Help me find wisdom!
January 2, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

MeFi virgin here, can anybody help me find wisdom?

Years ago during a bout of depression I began examining myself. Some things I liked, some things I didn't. I set about fixing myself, as it were, and that has led me to where (and who) I am now. After years of intensive self-improvement I am no longer ignorant to my true feelings and motives. In short, I am happy as myself and have nothing left to fix.

Go figure.

My problem is this; I'm used to fixing myself, and need something to do with all the energy I usually direct towards improvement. For a while it only made me incredibly critical of myself and focusing on myself all the time was leaving me weary, so I had to quit.

So, I'd like to learn about philosophy. I'm a full-time college student and I unfortunately don't have time in my schedule to take additional philosophy classes, but I'd like to embark on my own personal religion/theology/philosophy research.

What books should I read? Any movies? Important quotes? Who should I learn about? I took some world religion classes in college and plan to visit certain churches and sacred places in the travel I'm planning for post-academic life (including the Ganges, the Parthenon, the Dome of the Rock)... anybody have any places I should add to that list?

Thanks!
posted by big open mouth to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
It might sound as a cliché - but when you're finished with yourself: Go and "fix" somebody else.

Assisting och teaching other people do put your own situation in perspective and a new light. That's my experience at least.

As for your travelplans: You'll figure it out by yourself.

Take care.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 1:02 PM on January 2, 2009


The Platform Sutra of Hui Neng.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:04 PM on January 2, 2009


I nice, entry level, book on western philosophy is "Sophie's World." It's really the best intro to philosophy that I've found.
posted by oddman at 1:08 PM on January 2, 2009


In my experience, shortly after you think you've got it all figured out -- that you know yourself, who you are, your faults, wants, desires, etc...you discover that you actually know NOTHING. To be honest, I think it's a fallacy that you're ever going to be "done" with self-improvement and exploration. Anyone who thinks s/he is has seriously missed the boat. It's a life-long process.

Don't get me wrong -- I think it's great that you're self aware enough to have put a lot of time and effort into thinking about who you are. I just want to point out that most of us have been where you are now, and it's only a matter of time before you discover that there's a lot more to discover. That said, it's also a worthwhile endeavor to read about philosophy. By all means, follow the (most likely very good) suggestions you'll get in this thread for books to read. But -- welcome to the club.
posted by theantikitty at 1:09 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't have specific recommendations on philosophy, but I must disagree with Rabarberofficer. Don't try to 'fix' anyone else. They hate that.
posted by echo target at 1:09 PM on January 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


PS: I second Sophie's World as a philosophy intro.
posted by theantikitty at 1:11 PM on January 2, 2009


Sounds to me like ACTION PHILOSOPHERS! might be just about your speed.
posted by ND¢ at 1:13 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the advice, guys, and Antikitty, thanks for giving me a heads up that I'm not quite done yet. I know there will be more things I want to fix further on down the line, and I don't mind. My problem is that for right now I don't need any more fixing. For now, I'm good, so it's right now that I'm trying to distract myself.
posted by big open mouth at 1:15 PM on January 2, 2009


Perhaps the older you get, you'll realize the less you know about yourself. And no, don't try to fix other people.

To all young people, I recommend living in another country for a year or so, one outside the Western world, one where you don't speak the language, one where no one offers Anglo-Americans a grand welcome mat, and one where you have to struggle to do everyday things, like paying bills, taking a bath, and going to the bank. Somewhere like Japan, or Taiwan, or Korea, for example.

After a year of living in a place like that, reconsider your post. I bet that such an experience will teach you things about yourself and your place in the world that you could have never imagined.
posted by vincele at 1:18 PM on January 2, 2009


No problem. And oh, by the way, if that sounded condescending I totally didn't mean it to. I've just been in a place where I thought the same thing (several times) only to realize that I was so so soooo wrong. Plus, I actually think your real question is about philosophy and has nothing to do with the "self-exploration" thing you prefaced it with, so I'll cut the derail short now.
posted by theantikitty at 1:21 PM on January 2, 2009


You might want to think a little about how you're still trying to fix yourself by looking for distractions.
posted by rhizome at 1:22 PM on January 2, 2009


Please don't try to fix other people.

