The Wonders of Philosophy on our Lives, with Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Philosophy as a tool for practicality, as a means for living our lives more fruitfully. This is what Alain de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy aims to achieve, by exploring the lives of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

In spite of the vast differences between the many thinkers described as philosophers across time, it seemed possible to discern a small group of men, separated by centuries, sharing a loose allegiance to a vision of philosophy suggested by the Greek etymology of the word — philo, love; sophia, wisdom — a group bound by a common interest in saying a few consoling and practical things about the causes of our greatest griefs.

It is easy to dismiss philosophy as useless, only fit for intellectuals, a bourgeosie occupation. But de Botton proves it isn’t so.

After all, weren’t Karl Marx, Hegel, Hippocrates, Socrates, Vladimir Lenin all philosophers who have created uncharted pathways in revolutions, industries and institutions?

While political philosophers like Marx tackled the evils of capitalism, philosophers featured in de Botton’s book all point to things in our lives that do need some balming, quiet, internal revolutions of their own: unpopularity, not having enough money, broken-heartedness, inadequacy, anxiety and the fear of failure.

Relevant and accessible, The Consolations of Philosophy points out similarities between the philosophers’ live and our own, problems that wo/man has encountered since the earliest time. It is funny, poignant and honest, things we all need to face what afflicts us.

On unpopularity

At one point in our lives we’ve all encountered who Socrates was; you might’ve learned about him in school or you’ve probably seen his infamous quote:

De Botton details Socrates’s life and challenges popular beliefs. Instead, he asks us to investigate ideas with little to no following. He believed that this is vital specially when the pressure to conform abounds. Socrates also provided a way of challenging beliefs that we may not agree with, and to do so with intentions of arriving at the truth.

For a man who was sentenced to die precisely for wanting to seek and arrive with others at the fundamental truth of any matter, we’re at an opportune time when independent thinking garners a lot less danger.

Socrates’s method of thinking promised us a way to develop opinions in which we could, even if confronted with a storm, feel veritable confidence.

It would be a shame to deprive ourselves, loved ones and our communities of this chance at truth; his death did not occur for us to receive what we don’t understand with blind acceptance.

True respectability stems not from the will of the majority but from proper reasoning.