Read a book that I found concise enough, interesting enough and good enough to want to write about, in a while. Unsurprisingly, it is by one of my favourite contemporary writers, Alain de Botton.
The book itself is an excellent treatment of the themes of everyday life and the contributions that European philosophers made to examining them. Socrates – tested by truth, aristocracy and reason and his own quirks, but consumed by his jade of a wife, the state’s hubris, and dying bravely defending reason, in a lesson in rationality to everyone. Epicurus, his opposite – who reasoned that happiness ought to be reason enough to live, that happiness, contrary to the sugar-infested inhabitants of Miletus, comes from a simple life alone, who, like the false stoics of today, claimed that money didn’t bring all happiness. A curious parallel to him in Seneca – pragmatic and realistic and curious in a time and social circle when being any of those things seemed distant; goading us to lower our expectations from life, to not believe that power will improve our condition, or that it will lead to happiness; drawing inspiration from Greeks such as Socrates and Zeno, and perishing because of the vile madness of Nero. Montaigne – questioning everything, questioning perceptions that we have about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, studies in cultural acceptance, reason, science, fact, observation, the familiar and continent, and thereby instructing us all to remain sceptics and to value themselves. Schopenhauer – spurned in love, accepting solitude; spurned in work, accepting mediocrity; spurned in life, accepting death. Despite this, a bit of a poster boy when it comes to how one ought to love, and how one ought to be devoted, albeit with quirks thrown in – conveniences arising only out of intellectualism and foolishness arising only out of love. A study in quirks but not in tomfoolery, a study in seriousness but not gravity, a study in torment, but never depravity. Nietzsche – there’s a whole book I’d read on him, another day.
Thank you, Alain de Botton, for this wonderful book.