That said, if I could ignore my own advice and meddle with your path in any way, it would be to encourage you to view being as a continual process, not a state to be achieved. I don't think you should ever be done fixing yourself, and since you feel you have reached a sort of plateau, I would encourage you to seek out new contexts to view yourself in so that you can reflect on yourself with renewed vigor. Think of it as changing your exercise routine after your muscles have gotten used to the old one.

Vincele has some good ideas for you.

As for reading, you may want to start with Benjamin Franklin.
posted by Nonce at 1:25 PM on January 2, 2009


Don't try to fix other people, it's presumptuous and it won't go well.

You could use that energy to better examine your convictions. If you believe X, find the best philosophers who believe X is completely backwards and wrong. Or people in the middle who see faults with both. I think people who continually challenge their core beliefs end up very well-adjusted and interested to speak to.

Maybe people will laugh at this, but clicking through and reading links on wikipedia is a fantastic way to get a taste for new and interesting subjects.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:25 PM on January 2, 2009


Do not try and fix anyone else. It's a relationship killer.
posted by cazoo at 1:41 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Plato! Rocks your socks!
Try this list in this order.

Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus.

Rouse translations are fine. Don't read too much background and avoid anything with the name Peter Strauss associated with it.

Under no circumstances should you read a philosophy 101 textbook, though something like The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton isn't a terrible introduction. But still no replacement for the original authors and their maddening fascinating language.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:44 PM on January 2, 2009


Will Durant "The Story of Philosophy" is a good start as well..
posted by Busmick at 1:51 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I meant Leo Strauss. Peter Strauss was amazing in Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone which should be sought out for it obvious recounting of Lacan's otherness as a reintroduction of Heideggar's Das Unheimliche into the zeigtgeist of 1950s American representations collectives.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:54 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding the "fix other people" comment, I guess I read it differently than a lot of other people did - I read it as HELP other people, as in the sense of volunteering, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. Selflessness, giving of yourself and your time is a great unifying theme across many world religions. You've done very well and come a long way and there are so many people out there who would benefit from your experience and understanding.

Expand your worldview and horizons by doing volunteer work with things that might not occur to you at first - prisons, refugees, whatever. You can learn a great deal about the world without even venturing that far from home.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2009


Don't fix anyone else. We're always works in progress, so I find that being satisfied with the status quo is akin to being dead. There has to be contentment and acceptance of one's state, of course, to avoid manic/obsessive behavior, but we have a kind of infinite capacity for refinement.

In short, keep playing the game that got you here. You may think you've found the mountaintop but you're simply at a plateau and the higher reaches are simply obscured at the moment.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:09 PM on January 2, 2009


Potomac Avenue: Don't read too much background and avoid anything with the name [Leo] Strauss associated with it.

I don't think Potomac Avenue's actually read anything by Leo Strauss, given that advice. At the very least, that name is associated with the bulk of most of the best translations and interpretations of Plato of the last quarter century. As somebody who's studied Plato some, I find it hard even to turn around in the modern literature on the guy without bumping into some friend or student of Strauss.

Anyhow, in the interest of diversity of opinion, I can say that Plato is a lot of fun, and you should check him out.

But underestimated today is Plato's equal as a philosopher, a man who hasn't gotten half the credit he deserves: Xenophon. I highly recommend him to you.

In fact, if I were going to read two books over and over again, they'd probably be Xenophon's Oeconomicus and Aristotle's On The Soul.
posted by koeselitz at 2:57 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think that philosophy classes are necessarily what you think they are, because (in my philosophy minor experiences), philosophy has very little to do with self improvement and much more to do with learning how to argue and think critically. This includes the classics I was exposed to--while, for example, Plato's Symposium contains debates and speeches on the topic of love, it's often more about the way the arguments and speeches are constructed than necessarily their content alone.

That being said, while philosophy classes aren't what you think they are, I think they're indispensable and irreplaceable. By learning how to think critically and evaluate the arguments of others, you'll learn to see the world around you with a more discerning eye. If you want to stop with the self-absorbed hyper critical evaluation of yourself, there's no better way to do that than to turn your viewpoint outwards. Being the staunch agnostic that I am, I think learning to think critically and logically will benefit you more than any "spiritual" journey. Your mileage may vary, of course.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:57 PM on January 2, 2009


Sorry, in case it wasn't clear, my concrete advice is to make the time to take some philosophy classes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:03 PM on January 2, 2009


koeselitz: I'm not ignorant, just utterly biased against Straussian interpretation (my views are similar to Cecil Adams populist rant here), which at it's heart says that most people are stupid and only smart people can understand philosophy. I'm being uncharitable, I know, but I really think he entrances many philosophy noobs into an illusion about how to read dialogues that either discourages them from continuing or lures them into falling in line with a canonical and static interpretation rather than just reading a bunch of stuff and trying to figure out for themselves what they believe. It's like he took the best part about reading Socratic dialogues (anyone can do it! follow along at home kids!) and made it a cheap elitist lie.

