The persona of the early modern philosopher

Hadotian and Foucauldian challenges to the sociopolitical analysis of persona as an office


  • Andreas Rydberg Institutionen för Idé och lärdomshistoria, Uppsala universitet



persona, identity, early modern philosophy, spiritual exercise, technology of the self, Pierre Hadot, Michel Foucault


This article provides a critical assessment of the scholarly analysis of the persona of the early modern philosopher. In particular, it examines the ways in which historians have tended to analyse the formation of philosophical personhoods in terms of spiritual exercises while at the same time subordinating this aspect of self-formation to larger institutional and sociopolitical contexts and levels of explanation. By presenting spiritual exercises as a prerequisite for or even as a means of shaping a self motivated to pursue and seize institutional and sociopolitical power, one risks trivializing the therapeutic function at the very core of those exercises’ significance. The article examines the intellectual traditions and assumptions that have paved the way for this interpretation and argues for a more thorough analysis of the therapeutic context, an analysis that raises other research questions and ultimately paves the way for a rather different understanding of what it meant to be and live as a philosopher in the early modern period. Although the article focuses on the persona of the early modern philosopher, it also invites readers interested in persona, identity formation and spiritual exercise in other historical contexts.