An overview of 14 philosophers including some less-mentioned ones like Pillow Booth author Sei Shōnagon, and Mahatma Gandhi. I liked his other books, but this time his travels and personal commentary felt like an unrewarding distraction. But good overview of philosophies with some great observations inbetween.
We think we want information and knowledge. We really want wisdom.
Information is a jumble of facts, knowledge a more organized jumble.
Wisdom untangles the facts, makes sense of them, and suggests how best to use them.
Trains provide a rare combination of expansiveness and coziness.
Philosophy is rarely practical.
But in ancient Athens, philosophy was self-transformation. Philosophy was practical. Philosophy was therapy.
Schools don’t teach philosophy. They teach about philosophies. They don’t teach students how to philosophize.
Unless I live to the age of 110, I am technically not middle age.
David Hume divided any inquiry into two parts: an “is” and an “ought.”
The “is” part is observational.
The “ought” part contains a moral judgment.
Hume thought we jump too quickly from “is” to “ought.”
A moral “ought” never follows directly from a factual “is.”
That’s why the “is-ought problem” is also known as “Hume’s Guillotine,” since he cleaves “is” from “ought” and insists on a gap between the two.
Hume says you can’t move from a statement of fact to a statement of ethics.
His notes were intended for himself. You don’t so much read Marcus as eavesdrop on him.
What matters is an idea’s value, not its source.
Our culture tends to solve its problems without experiencing its questions.
Philosophers possess an otherness that borders on the alien.
Philosophy is all about questioning assumptions.
The worst kind of ignorance masquerades as knowledge.
Better a wide and honest ignorance than a narrow and suspect knowledge.
Be interested in “how” questions.
How can I lead a happier, more meaningful life?
How can I practice justice?
How can I know myself?
Conversation is simply another tool in your kit.
Enlightened conversations have a goal: to know yourself.
By talking to others you learn how to talk with yourself.
What is a question?
Questions seek meaning, and convey it, too.
Asking a friend the right question at the right time is an act of compassion, of love.
The best judge of a person is not the answers they give but the questions they ask.
Wonder is a skill, one we’re all capable of learning.
“Wonder” comes from the Old English wundor, meaning “marvelous thing, miracle, object of astonishment.”
Wonder is personal. Curiosity is not.
You can be curious dispassionately. You can question dispassionately.
You cannot wonder dispassionately.
Curiosity is restive, always threatening to chase the next shiny object that pops into view.
Not wonder. Wonder lingers.
Good philosophy is slow.
Question the obvious.
The more obvious something seems, the more urgent the need to question it.
Misdeeds, such as bad parenting, are committed not out of malice but ignorance.
A stupid question is one you already know the answer to.
(Unless you happen to be a prosecutor.)
If you do not annoy anyone, you are not a philosopher.
Deep questioning is transformative in itself.
Live a question.
Keep it in the back of your mind.
Don’t try to fix it. Don’t jump to the solution.
Stay with the doubt, the mystery, rather than rushing to solve the problem.
A good question reframes the problem so that you see it in an entirely new light.
A good question prompts not only a search for answers but a reevaluation of the search itself.
A good question elicits not a clever reply but no reply at all.
Happiness is a by-product, never an objective. It’s an unexpected windfall from a life lived well.
Rousseau’s philosophy can be summed up in four words: nature good, society bad.
He believed in the natural goodness of man.
Wandering in the forests, without want and without liaisons, with no need of his fellow-men, likewise with no desire to harm them.
Nobody is born mean-spirited, petty, vindictive, paranoid. Society makes them that way.
Much of what we take to be human nature is social habit.
Respond to adversity simply by starting over.
Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time.” Walking is a sanctuary in motion.
Less interested in the nature of reality than the reality of nature.
It’s impossible not to take beauty personally.
Seeing and feeling are intertwined.
How he felt determined not only how he saw but what he saw.
The person attuned to beauty will find it in a garbage dump
Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. It is in his heart. We can’t improve our vision without improving ourselves.
Schopenhauer was an Idealist - someone who believes that everything we experience is a mental representation of the world, not the world itself. Immanuel Kant too.
During aesthetic moments, we have shaken off the world, and with it such false dichotomies.
The human voice is nature’s greatest lie detector, and I soon learned to gauge a speaker’s sincerity within seconds.
To hear someone speak is to know them.
Practical reason to know something about musical structure: it disciplines the ear.
You know what to listen for, so the mind is less likely to wander.
In witnessing art, we perceive not a particular sadness or a particular joy but sadness itself and joy itself - “the extracted quintessence of these feelings.”
We experience the emotion itself, unmoored, and can appreciate the beauty in sadness.
Sadness by itself isn’t painful. It is sadness about something that hurts.
Glumness presupposes we are living in the worst of all possible worlds, but do we know for sure? Pessimism requires certainty.
Schopenhauer said the Upanishads was “the most profitable and sublime reading that is possible in the world; it has been the consolation of my life and will be that of my death.”
Later, he’d study Buddhism, declaring it the greatest of all religions.
Be concerned with your inner world. You can’t know the world if you don’t know yourself.
For Schopenhauer, noise was more than an annoyance. It was a barometer of character. One’s tolerance for noise, he believed, is inversely proportional to his intelligence.
No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change means progress.
We confuse the new with the good, the novel with the valuable.
Information is merely a means toward insight and possesses little or no value in itself.
