5 books that make philosophy easier to understand – The New Indian Express


Express news service

BENGALURU: For thousands of years humans have asked difficult questions about life and the world. What is the truth? What is morality? What is justice? What is a fair governance system? All philosophers, from Socrates to Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell, have attempted to provide answers to these fundamental questions. The answers are inspiring but confusing, sometimes comforting and often empowering.

Philosophy draws indiscriminately from all areas of knowledge and involves endless questioning. Plato pretty much invented what we now call “philosophy”. The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 375 BC. It is Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory in the world, both intellectually and historically. He is best known for his parable, The Allegory of the Cave.

When a friend of mine asked me for a recommendation of good philosophy books, it got me thinking. It took me a while to find book titles that everyone could understand and that would make the reader see the world differently. A Little History of Philosophy by British philosopher, columnist and podcast host Nigel Warburton is an easy read that provides a good summary of the thinkers who have shaped philosophy over two and a half millennia.

One of my personal favorites is the collection of essays in History Lessons by two eminent modern thinkers, Will Durant and Ariel Durant. The book provides an overview of over 5,000 years of human history. It covers changes in morals, religion, and systems of government such as socialism and capitalism, and traces historical trends in warfare.

Eric Weiner’s Socrates Express takes us on a journey alongside him in his quest for life-changing 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 enduring contribution to the world, the philosophical wisdom of ancient and modern India, is best described in A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A Moore.

Niccolo Machiavelli’s Prince is sometimes considered one of the earliest works of modern (especially political) philosophy in which effective truth is considered 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 today as it was when it was first published in 1949, and is must-read for all genres. It explains how the woman was shaped into the “other” – the second sex – the negative counterpart of the man. Examining history, myths, biology and life experience, de Beauvoir paints a clear picture of why woman is submissive to man and how woman should react.

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 for money and status, citizens should obey communal laws while exercising their individual freedom. Kant believed that our actions are moral when we endorse the universal maxims they embody. Nietzsche showed that atheism undermines some of our dearest moral assumptions.

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