And this is why I like Alain de Botton. He makes philosophy accessible. Read any of his books and you'll see what I mean. In The Consolations of Philosophy, he introduces us to 6 philosophers and how they can help us with our lives. It's a wonderful idea but I assume hard to pull off, as most of these philosophers seldom agree with one another.
Instead of offering us a sweeping scope of philosophical thought, de Botton narrows in on 6 problematic life areas (unpopularity, not having enough money, frustration, inadequacy, a broken heart, and difficulties) and finds a suitable philosopher who can offer a solution for each. The resulting book is brilliant, one that provides a brief account of the philosopher's life and his work, and coupled with lots of anecdotal records.
Okay, let's start with the first. Are you concerned about being unpopular? Fret not, Socrates can help you. This is a bit of an irony, as Socrates was condemned to death by a jury of his peers. In this part, the classical philosopher somehow tells you that it's not the opinion of the people that count but rather the experts.
The philosopher offered us a way out of two powerful delusions: that we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion.Don't have enough money? Well, look to Epicurus. Yes, Epicurus, the philosopher whose reputation is for getting the finer things in life. Apparently, this isn't true at all. Epicurus advocated the acquisition of the simple things in life. To be happy, all one needs is to acquire friendship, freedom, and thought. Now knowing this has already put a smile to my face. Everyone can "afford" these acquisitions!
To follow his example, we will best be rewarded if we strive instead to listen always to the dictates of reason. [page 42]
If you easily get frustrated, Seneca advises us not be too hopeful. Don't think that the loud noise your neighbor makes is intentional, that he's out to annoy you. No, your neighbor is just noisy, and that's the first step to not getting frustrated. Trust that your neighbor knows nothing of you.
Are you feeling inadequate? Don't, just read Montaigne. He tells us to open our minds and not be discouraged. All you really need to do is just make yourself clever.
In Montaigne's redrawn portrait of the adequate, semi-rational human being, it is possible to speak no Greek, fart, change one's mind after a meal, get bored with books, know none of the ancient philosophers and mistake Scipios.Schopenhauer, probably the most pessimistic of all philosophers, is the one de Botton turns to for the broken hearted. Schopenhauer argues that we shouldn't be surprised at all if we find misery sometimes. And (hold on to your partners for this bit, everyone), the person who will make the perfect match for us is seldom the one who will make us happy.
A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough. [page 168]
And last, Nietzsche tells us that to come up with creations of beauty and brilliance, we shouldn't be afraid of difficulties at all. Instead of being envious that someone wrote an intelligent novel and despairing that we'll never write anything as brilliant, we need to look at all those revisions that went with the work. And it also helps to know if this writer whom we're envious went through several rejections before writing his masterpiece.
I absolutely enjoyed The Consolations of Philosophy. The writing style of de Botton is engaging, as if he's writing a self-help book instead of one filled with very lofty philosophical ideas. In a way, The Consolations of Philosophy is indeed self-help. After all, who wouldn't want to be consoled by 6 of the most intelligent men who have lived on this planet, no?
Read this book if:
- You've always been curious but intimidated by philosophy.
- You want to know how the word Epicurean came from.
- You love eccentric, intelligent, dead guys.