So my advice to the OP is to avoid all of those links you posted (especially anything by Sachs and Bloom) and read Plato as if it was a particularly edifying episode of Perry Mason (on at 3pm, 7pm and 4am after the late movie) which needs neither secret decoder ring nor papal decree to follow and enjoy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:14 PM on January 2, 2009


Hi there!
As others have said up-thread, knowing thyself is a life long learning path. Just when you think you have it nailed, all you have really done is reached a plateau. Sure, the view is grand from there but it's just one rest stop and scenic spot along a very long and wonderful road. I have just reached one myself - and it's good to have a rest - but I know I will have other hard and rewarding climbs ahead.

One way to combine your active self-improvement and yearning to learn philosophy is to work out what your own personal philosophy is on certain seminal human issues. For example: justice. What does 'justice' mean to you? Is your concept of justice based on a deep and wide reading from many eras and cultures? Or is it something that you have taken for granted that you know? Have you unpacked, to use a cultural studies term, how your society views justice and its related concepts? What premises have you based your concepts of justice upon? There is a piece of graffiti that says "there is no justice, just us" and when you look into this saying, one realises it has many layers and facets. Find something you agree or disagree with - death penalty, universal health care, whatever, and work out why at the deepest level you hold those views. Be aware of anything in yourself that says 'I hold these views because I am a conservative/liberal/libertarian/green whatever'. Unpack and identify all the labels you attach to people and situations in life. As I said, justice is just an example.

There are many many spiritual places in the world that are not religious constructions or public locations. Some spiritual 'places' don't actually have a location - they exist in behaviours and social customs - think of various non-Christian/Buddhist/Islamic spiritual practices and study the how, why and wherefore of their utility. How/why do Aboriginal people 'sing' their country to life each season? How do the Inuit spiritually survive their harsh climate? Alternatively, look at earth formations like the Ganges and delve deep into the why and how of their spiritual currency. How the folk of Varanasi (Benares) relate to their river is different from the way Bangladeshi people relate to the lower flows of the Ganges. What it is within landscapes that creates spiritual attachments? What generates spiritual attachment for you? Perhaps look at religions that don't have natural earth formations as their part of their spiritual landscape. Christianity comes to mind because it builds churches as places to worship as its 'higher being' is something external to the planet whereas many other religions and spiritual practices revere and pay homage to deities/ancestors/spirit beings that are seen to be much more connected to earth, land and place.

Anecdote: I used to work for an environment group involved in the protection of wild lands that was being criticised (and rightly so) by Aboriginal groups for not understanding their relationship to the land. So, along with a few others from my group, I spent some days (maybe 5, maybe 10, time got lost) with a group of Aboriginal elders in a bush camp in the hills. All day every day we sat around talking and drinking tea, or walking the land and listening to these men and women. By the end of that time my mind and those of my group had been opened and expanded in a way I could not have previously envisioned, even though I thought I was most sympathetic to their original complaints. We had been made aware that wild lands are within us and us within them, and that no land is external to the human spirit. When we returned to our group plenary with recommendations, all we could say literally was: "We are the land". To those who saw wild lands as something external 'to be protected' this report was highly unsatisfactory. Fortunately it triggered enough discussion and debate to change the group's approach to Indigenous land issues and create a more sustainable and supportive relationship with the original owners.

Another anecdote (just because I like this thread and I'm wired on caffeine):


When I was in my late twenties, I watched a dog get ready for her master to come home. I started to think about dogs and time, how each dog lives their own life with their own thoughts and activities often running to a schedule. And then I realised many dogs where doing that - wow! there was all these 'dog hours' being lived - millions and millions of dog hours being lived in each block of sixty minutes. Then it hit me. Oh my! For each hour of my life there were actually 6 billion human hours being lived. It blew my concept of linear and limited time out the window. Now, while there is not a lot of practical things I could do with this awareness, it did make me realise that my mind could always open itself to new concepts.

