Friday, March 4, 2016

Reflection: The Consolations of Philosophy

A few months ago I discovered Alain de Botton's TED talk.  It came at a time when I was watching and reading many things about judgment: in fact, there was a series on the topic over at my music blog, Laurel Black Music, that never caught much momentum and has since been put on hold.

Here's his talk, titled A kinder, gentler philosophy on success.

In addition to watching many of his talks, I found one of his books at the public library: The Consolations of Philosophy.  It "uncovers practical wisdom in the writings of some of the greatest thinkers of all time." He uses works of Socrates, Seneca, Montaigne, Nietzsche, etc. to write about understanding some of the more unpleasant aspects of human life: unpopularity, poverty, frustration, inadequacy, envy, and a broken heart.

As someone who has not researched or read much from the philosophers he mentions, I found this book not only enjoyable and enlightening in its direct purpose, but also a great introduction to some of the main meditations of the world's most famous philosophers.

As I write now I'm listening to an interview of Botton that focuses on his 2012 book, Religion for Atheists, and I find it comforting. As a person who was raised religiously and now defines herself as spiritual, I feel less heretical listening to someone else speak about examining religion  with intellectual interest that I typically do.  On the subject of religion, it always seems like you have to be only this or only that, and if you entertain the idea that different religions may be pointing towards similar concepts, or the idea that your best form of spirituality could take from several religions, you've damned yourself for all eternity.
Botton speaks on the topic eloquently and beautifully.

Back to Consolations. One of my favorite chapters is as follows:
Happiness, an acquisition list
1. a hut
2. [photo of friends]
3. to avoid superiors, patronization, infighting, and competition [photo of garden]
4. Thought...

Another I find incredibly poignant for the divisive world today, titled "On Cultural Inadequacy."  It focuses on our tendency to calls things normal and abnormal before examining that there is complete and total allowance for differences in our different cultures, even if we are just talking about two towns 3 hours apart, nevermind societies that are separated by oceans and religions. 

From Montaigne, the philosopher who consoles our inadequacy: "Every man calls barbarous anything he is not accustomed to; we have no other criterion of truth or right-reason than the example and form of the opinions and customs of our own country.  There we always find the perfect religion, the perfect polity, the most developed and perfect way of doing anything!"  

O, how often we need to hear those words! 

After reading The Consolations of Philosophy, I really look forward to diving in to more of his books.