9 Books That Acknowledge Philosophy As A Method To Learn To Live
Philosophizing is, from this perspective, something similar to dreaming awake, to fantasize, to imagine things that do not exist, to think ideas without sustenance or anchor in reality.
However, this prejudice about philosophy is wrong. From the beginning of time, from the first moment that someone began to reflect on their life, their reality, the universe or any other element of their environment, philosophy emerged bound inevitably to reality, united with the whole experience, woven with the same thread of everyday events. Philosophizing is not, in any way, alienating reality, rejecting it and avoiding it, but just the opposite: thinking about it to understand it better and, in some cases, transform it.
In this sense, there is a vast philosophical tradition that runs from classical Greece to the present day, in which reflection is an essential activity to achieve a full life. We all live life, but to be able to live well, to have a good life, a life of happiness, a meaningful life, is a privilege reserved for a few.
Because privilege, in effect, is to be able to reach the moment of existence in which we say "no" to certain things that have been imposed on us and "yes" to others that we have discovered that we desire; privilege is being able to know others in their purely human dimension; privilege is to undertake the path of self-knowledge and self-care; privilege, in short, is to be able to embrace and build the life we want and not the one we believe was drawn to us.
Then, as a small sample of that look of Western philosophy, we share a list of 9 books that point to that way of life that has as its purpose but, above all, as sustained work, the fullness of existence.
For many, the best of all the Platonic dialogues is a work in which the simple, clear and profound philosophical exposition is conjugated, a very careful literary style and, finally, a sum of perspectives that invite us to reflect on love and the place it may have in our existence.
Why read it? Contrary to the generalized idea that we have about "Platonic love", in The Banquet we find the true conception that Plato and Socrates defended love, less a reality limited to the bond with a couple, with friends or with the family and, rather, a kind of vital energy that keeps us in the world, that nourishes our existence and, as subjects, pushes us to go for more, to look for what we want and, in short, to build daily the life that does we can love
The Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, Seneca
Also known as Letters to Lucilius or Moral Epistles, this hundred missives (apparently with a non-existent addressee), are a kind of Seneca's testament, because apart from being written in the last years of the philosopher's life, they gather practically all the aspects of his thinking and address several issues of life: the disease, the relevance of certain customs, suicide (a family theme for the Stoics), wealth, and so on.
Why read it? Stoic philosophy (and specifically that of Seneca) suits our age well: we who live always in a hurry, Stoicism teaches us the virtue of waiting; to us who learned to want immediate rewards, Stoicism shows us the delay that authentic triumphs require; to us who live installed in the permanent search for fleeting pleasures, Seneca invites us to live with less and even hard.
Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
Among the authors of ancient philosophy, Aristotle was the one who best synthesized the idea of "eudaimonia", which happened to us under the various states of "well-being", "happiness" and "fullness". The most important, however, is that the exercise of philosophy was for Aristotle and other thinkers an essential element in the cultivation and achievement of such "fullness", as important as having friends, exercise or eat healthily.
Why read it? Like other aspects of our reality, the idea of "happiness" also seems to be in need of a certain process of liberation and back to its foundations. At a time when happiness seems to come packaged and ready to be consumed, Aristotle's Ethics can offer us the alternative of a more authentic life and a form of happiness or fulfilment that is better rooted in practically every aspect of our lives.
Epicurus' work survived only a few complete texts, many fragments and, above all, references to his thought in other works (notably, the poem, The Nature of Things, by Lucretius). However, the originality of his proposal was such that it was enough to turn it into a reference to a philosophical school that opted for pleasure, chance and ultimately freedom as inalienable values of life.
Why read it? The idea of pleasure is perhaps one of the most problematic in our culture. Practically throughout our history, we have lived amid the tension of those who seek to censor him and those who seek to satisfy him. For us in particular, the position of Epicurus can show us that there is a pleasure beyond what is offered to us or, in other words, that each of us has a vital obligation to seek, build and sustain the form of pleasure that our own existence dictates us.
Discourse on the Method, René Descartes
A well-known title but maybe not for that reason completely consulted or read fully. Historically it is the summit of rationalism, but it is also a remarkable literary piece and one of the best exponents of the genre "discourse".
Why read it? The idea of "methodical doubt" is perhaps one of the most useful and in its beautiful way of what philosophy has given, both virtues that are sustained in the simplicity of the existential attitude toward which that notion points: consciously doubting, doubting with knowledge of cause, to doubt as a method to know reality, in all its levels. And although saying it is simple, doing it is one of the most complicated actions in the world.
Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, Étienne de La Boétie
At first glance, the Discourse of Étienne de La Boétie could be considered more a political pamphlet than a full-fledged philosophical treatise, and although it is possibly so, in its paragraphs it is possible to notice that eagerness for liberation that characterizes authentic philosophy. De La Boétie elaborates a reflection on obedience with an approach that has something visceral rather than rational, but that is also lucid and, above all, stimulating for our own questioning of power and authority.
Why read it? In a simple and accessible way, Étienne de La Boétie sows in his reader’s certain premises necessary to question the almost always illusory foundations of authority and the obligations that are imposed on us throughout our lives.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
Perhaps the best-known work of Nietzsche and, within his bibliography, his proof of philosophical maturity. A text in which the literary narrative and philosophical discourse are mixed to expose some of the fundamental questions of human existence: the idea of God, the value of friendship, the difficulty of thinking differently there where everyone else seems to think of the same way, among others.
Why read it? The pessimism in which Nietzsche is sometimes pigeon-holed is here vanished by the vital light of his thought. But perhaps the main reason for reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra is to find among its lines the necessary spirit to reflect, question, and never take for granted any aspect of existence. For the rest, Thus Spoke Zarathustra may be the best gateway to other related works albeit a bit more unbridled as The Gaya science.
The Rebel, Albert Camus
Camus's most ambitious book, in which he emptied much of his existentialist but above all libertarian thinking. With oscillations between philosophy, literature, history and personal reflection, the philosopher of Algerian origin explores the notion of rebellion and its possibility in present conditions.
Why read it? What more necessary idea, at all times, than that of rebellion? As much for the own existence as for the collective one, to keep ignited a rebellious flame is, in some way, to preserve the same life, to bet by the vitality, to be oriented towards the action that transforms.
Essays, Leo Tolstoy
The only author not entirely philosopher that we include in this list and who, however, figures by own merit. In his essays, Tolstoy displayed not only the lucidity necessary to expose and defend his ideas but especially the compassion to infect others with their benevolence and the urgent need to apply them in the world. We especially recommend the reading of A Confession, The First Step and The Gospel in Brief.
Why read it? Although in his novels Tolstoy also yielded to his reflexive spirit, it was in his essays that he gave himself to thought with notoriety and wisdom. The purity of his spirit was devoted to the search for his own judgment, a kind of existential theory nourished by other ideas but, at the same time, defended with the ardour of subjectivity and freedom of thought.