OK. That last one may be a bit hard to comprehend (you had to be there) but what I am saying is don't ever think you have finished learning about anything, especially yourself.

One last comment before I go off on a caffeine induced whirling dervish dance. In my thirty years of adulthood I have found that people who think they have fixed themselves and done all the work needed become arrogant and stale. Whereas people who remain aware (and in awe) of how much they don't know are frequently more generous with others' foibles and much more flexible with themselves.

Enjoy your life, big open mouth.

PS: On preview - PhoBWanKenobi has good points on what philosophy classes are about although I disagree with his idea that critical and logical thinking is at odds with a spiritual journey. Buddhist monks (Mahayana particularly) spend years studying critical thinking and logic.

Final anecdote: When I was studying Plato we were asked to write about his thoughts on women (they weren't good). When I delved into the gender politics of Platos teachings I realised how much of his accomplishments and attitudes was facilitated by the use of slaves. Plato provides some really good avenues into critical thinking, yet it is always worthwhile to consider the concepts and means great philosophers choose to ignore or dismiss to suit their own ends.
posted by Kerasia at 3:15 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


PS: On preview - PhoBWanKenobi has good points on what philosophy classes are about although I disagree with his idea that critical and logical thinking is at odds with a spiritual journey. Buddhist monks (Mahayana particularly) spend years studying critical thinking and logic.

Oh, I don't think they're necessarily at odds--just that, say, learning critical thinking alone (if one were forced to choose) is more beneficial than delving into spirituality alone. I actually think a firm foundation of critical thinking skills should be built before exploring religion--it will help you overcome your own internal biases, be they positive or negative, toward religious arguments. I also think it's important to keep in mind, as Kerasia pointed out, the cultural and religious biases of the classical thinkers of any tradition--there are some terrific ethical thinkers within religious traditions, but also a lot of stuff that rests on religious documents of dubious veracity, depending on your feelings on theology. I guess, in short, I feel that the best place to start is with a solid logic class.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the advice, guys, and Antikitty, thanks for giving me a heads up that I'm not quite done yet.

I think you might be missing some of what theantikitty and others are saying.

You say you're not quite "there" yet? I'm not sure where there is, but if you're looking for a finish line, you won't find one (other than death, of course). As a human being, you are constantly changing and evolving.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:37 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


To my mind there's a tension in your question: do you want to be distracted, or do you want to find wisdom? As well as an ambiguity: do you want an introduction to philosophy, or do you want to get into philosophy? (and, um, an unexamined inference: why should philosophy be the next step from feeling oneself at a plateau?)

That said, some dissent: Sophie's World strikes me as heavy-handed and tone-deaf as a novel. I liked it when I was in high school, but I find it very difficult to read now. I like literature and philosophy, and I sometimes like it when they come together, but I don't think it's a very successful pairing here. (Which is not to say it might not still be a good introduction—just that if you're anything like me you might find it hard to get the good stuff out of it.)

And Consolations of Philosophy is not an introduction to philosophy, it's six popular biographies, mislabeled. One of two books I have ever thrown across a room. (I dislike it so much that I took the time to find two particularly scathing reviews. One, two.)

I mean, why not just read philosophy if you're going to jump in? I looked up oddman's profile to see who was recommending Sophie's World, and the responses to his question about teaching an intro to philosophy class seem pretty helpful.

All that said, and all grumpy snobbishness aside, if you hadn't already decided it was philosophy you wanted I would send you straight to Walden based on your self-description. And Augustine's Confessions is a pretty solid bet whether you're seeking philosophy, theology, religion, or wisdom. (And he helps with Wittgenstein, whenever you get there.)
posted by felix grundy at 4:46 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: I'm not ignorant, just utterly biased against Straussian interpretation (my views are similar to Cecil Adams populist rant here), which at it's heart says that most people are stupid and only smart people can understand philosophy. I'm being uncharitable, I know, but I really think he entrances many philosophy noobs into an illusion about how to read dialogues that either discourages them from continuing or lures them into falling in line with a canonical and static interpretation rather than just reading a bunch of stuff and trying to figure out for themselves what they believe. It's like he took the best part about reading Socratic dialogues (anyone can do it! follow along at home kids!) and made it a cheap elitist lie.

