I studied philosophy at Oxford University; which, at the time, gave me lots of killer arguments and impressive thought experiments – but didn’t seem that useful for any aspect of real life.
But of course the love of thinking – philo|sophos – is a universal for all peoples at all times. It’s a discipline, though, like so many others which has perhaps lost its meaning – for all bar the academics.
But that’s a tragedy on a Greek scale, because philosophy is really about the big questions which are central to us all:
1) How should I live?
2) How much can I know?
3) Why do I suffer?
4) How do I face death?
Have I got your attention yet?
It’s usually number 4) which does the job. I went back to philosophy (and writing) due to my own cancer scare. Death gets you thinking – and always has (Stoics will tell you that). Now my problem here is I’m so full of ‘relevant complexity’ on this topic, I risk returning you to Chapter Four very quickly…
But here goes:
First, read a history of philosophy (there’s a good one below) and be amazed by the myriad different ways people have tried to answer these four simple questions.
Two, try some Montaigne (also below) to remind you that it doesn’t all have to be ‘high-falutin’ – philosophy is about making sense of our day to day lives too.
Three, try a bit of Kierkegaard (a great Dane) and bring it right back to choosing your own very personal route through life.
Then try a bit of ethics with Alain de Botton. And please – for me – just read a bit of Aristotle in his own words – because there is beauty in the complex rendered simple.
And then you’re off for a life of philosophical thought and reflection.
A Little History of Philosophy
Nigel Warburton does a lovely job (following the great Ernst Gombrich’s template) of taking you at a brisk and lively canter from ancient to modern, philosopher by philosopher.
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer
An introduction to Montaigne – the world’s first essayist and chronicler of his own thoughts and life. His near death experience falling off a horse, is the best thing I’ve ever read on understanding and coping with the fear actually dying.
Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Kierkegaard in a nutshell (ok more Brazil than peanut, but still),
The Consolations of Philosophy
Alain de Botton whips through the history of ethics and how they can help us all cope with life.
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