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Effort and Grace: On the Spiritual Exercise of Philosophy // Simone Kotva

Effort and Grace: On the Spiritual Exercise of Philosophy // Simone Kotva

2020, 248 pages, Bloomsbury

SERIES: Re-inventing Philosophy as a Way of Life,

#philosophy #hadot #philosohyasawayoflife #weil #spiritualist

Philosophy and theology have long harboured contradictory views on spiritual practice. While philosophy advocates the therapeutic benefits of daily meditation, the theology of grace promotes an ideal of happiness bestowed with little effort. As such, the historical juxtaposition of effort and grace grounding modern spiritual exercise can be seen as the essential tension between the secular and sacred.

In Effort and Grace, Simone Kotva explores an exciting new theory of spiritual endeavour from the tradition of French spiritualist philosophy. Spiritual exercise has largely been studied in relation to ancient philosophy and the Ignatian tradition, yet Kotva's new engagement with its more recent forms has alerted her to an understanding of contemplative practice as rife with critical potential.

Here, she offers an interdisciplinary text tracing the narrative of spiritual exertion through the work of seminal French thinkers such as Maine de Biran, Félix Ravaisson, Henri Bergson, Alain (Émile Chartier), Simone Weil and Gilles Deleuze. Her findings allow both secular philosophers and theologians to understand how spiritual life can participate in the contemporary philosophical conversation.

"Effort and Grace is a captivating book that guides us through a tradition of French philosophical thought rarely discussed outside of France ... [It] is an important book for anyone who shares an interest in the critical and constructive potential of the notion of grace for contemporary approaches that want to resist the reduction of spirituality to a modern project wholly centred on the volitional effort of the ego."

The Heythrop Journal

"Simone Kotva's Effort and Grace makes several contributions, not the least of which is a critique of Hadot's work by drawing on the French spiritualist tradition which Hadot himself was indebted to. Kotva's book should be read by anyone who claims inspiration from Hadot or the growing literature around spiritual exercises."


"Kotva's Effort and Grace is both a brilliant intervention in the contemporary debate over philosophy as a spiritual practice and a compelling argument for the importance of Simone Weil to this discussion. Kotva's book is also the most powerful and erudite treatment of the philosophy of French Spiritualism I am aware of in English. A significant work that is also a delight to read."

Jacob Sherman

"Increasingly it is seen that there are not two schools of modern philosophy: Analytic and Continental but three: English Empiricism, German Idealism and French Spiritualism. This book serves as a truly excellent and absorbing English introduction to this 'third way', with its extraordinary combination of introspection and realism, humanism and naturalism, mysticism and speculation, that render it so fitted to our new Twenty-First Century concerns and crises."

John Milbank

"In this pioneering monograph, Kotva shows how philosophy as spiritual exercise plays a crucial part in one current of modern, as well as all of ancient philosophy. As a result, Simone Weil is elevated to a position of central importance: her Christian hesitation between revived ancient schools demonstrates how the philosophical question of correct attention to reality is an integrally existential as well as conceptual matter. This book brilliantly demonstrates how Weil's life and her thought continue to resonate with the deepest issues of our times."

Catherine Pickstock


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