See, this is precisely the opposite of Strauss' method. I'm sorry, but it really is. He's fantastically misunderstood, and just because a few nutjobs like Rumsfeld mention his name in public, he's been connected to ridiculous things; but calling Strauss a neoconservative is like calling Nietzsche a Nazi. Seriously.

And this isn't a derail; in fact, what I was going to urge was the reading of what I think is Strauss' best book, Xenophon's Socratic Discourse, his reading of Xenophon's Oeconomicus. He's down-to-earth, he uses words that make sense, and he doesn't talk down to the reader; he's no elitist.

So my advice to the OP is to avoid all of those links you posted (especially anything by Sachs and Bloom) and read Plato as if it was a particularly edifying episode of Perry Mason (on at 3pm, 7pm and 4am after the late movie) which needs neither secret decoder ring nor papal decree to follow and enjoy.

I'm sincerely flabbergasted. Especially Sachs and Bloom? Sure, Bloom is a blowhard, and I wouldn't read his other books (though that translation of Republic is rather good) but Sachs? The man who single-handedly ripped the obscure latin and ridiculous philosophical terminology out of Aristotle and demanded that it be translated into plain English so that somebody without a PhD in philosophy could read it without getting a headache? I really don't know.

But none of this really matters.

I guess my advice to the OP would be thus: whenever a crowd of people gathers around you and tries to tell you what philosophy is worthwhile and what philosophy isn't, listen carefully, think about what they say, and then go and read the books and make up your own mind.
posted by koeselitz at 4:49 PM on January 2, 2009


i don't know a lot about philosophy. but, vincele and triggerfinger already answered along the same lines as what I was thinking (living abroad, volunteering.) Specifically, when I read your post, Peace Corps popped into my mind. have you considered doing something like that? you could bring all your philosophy books along and read them during your free time. :-)

Of course I'm biased just because I really want to do it myself, but I know I'd have a really hard time getting my affairs in order enough to be able to leave for 2-3 years. so for people who have the ability to do so, it seems like a great idea! (to me.) I know this didn't actually answer your specific question but I hope it helped anyway? i think the best way to learn about life/ the world/ yourself is to go outside your comfort zone and surround yourself with the unfamiliar and challenging. this wouldn't necessarily teach you what you want to know about philosophy but perhaps the two would complement one another (real-life experience + philosophy learned from a class/ books.)
posted by lblair at 4:49 PM on January 2, 2009


Seriously, Potomac Avenue, can you tell me which of Strauss' writings made you feel the way you do about him?
posted by koeselitz at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2009


(Self-correction. I made it sound like I don't think Walden counts as philosophy. I do—it just isn't canonical get-going-in-philosophy philosophy.)
posted by felix grundy at 4:52 PM on January 2, 2009


This suggestion is going to cause a lot of eye-rolling,

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,

but there is no book for a popular audience that so effectively combines an engrossing story, with an overt and intelligent discussion of philosophy.

It's hard to get a lot out of Plato or Aristotle, or many philosophical classics, by going it alone. I would suggest that you will get very little out of those foundational classics by reading them by yourself. It might make you feel good to say to yourself, "I've read Plato and Aristotle," but most philosophical classics are best grappled with in a class or seminar. You can actually read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and get a lot out of it on your own.

I don't think that philosophy classes are necessarily what you think they are, because (in my philosophy minor experiences), philosophy has very little to do with self improvement and much more to do with learning how to argue and think critically.

I am pretty much an ABD (all but dissertation) in philosophy and I completely agree with this comment.
posted by jayder at 5:36 PM on January 2, 2009


koeselitz: I admitted I was being uncharitable, so if this is what Strauss is saying then I am his biggest fan:

I guess my advice to the OP would be thus: whenever a crowd of people gathers around you and tries to tell you what philosophy is worthwhile and what philosophy isn't, listen carefully, think about what they say, and then go and read the books and make up your own mind.


I can't point to any particular book of his and I'll check out the one you mentioned about Xenophon. All my experience is with obnoxious followers of his, including Bloom's tone-deaf hectoring, Sachs' frumpy notes in Plato (I'd forgotten his helpful Aristotle translations, my bad), and various professors pushing The Good and The Just awkwardly down our throats when we wanted to talk about something else. I am of the outrageous and unprovable opinion that all books should be read with minimal commentary or interpretation by modern sources, so I am also decrying any other books about ancient philosophers as well.

felix: You may find philosophy is a lot more fun when you don't take it so seriously, sheesh.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:41 PM on January 2, 2009


I'm a bit late to the party, but I would recommend sense and sensibilia by john austin.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:02 PM on January 2, 2009


I really like Bertrand Russell's 'History of Western Philosophy' as an intro/overview. Not that self-helpy though - it's basically exactly what the title suggests. Maybe it would be a good start in combination with Sophie's World? After that you could follow up the original ideas that you're most interested in.

