More than anything I like the idea of philosophy. Growing up extremely religious I drew a thin line between theology and philosophy. Socrates appealed to me both because of his thoughts and his method.
For Socrates philosophy was a way of living. It was a process in which we made sense of our limited time. Because of that, he took the streets to ask everyone why. Why they did anything. He wanted logical reasoning, not just the standard, “...because…”
When I first intentionally dipped my toe into the water of philosophy it was with the book Socrates Cafe. A book about bringing philosophy out of academia and back to the people. Holding philosophical discussions in coffee shops, kindergarten classrooms, and prisons.
The Socratic Method became a stable how I taught (when I was teaching).
I picked up Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy for the same reason. It promised to kick philosophy out of the ivory town and plant it back in the ground of reality and everyday life.
I’m not sure it did exactly that...but it’s a good overview of major philosophical figures throughout history. It did manage to plant some interesting ideas for me to wrestle with.
To be transparent I am an Alain de Botton fan. His book Religion for Atheists helped me make sense of my own faith transition. His work at School for Life feels groundbreaking in making academic topics approachable.
While I enjoy his work and find it useful I will say that it still caters to a specific audience. Those with money. As the son of an international banker, he seems to have inherited some business sense.
Consolations of Philosophy is broken into six sections. Each section covers a different philosopher from a different era. Providing an introduction to some of the most influential ideas throughout time. I hadn’t heard of all of them but the ideas weren’t foreign to me. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when these ideas didn’t exist.
De Button does a great job painting a picture of the philosopher. Humanizing them and making them relatable. He contextualizes each philosopher. Placing them in their time and place. Showing how their ideas developed. This helped me shed light on our time. How right now feeds my own experience.
More than learning about the philosophers the book made philosophizing approachable. By the middle of the book, I had started to think about how my own experiences impacted my actions.
Philosophy is nothing more than a way of living. Whether we know it or not each of us has a unique way of living. The questions then become:
Life would sure feel like a giant waste of time if I couldn’t come up with some answers to these questions. To my daily writing practice, I’ve started to write through some ideas. Not that I feel like I’ve come up with anything original. Or that I can articulate enough to share. But the sheer practice has yielded some interesting results. I feel like I think, write, and speak better.
This is of course anecdotal. I don’t know if I could have scored myself before but I do feel like I’m making some kind of progress. My ideas are connecting to other ideas and are fleshing out. That for me was well worth the read.
Here are some questions I'm curious about: