Thursday, September 17, 2009

Consolations of Philosphy

I’m reading The Consolations of Philosophy (2000) by Alain de Botton. My eldest daughter mentioned that she intended to read it, and her interest prompted me to locate my copy. I’d read the Nietzsche chapter, but not the others. I looked: Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, and Schopenhauer—an impressive list! Add to this de Botton’s ability—I enjoyed his How Proust Can Change Your Life greatly as well as the Nietzsche chapter that I had read. (Nietzsche being one of the more vexing philosophers—even with the help of Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins, I’m not quite sure what to make of him). In any event, I’ve plunged in.
De Botton mixes the originals with his own gentle observations and vignettes, often quotidian events drawn from daily life that exemplify the point in question. Epicurus, Seneca, and Montaigne are personal favorites. Epicurus is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned of philosophers, but much of what he says seem eminently sensible. When you read his work (of which very little remains), one finds a very measured man, not the glutton of the popular imagination. Seneca proves a model of sobriety, especially about the passions. Montaigne show himself an earthy, relatively plain-spoken observer of humankind. In all, a very pleasant, entertaining, and enlightening book, even after having read about gloomy Schopenhauer (who did have some insights).