The Story of Philosophy: 5 books that make understanding philosophy easy

Eventually, philosophy reveals to us the reasons behind the ways we act, and in doing so helps us understand our inner selves and how we relate to the world around us.

Published: 15th December 2021 01:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th December 2021 01:13 AM   |  A+A-

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BENGALURU: For thousands of years, humans have been asking difficult questions about life and the world. What is truth? What is morality? What is justice? What is a just system of governance? Every philosopher from Socrates to Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell has tried to provide answers to these fundamental questions. The answers are inspiring yet confusing, sometimes consoling and often challenging. 

Philosophy draws indiscriminately from all fields of knowledge and involves endless questioning. Plato pretty much invented what we now call ‘philosophy’. Republic is a Socratic Dialogue, authored by Plato around 375 BC, concerning justice, the order and character of the just city-state, and the just man. It is Plato’s best-known work, and has proven to be one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically. He is most famous for his parable, the Allegory of the Cave. 

When one of my friends asked me for a recommendation of good books on philosophy, it got me thinking hard. It took me some time to come up with titles of books that anyone could comprehend and yet would allow the reader to view the world differently. A Little History of Philosophy by British philosopher, columnist and podcast host Nigel Warburton is an easy read that gives a good summary of the thinkers who shaped philosophy over two-and-a-half millennia.

One of my personal favourites is the collection of essays in The Lessons of History by two prominent modern thinkers, Will Durant and Ariel Durant. The book gives an overview of more than 5,000 years of human history. It covers changes in morality, religion and government systems such as socialism and capitalism, and traces the historical trends of war. 

The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner takes us on a voyage alongside him on his life-changing pursuit of wisdom and discovery. Weiner explores philosophers and places (from Socrates and ancient Athens to Beauvoir and 20th century Paris) to navigate today’s chaotic times. India’s lasting contribution to the world, the philosophical wisdom of ancient and modern India, is best captured in A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A Moore.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern (especially political) philosophy in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. The origin of the word Machiavellian is credited to this book. It denotes subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty (often to maintain authority).  

The Second Sex, an 800-page feminist classic, is as relevant now as when it was first published in 1949, and is a must-read for all genders. It explains how woman has been shaped into the “other” — the second sex — the negative counterpart to man. By examining history, myths, biology and life experience, de Beauvoir paints a clear picture of why woman is subjugated to man, and how womankind should respond. 

All the great philosophers have provided unique perspectives. Epicurus recommended a simple, ethical and fulfilling life, without fear of death. Rousseau believed that instead of competing with each other for money and status, citizens should obey communal laws while exercising individual freedom. Kant believed our actions are moral when we approve of the universal maxims they embody. Nietzsche showed that atheism undermined some of our most cherished moral assumptions. 

Eventually, philosophy reveals to us the reasons behind the ways we act, and in doing so helps us understand our inner selves and how we relate to the world around us.


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