy’s self-definition as the love of wisdom, since it emphasizes the inner spiritual life of the self, in close connection with questions about (outer) social and political life. This results in a non-theoretical and even non-conceptual awareness of the self as part of the totality of life. In the second part, I explore if and how self-awareness of life is a topic of Western philosophy. I thereby make use of the insights of French historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot, who interprets ancient Western philosophy as a way of life and a spiritual exercise aimed at wisdom. I also analyze the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who holds that the human person should be conceived as a self-awareness of life, i.e. as a close connection between its inner, spiritual and outer, physical nature. On the basis of these insights, it is clear that the criticism against mainstream Western philosophy in its answer to the question of the meaning of life can be the starting point of the development of an alternative, less purely conceptual kind of philosophy, as well as of a less dualistic and solipsistic view of the self.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSelf-awareness of Life in the New Era
PublisherCouncil for Research and Values in Philosophy
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2020
EventXXIV World Congress of Philosophy, Beijing. - Beijing, China
Duration: 13 Aug 201820 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameEast Asian Philosophical Studies
PublisherCouncil for Research in Values and Philosophy


ConferenceXXIV World Congress of Philosophy, Beijing.


  • Wisdom; Pierre Hadot; Yu Xuanmeng; way of life; spiritual exercise; meaning of life; expressive individualism; Charles Taylor


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