Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book: The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy is a wonderful little book by armchair philosopher Alain de Botton. De Botton uses the widsom of prominent philosophers and thinkers to address various life concerns including unpopularity, money, frustration, inadequacy, broken hearts and difficulties. The clarity of the writing on display is of the highest order and the book succeeds elegantly in its objective. Indeed, not only will this book shade your thinking on the various topics covered but it also serves well as an introduction to the thoughts of eminent philosophers. Good stuff all round.


Passages for posterity:

"Stoicism does not recommend poverty, it recommends that we neither fear nor despise it. It considers wealth to be a productum, a preferred thing – neither an essential one nor a crime. Stoics may live with as many gifts of Fortune as the foolish. Their houses can be as grand, their furniture as beautiful. They are identified as wise only by detail: how would they respond to sudden poverty. They would walk away from the house and the servants without rage or despair."

… Montaigne had filled his library with books that helped him cross the borders of prejudice. There were history books, travel journals, the reports of missionaries and sea captains, literatures of other lands and illustrated volumes with pictures of strangely clad tribes eating fish of unknown names.”

… quoting Montaigne: “Just as in dress it is the sign of a petty mind to seek to draw attentions to some personal or unusual fashion, so too in speech; the search for new expressions and little-known words derives rom an adolescent schoolmasterish ambition. If only I could limit myself to words used in Les Halles in Paris.

But writing with simplicity requires courage, for there is a danger that one will be overlooked, dismissed as simpleminded by those with a tenacious belief that impassable prose is a hallmark of intelligence. So strong is this bias, Montaigne wondered whether the majority of university scholars would have appreciated Socrates, a man they professed to revere above all others, if he head approached them in their own towns, devoid of the prestige of Plato’s dialogues, in his dirty cloak, speaking in plain language.

It is tempting to quote authors when the express our very own thoughts but with a clarity and psychological accuracy we cannot match. They know us better than we know ourselves. … We invite these words into our books as homage for reminding us of who we are. But rather than illuminating our experience and goading us on to our own discoveries, great books may cast a problematic shadow. They may lead us to dismiss aspects of our lives of which there is no printed testimony.

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