I visited a *lot* of churches last year, and the one that left the biggest impression on me was Westminster Abbey. There's a ridiculous amount of great thinkers buried there. Plus, you can go to evensong and hear the choir.

Possibly not what you're looking for, but what about making a point of seeing some Shakespeare? He was amazingly insightful, as well as being a great writer.
posted by Emilyisnow at 8:01 PM on January 2, 2009


I half second wittgenstein—John Austin is one of the best straight-up writers (or lecturers) of philosophy this century. If not ever. But I wonder if doctrines of sense-perception are really the right place to start out? (Also I think he's a little unfair to the skeptical point of view, but that's a much later point.)

PA: I might be posting as felix grumpy (a direct result of having read too much bad theory of metaphor today), but that de Botton book is the exact opposite of what you claim to be standing up for regarding commentary and the old weird great originals. I'm not as anti-commentary as I was indoctrinated to be lo those many years ago, but de Botton is an affront to what good commentary should be—he's obfuscating and silly where the originals were disconcerting and eye-openingly strange. I don't mind a light touch with philosophy but I do mind when light-mindedness masquerades as same. (and it's funny that you'd link to that thread, since a DFW book was the other of the two.)
posted by felix grundy at 8:03 PM on January 2, 2009


The hard part about this question is philosophy (I'm assuming we're limiting the discussion to Western philosophy) is an incredibly vast territory. If you want (and can stomach) a vast overview of it, there are dozens of books that will fit the bill. But, for me, none of that is as much fun as picking a few philosophers whose names you've heard of, reading some of their key works and maybe a slim introduction/commentary on the same and then branching out from there.
posted by wheat at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2009


Two excellent podcasts that might interest you: Philosophy Bites and Ethics Bites, both hosted by philosopher Nigel Warburton, whose introductory books on philosophy (Philosophy: The Basics, Philosophy: The Classics, and Thinking from A to Z) are solidly good and very accessible.
posted by wheat at 8:23 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding my comment to "fix" other people. Triggerfinger got it right: I meant "help others". As in beeing a tutor, work at a shelter etc.

As I see it: You can't reach wisdom without other people. I think you need to get your perspectives and thruths scrambled by other peoples views and truths. There is not one singulary right way to percieve the world. And that's why I recommended OP to help other people. It's one of the fastest ways I know about to get access to other peoples worlds and perspectives.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 2:41 AM on January 3, 2009


Plato is largely where it's at. Few undergraduate classes get much of what Plato has to offer. There's no reason why you can't do better with the help of a few select commentaries. Plato is almost universally recognized as a world class prose stylist. If you decide to read him, one of the key questions to ask is why did he choose to write dialogues instead of treatises. Strauss and his followers are the best guides to a literary interpretation of Plato. koeselitz's links are very good; Benardete and Rosen are two other students of Strauss you may wish to investigate. They can be tough reading, but frankly, so is Plato. Try to avoid a historicist view of Plato. His views on women and slaves may be more subtle than you expect. For instance in the Symposium, Socrates states that he has Diotima to thank for his knowledge of eros, and in the Meno it's by a conversation with a slave that Plato makes a case for what a professor of mine called the "ontological equality of the soul". The historical importance of that belief for Western civilization can not be overstated.

I also recommend Nietzsche and Simone Weil as two of the more accessible, recent, philosophers whose works have some resonance outside of the academy.

You would likely enjoy Pierre Hadot's work on ancient philosophy (mostly but not exclusively, Stoicism and Epicurism) as a practice. Check out 'Philosophy as a Way of Life'. While philosophy today has been mostly reduced to what would have been considered philosophical discourse back in the ancient world, one exception is Eugene Gendlin. He is a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago and the developer of the focusing technique. You can find a number of his papers from here.

Many laypeople who are interested in philosophy expect to see some of what might be called 'worldly wisdom'. If this is you, look at Baltasar Gracian, Ecclesiastes, Rochefoucauld and Montaigne.
posted by BigSky at 4:27 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


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