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The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone Hardcover – April 3, 2014
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*Starred Review* As a freshman in college, Samuelson fought with classmates over whether philosophy was essential for a meaningful life. Fortunately, he’s still fighting. Defying the widespread perception of philosophy as an academic specialty, Samuelson urges readers to join him in a humanizing intellectual adventure, one that begins with Socrates’ frank profession of ignorance. Awakened to a sense of wonder at the mysteriousness of human experience, readers interrogate alternate forms of happiness, reflect on the perilous freedom in suicide, ponder the origins of evil—even examine the reasons for boredom. Even the simple act of eating an apple yields surprising new meaning under the philosophic gaze. Though Samuelson regards radical doubt as an essential step toward truth, he pushes beyond skepticism, exploring the paradoxes of Christian faith with Pascal, tasting the ecstasy of Sufi mysticism with al-Ghazali. Predictably, Samuelson takes titans such as Aristotle, Epictetus, Descartes, and Kant as guides for critical passages of his philosophic journey. Despite Plato’s misgivings about their influence, Samuelson also draws inspiration from poets. But perhaps no one teaches more than Samuelson’s own diverse college students—a wine-loving bicyclist, a sleep-deprived housewife, a monk-faced factory worker. These seemingly ordinary people underscore the most important lesson of all: philosophy matters for everyone. --Bryce Christensen
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Top Customer Reviews
This book reminded me most of Walden, where Thoreau engages us in his own reflections on how to live a meaningful life so that he can wake us up to the potential within our own. Samuelson does the same. By writing a book that is a meaningful reflection on how philosophy has influenced his life, Samuelson invites us to try it for ourselves.
On the second to last day of my philosophy class this semester I wrote the title of this book on the board and told my students that if the course had meant anything to them, they should buy it and use it as a springboard to continue their philosophical educations. Also, it just might change their life.
I gave the book four stars only because a few of the discussions (of Stoicism, for example) have a potted Idiot's-Guide-to-Western-Philosophy feel to them. On the other hand, the section on the Sufi al-Ghazali, about whom I knew nothing before I read this book, was eye-opening. I'd recommend this book to all students who despair of the pedantry endemic in academic philosophy. It'll restore their faith. William James would have approved.
But why should we bother with philosophy? What can it offer us? What's the point in taking time out of our busy lives to think about centuries-old or millennia-old questions, many of which can never be conclusively answered?
Well, for one, precisely because we *are* so busy. Nobody wants to look back from late into their years and see a wasted or meaningless life. But between the demands of our modern existence and the dizzying array of distractions that technology makes available to us and that now occupy even our smallest idle moments, it's maybe never been easier for our lives to quietly devolve into nothing more than the sum of our daily routine. Thinking about the questions and ideas that are encountered in Plato, Epicurus, Epictetus, Descartes, Kant, and others can help us in examining our assumptions and beliefs and in looking more critically at the values and assessments that our society asks us to accept. Opening our minds to some of these timeless questions -- what makes for a good life? how can we be confident in our beliefs? what determines the moral worth of our choices? -- can shift our sensibilities and change our notions of what we regard as being important.
What I appreciate about Samuelson's book and books by other authors like Alain de Botton, Jules Evans, and Christopher Phillips is that they look back at the history of Western philosophy with an eye toward showing not only how it's relevant to ordinary people but also how much wealth it contains in the way of helping us to actually lead happier, more meaningful lives. As Samuelson writes in his introduction, he wants to "bring philosophy down from its ethereal theorizing and put it back on the earth where it belongs", among everyday people like you and me.
I've read a number of "philosophy for living" books over the last year or two, and while Jules Evans' Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations is also quite good and gives us a somewhat more compelling look at Stoicism than we find here, The Deepest Human Life overall is the best that I've read so far. Samuelson makes the big questions, and the ideas of some of those who've spent a lot of time thinking about them, approachable and accessible and relevant to today. He shares with us the stories and insights of his students, and his easygoing writing style, with its occasional touches of poetry, is a pleasure to read. The Deepest Human Life is very much worth your time.
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