Philosophy of Fasting

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After the holiday feasting, time for some fasting: here is an online column I wrote for the Institute of Art and Ideas, on the Philosophy of Fasting: I ask whether the ideas of Caroline Walker Bynum's Holy Feast and Holy Fast can be applied to Byzantine culture.

E.S. Dallaire on 27 January 2019

From the article:

From the article:

For Psellos, asceticism was an alternative means of being a philosopher. This meaning of ‘philosophy’ goes back to antiquity, when it meant both expert study of authors like Plato and Aristotle and simply living in an outstandingly virtuous, self-controlled way (or ideally, both).

Perhaps, for the ascetic, there are moments when to be 'outstandingly virtuous' means relenting abstinance so as to receive offerings of food, say, which are really offerings of good will and communion, with the sort of gratitude befitting a soul yearning for purity. To say 'no' one too many times requires even a certain narcissism, no? Maybe even in the clinical sense of the word. I've heard it said that the Buddha considered the extreme asceticism he had put himself through in his early years of seeking enlightenment to be just as much an indulgence as extreme hedonism, in the final analysis. If it is correct to attribute this observation to him, I think what he must have noticed was how both asceticism and hedonism take on the perversion of a fetish if carried out automatically, without any thought given to what might be proper for the present moment, or how that changes from one moment to the next.

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