The Philosopher Book Tag

Spotted at Thoughts on Papyrus, and couldn’t resist borrowing!

Thales is considered the first known philosopher. Which text introduced you to philosophy or which text would you like to read to get you into philosophy?

Oddly enough, a sermon from a Unitarian Universalist minister titled “Humanist Spirituality: Oxymon or Authentic Path to Enlightenment?” After leaving my childhood church at age 20, I became a devout reader of books on religion, spirituality, and philosophy — attempting to figure out why people believed what they did, and to see if there was an underlying truth behind all this, a viable way to live on purpose. It was Muder who introduced me to Stoic and Epicurean thought, though I wouldn’t seriously begin to read the Stoics until a year thereafter. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were the first philosophical text I ever read.

Which political event or event in history would you like to read more about in fiction?

The American, French, or Russian revolutions — for different reasons. I’m fascinated by the debates during the Founding period, the varying ideas these men had for structuring a government capable of maintaining liberty against internal corruption and external attack. The French revolution unleashed a pandora’s box upon Europe and the world, and of course the Russian one was horrendous but worth knowing more about.

Which book or author forced you to think more critically?

Ravi Zacharias; I was introduced to his podcast in 2006 by a skeptic friend of mine who was interested in my response to his critique of Richard Dawkins. Although at the time I was still devoutly anti-religious, I’d never before heard arguments based in formal logic. Attempting to argue with him in my head forced me to continually check my own statements for underlying assumptions.

Voltaire once said: ” I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” Which is a popular book everyone seems to love but you didn’t?

Hard one to answer, as most of the books I’ve one- or two-starred were schlock fiction to begin with, like Dan Brown or James Patterson titles. Not exactly philosophical fare!

Hannah Arendt – Doomed controversial even by her friends, Hannah Arendt did not shy away from telling what she thought was true. Name a book that will leave readers uncomfortable, but tells an important story.

The dystopias come to mind — 1984, for its evaluation of the control of language, history, and desire by political powers; Fahrenheit 451, for its depressingly accurate prediction that people were far more comfortable burrowing under the lure of entertainment than to be challenged by books and outside thought; and Brave New World, with its wholesale destruction of the human Person and the manipulation of the masses through pleasure. Of course, The Fountainhead also bears mentioning, forcing readers to consider their own motives and lives.

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” A wonderful quote from Nietzsche out of “Thus spoke Zarathustra” Which book do you go back to for its beautiful writing?

Alain de Botton and Anthony Esolen, while holding very different worldviews (de Botton is a secular humanist, Esolen an traditionalist Catholic), both have exquisite ways of expressing themselves. A sentence from each, inspired by the airport:

(Esolen) “But when I am in an airport, that most harried image of the eternal tarmac of Hell, crowded without community, noisy without celebration, technologically sophisticated without beauty, and see people engaged in loud conversations not with one another but with a business partner in Chicago or a spouse and children far away, I see not freedom but confinement.”

(de Botton) “I explained — with the excessive exposition of a man spending a lonely week at the airport — that I was looking for the sort of books in which a genial voice expresses emotions that the reader has long felt but never before really understood; those that convey the secret, everyday things that society at large prefers to leave unsaid; those that make one feel somehow less alone and strange.”

Jean-Paul Sartre raised the question “What is literature?” in one of his books. What is good literature for you?

Literature is text that speaks to truth — whether in formal arguments, or stories that bear witness to human universals. Some level of artfulness is required; a flat recital of facts is simply that, something to be parsed rather than read and studied.

Which book did you have to keep pushing through because you really wanted to understand it’s meaning?

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky. I very much doubt that I succeeded, because I don’t know if the book has a Singular Meaning; it’s replete with arguments about God, man, morality, and the state. Atlas Shrugged is another, because arguably its primary content is argument.

Which are the three philosophers you would love to sit down and have a chat with?

Alain de Botton, C.S. Lewis, and Epictetus. The first two are fantastically interesting, and Epictetus strikes me as the most potentially entertaining of the Stoics — though Seneca and Cicero were probably first-rate party guests.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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2 Responses to The Philosopher Book Tag

  1. Great answers! I loved the quotes you provide by de Botton and Esolen so much I think I will have to commit them to memory or write them down! I read The Brothers Karamazov a long time ago and never in my native Russian, I am now curious to read it in the original. It is thick and replete with observations that can go over anyone’ s head! I would have loved to sit down for a talk with Seneca, too! I don’t know how I forgot him.

  2. I stumbled into taking Western Thought as a senior in high school, and, through taking it, I discovered philosophy.

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