It would be fair to say that Alain de Botton has been a big influence on me in recent years. I’ve read a lot of his books. He’s an atheist thinker, but happily not that interested in the tired old anti-religion arguments you can get from too many other atheists. Instead, he is much more interested in questions of how to live a fuller, richer, more satisfying, more meaningful sort of life without having to refer to deity, afterlife and so forth. With my heady mix of existential and maybeist tendencies, I’m deeply attracted to this approach.
I’ve read some ‘proper’ philosophy along the way. You know the sort of thing, that gets so bogged down in trying to define who ‘I’ is and what we mean by ‘being’ and ‘consciousness’ that your head is aching long before you’ve picked up any tips that might be meaningfully applied to life. I’ve read philosophy that seemed like a foreign language, full of unfamiliar jargon, references to things I hadn’t read… an impenetrable thicket that made the outpourings of Robert Graves look clear and easy. That kind of philosophy has taught me one thing and one thing only – that I do not have what it takes to be a reader of such work, much less a participant in the process.
What is philosophy for, if it is too difficult for some of us even to sit down with it? While I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, I’m by no means the bluntest either, and am prepared to bet that what I couldn’t get to grips with would prove indigestible to a lot of other people as well. Which means philosophy is just for the highly educated, super clever elite and we lesser mortals should just knuckle down and do what our betters tell us. (That may in fact be the gist of Plato’s Republic).
Oddly enough, that doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Wilfully impenetrable writing on entirely abstract and irrelevant topics doesn’t do much for me, either. This is why the discovery of Alain du Botton has been so important to me. He’s incredibly readable, for a start, tending to assume that his audience doesn’t have a doctorate in philosophy. Plain English abounds, as do real life issues. You can read something of his and apply it to your own life. You can read it and dare to think that, given time and effort, you could put together a passable bit of philosophical insight on life yourself. You can aspire…
What really, is the point of philosophy if it does not put philosophy within the reach of everyone who has some interest? What is it for, if not to help us live this life in this world? And what are we here for, if not to reflect a bit on our experiences?
When I first added ‘philosophy’ to the topics list here, I half expected that the Philosophy Police would show up (complete with togas and long beards) to tell me I wasn’t allowed. Not having a doctorate in that subject, I had no entitlement to claim any insight at all. (For the record, I have no such problems or chips on my shoulder when poking about in other subjects for which I am equally unqualified, I think high level philosophy is inherently elitist and exclusive.) It hasn’t happened. Not least because *that* sort of philosopher may not exist, and if they do, they probably don’t get out much, or online. Philosophy is the art of thinking about stuff in a way that is useful. Being a philosopher is being a person who thinks about stuff in ways that are useful. Expressing that in ways other people might grasp is a gift to the world. So I’ll stick with Alain du Botton, and John Michael Greer, and with anyone else who turns up and makes sense, because I’ve come to the conclusion that if philosophy fails to make sense, the philosopher hasn’t done a very good job of it.
For further inspiration, can I direct you to http://www.thephilosophersmail.com