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Philosophy in a nutshell

  • A perfect starting point for those interested in philosophy but intimidated by tomes
  • This book gives an overview of mostly Western philosophy, while mentioning some Eastern thinkers

We come across Socratic thought in mindfulness meditation apps.
We come across Socratic thought in mindfulness meditation apps. (Photo: Alamy)

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We know more about philosophy than we think we do. We come across Socratic thought in mindfulness meditation apps; we grapple with the philosophy of ethics and morality along with the protagonists of the delightful TV show, The Good Place; and on Twitter, we have Kim Kierkegaardashian, a funny (but surprisingly accurate) mash-up of the thought processes of Søren Kierkegaard and Kim Kardashian.

We also need philosophy more than we think we do, especially in a world where the politics of ever-shrinking identities drives us apart. Philosophy helps us understand the essential human-ness of us all. All humans grapple with happiness and sadness and questions of right and wrong.

Given that it’s not practical for most of us to work our way through the original writing of all prominent Western philosophers, Philosophy For Busy People by Alain Stephen (the author of Why We Think The Things We Think and This Book Will Make You Think) is a convenient guide through the maze of thoughts and ideas that have shaped modern philosophy. While the focus of this slim volume is on Western philosophical thought, Stephen does include a few kernels from Buddhist philosophy as well as Confucianism and Taoism.

Instead of dividing the book chronologically or by philosopher/school of thought, Stephen arranges it by chapters that deal with the philosophy of one abstract entity: Happiness, Ethics and Morality, Science, Politics and Power, Religion, Language, Love, and The Future. Each chapter focuses on a few prominent philosophers and schools of thought and contains short scenarios and thought experiments to illustrate their points.

For those interested in philosophy but intimidated by it, Philosophy For Busy People should be a good resource to acquaint themselves with the basic kernels, and build upon them with greater confidence (it is, at the very least, a better resource than the schmaltzy and oversimplified pop philosophy of a Paulo Coelho or Richard Bach).

Several years ago, Jostein Garder’s charming Sophie’s World: A Novel About The History Of Philosophy evoked interest in philosophy worldwide—and if it has been too long since you read that book, here’s a chance to dive into the subject once again.

Philosophy for Busy People

By Alain Stephen; Michael O’Mara Books;

192 pages; 299

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