André Comte-Sponville's brilliant and thought-provoking follow-up to A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues is an ambitious introduction to the central concepts of philosophy, from morality to death, from liberty to wisdom.
"He is so good at the timely application of those questions that make philosophy interesting ... Here at last is someone who can lay these matters out both intelligently and straightforwardly" (Guardian)
This book by the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville was written initially with teenagers in mind. I can't help wishing that this wonderful collection of essays had been available when I was in my teens, trying to grapple with the concepts of philosophy. It is hard to imagine a clearer, more lucid introduction to the 'big' questions of ethics, politics, love, death, knowledge, wisdom, God, atheism, art, freedom, time and humanity.
The book is clearly not just for teenagers – it is suitable for anyone with an interest in philosophy and is a great starting point for exploring the work of Western philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Heidegger, Descartes, Montaigne, Hume and Epicurus. As someone who has struggled for years with the works of Lacan, I am always a little afraid to approach anything by a French philosopher, but Comte-Sponville's intention at every turn is to illuminate, not to obscure and the text is clear, understandable and eminently thought-provoking. It is everything a philosophy book should be.
The author's passion for philosophy shines through as he encourages his readers to see philosophy not as a stuffy discipline but as a way to illuminate and enrich life. There are questions which we may never be able to answer and which we can never be certain about, but he cautions against refusing to meditate on them or trying to resolve them for ourselves. In the chapter about death he notes: "What is the point of pondering a question which, for us, is insoluble? The point, as Pascal realized, is that our entire lives, our every thought, depend upon it: whether or not we believe that there is 'something' after death radically influences how we live and think."
This is an excellent introduction to Western philosophy. The author is keen to point out that the thoughts of others should in no way be a substitute for our own ponderings, but familiarizing ourselves with the work of these great thinkers can only enrich our own conclusions. The author's approach ultimately is: "Happiness is the goal, philosophy the path."
Review by H. Eaton
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