Excess of data - noise, really - has negative value and diminishes the possibility of insight.
Distracted by the noise, we don’t hear the music.
Gardens, sequestered from the noise of the world, lend themselves to such philosophical enthusiasms.
Places matter. They are repositories of ideas. That’s why I travel.
We fear what is not harmful and desire what is not necessary.
Epicurus defined pleasure as a lack, an absence: ataraxia, literally “lack of disturbance.” - the absence of anxiety.
Epicurus was no hedonist. He was a “tranquillist.”
Imagine you broke your leg. A doctor is summoned and promptly offers you a bowl of grapes. What’s wrong? The grapes are pleasurable, aren’t they? This absurd situation is the one many of us find ourselves in.
We scoop trivial pleasures atop a mountain of pain, and wonder why we’re not happy.
Beyond a certain point, pleasure cannot be increased - just as a bright sky cannot get any brighter.
All pleasures are good, and all pain bad, but that doesn’t mean we should always choose pleasure over pain.
Certain pleasures might lead to future pain and thus should be avoided.
The pain of lung cancer outweighs the pleasure of smoking.
Likewise, certain pains lead to future pleasure and thus should be endured: the pain of the gym.
If we are unhappy, it is not because we are lazy or flawed. We have simply miscalculated. We have failed to deploy prudence, “sober reasoning,” when appraising pleasure and pain.
Friendship, taken as a whole, alleviates pain and promotes pleasure. Whatever pain is associated with friendship is more than offset by its pleasures.
Giving someone your time but not your attention is the cruelest fraud.
Our attention is all we have to give.
A simple five-word question can soften a heart, and change a life: “What are you going through?”
Patient people are more likely to act rationally. They have better coping skills.
All our mistakes are due to the fact that thought has seized upon some idea too hastily, and being prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth.
All inattention is a form of selfishness.
We’ve decided that whatever is happening in our heads is more interesting, more important, than what is happening in the rest of the universe.
That’s why narcissists are so inattentive. Their attention is bottled up, stagnant.
Life in India demands constant triangulation. Ask a third person for directions. Never ask one person, always ask two or three.
We must find creative ways to convert our adversaries into friends.
Most violence stems not from an immoral impulse but a failure of imagination.
A violent person is a lazy person. Unwilling to do the hard work of problem solving, he throws a punch, or reaches for a gun.
Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.
The family is our ren gym. It is where we learn to love and be loved. Proximity matters. Start by treating those closest to you kindly, and go from there.
New Yorkers aren’t rude, they’re fast.
India taught me how to find stillness in chaos.
Israel taught me patience.
Japan taught me to shut the fuck up for five minutes and experience a different way of being. Japan opened my eyes to a philosophy of things. Beautiful small things.
Prize the aesthetic experience more than abstract speculation. More important than what you know is how you see, how you listen, and how you smell.
Beauty is considered a moral virtue. A morally upstanding person is an aesthetically attuned one.
Making the world a bit more beautiful is a generous, selfless act.
The task of the philosopher is to demonstrate that things can be otherwise - to enhance our taste for life.
Who we are is largely shaped by what we choose to surround ourselves with.
How can anyone become a thinker if he does not spend at least a third of the day without passions, people and books?
Every truth should be accompanied by at least one laugh.
Live your life as if it repeats endlessly.
If everything recurs infinitely, then there are no light moments, no trivial ones.
Every moment, no matter how inconsequential, possesses the same weight and mass as others.
All actions are equally great and small.
Eternal Recurrence is a daily check-in with yourself: Are you living the life you want to live?
Ruthlessly audit your life and ask: What is worthy of eternity?
Can you accept that endless failure? Can you embrace it? Can you love it?
Don’t resign yourself to your fate. Don’t accept your fate. Love it. Desire it.
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.
Your true being does not lie deeply concealed within you, but immeasurably high above you.
We are as responsible for our emotions as we are for our thoughts and actions.
Forgoing pleasure is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Nothing is ours, not even our bodies. We always rent, never own. Nothing to lose. Nothing to fear losing.
We are what we do. We are no more and no less than our projects fully realized.
There is no such thing as love in the abstract, only acts of love; no genius, only acts of genius.
In our deeds, we draw our self-portrait, one brushstroke at a time.
We are that portrait and nothing but that portrait.
Stop trying to find yourself. Start painting yourself.
We can become anything we want.
Imagine growing up on a desert island entirely alone. Do you age? You will develop wrinkles, and inevitably health problems. You will slow down. But is this aging?
Aging is cultural, a social verdict rendered by others.
If there is no jury, there is no verdict.
On the island you will experience senescence, biological deterioration, but you will not age.
Others see the elderly as helpless and inconsequential, and soon they begin to see themselves this way, too.
It is often at the very moment that the aged man, having become old, has doubts about the value of his entire work that he carries it to its highest point of perfection.
No longer seeking praise, they were free to doubt their own work and thus, go beyond themselves.
The elderly act like twenty-seven-year-olds when they should be emulating seven-year-olds.
Travel is one of the few things that can bring novelty back into our lives.
Two days in a new country are worth thirty in familiar surroundings.
Expand the circle of your interests, making them “wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.
Unfinished business isn’t a sign of failure. The opposite. The person who departs this world with no unfinished business hasn’t lived fully.
Take something everyone knows - everyone thinks they know - and test it. Play with it.