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The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to life Hardcover – 9 Aug 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (9 Aug. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297607588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297607588
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.7 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 207,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy and Master of the New College of the Humanities, London. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has written and edited many books, both scholarly and for a general readership, and has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a former Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Patron of the UK Armed Forces Humanist association, Patron of Dignity in Dying, a former Booker Prize Judge, a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society, a member of the human rights group IHEU represented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva; and much more.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Author, journalist and philosopher AJ Grayling's new book The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life is a collection of short, self-contained essays or sketches, which began as contributions to the Guardian's "Last Word" column. Like Alain de Botton in The Consolations of Philosophy Grayling is concerned with the application of philosophy to everyday life. However, he is less concerned with what a particular great philosopher might say about particular problems than with human vices and virtues and matters pertaining to the human condition.

The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 deals with the "Virtues and Attributes" of Tolerance, Mercy, Civility, Courage, Hope, Loyalty and Love; part 2, "Foes and Fallacies" is concerned with some of the things considered to be enemies to human flourishing such as Racism, Speciesism, Hate and Depression; and the final part, "Amenities and Goods" focuses on such themes as Reason, Excellence, Art, History and Leisure. The structure of the book and the arrangement of the topics works well so although the pieces are self-contained--allowing one to dip in and out randomly--one gets a sense of continuity if you read it cover to cover.

Opening with Montaigne's salutation "Reader, lo a well-meaning Booke", The Meaning of Things is reminiscent of Montaigne's Essays in form, content and spirit. Grayling has a reverence for classic liberal humanist virtues and a deep conviction that philosophy has an indispensable role to play if we are to live what Socrates called "the considered life": that is, a life "enriched by thinking about things that matter--values, aims, society, the characteristic vicissitudes of the human condition, desiderata both personal and public, the enemies of human flourishing, and the meanings of life". A book such as this is unusual and refreshing because it aims to edify the reader and is written without a trace of cynicism or irony. Grayling is a champion of Enlightenment values, a defender of high culture if you will but who writes for a popular audience without moralising. Peppered with nuggets of philosophical wisdom and written with clarity and economy, the book succeeds in showing how philosophically informed thinking about the things that matter can help us become better people and better citizens of the world. --Larry Brown


I find the clarity of his thinking so refreshing. (Pam Ferris) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an ideal introduction to many philosphical concepts and will give you a fresh perspective on everyday issues such as truth, religion, travel, loyalty, love, racism, etc etc. With 61 'meanings of things' in all, I found this book to be great piecemeal reading. Each concept taking about 5 pages to complete, which makes for the perfect bedside book.
One of the best aspects of this book is that it is written such that you can read it in any order you wish. Each concept is a unique section taking between 2 and 10 pages, which allows the reader to delve into whatever tickles their fancy at a particular time. I ticked off the table of contents as I read the sections and highlighted interesting sentences from each concept during my first read. I have since skimmed through my highlights several times, which makes for a quick refresher of the issues that were of particular interest to me.
I am the type of person who likes to know a little bit about a lot of things, and this book caters for exactly that sort of reader. If this fits your profile, then get this book now. If your interested in delving into the depths of philosophy, then this is probably best to give a skip. Grayling is doing a great favour to us all by packaging philosophy in an organised, piecemeal, and easy to understand manner that wont have you sleeping by the end of the first 10 pages.
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Format: Paperback
To those who ask the question "What use is philosopy?" perhaps one answer would be to give them a copy of this book. Its subtitle is "Applying Philosophy to Life" and that's precisely what it does - it's a series of observations or short essays on a wide range of subjects that affect all of our lives - love, sorrow, tolerance, morality, and many more - by a professional philosopher. The author does not offer formal or informal proofs for any of these observations (that would require a treatise on each of them)but simply reveals his considered thoughts on each subject and by doing so broadens the readers's outlook, prompting he or she towards an alternative view, initiating thought and perhaps debate. And isn't this the "use of philosopy"? - to initiate debate, to shake one out of tired cliches, to provide alternatives to habitual modes of thought and unconsidered assumptions (nowadays constantly mirrored back at us by the mass media making alternative ways of thinking almost impossible)? This is an excellent, erudite, thought provoking collection of essays. You will not agree with all the views expressed - you may even be outraged by some of them; good - that's a start. Now you may be prompted to consider how you might defend your own views or even to re-consider them. You might find that liberating. However, if you like to read only views that reinforce those you already hold then you have an easy alternative - simply read your favourite newspaper.
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Format: Paperback
Philosophy is an odd subject in that the popular conception of the subject is strongly at varience with the philosophy taught in Anglo American universities. You see this in those cultish advertisements for philsophy classes you find in London tube stations. Pandering to a need among much of the population for some philosophical guidence in life. For better or for worse, modern Anglo-American philosophy is not much to do with that at all. This has created a vacuum into which a huge number of new agist pseudo clap trap has happily inserted itself.
I think Grayling's books are best seen as a way of addressing this need. I think reviewers such as the single negative reviewer below miss the point if they are expecting hard philosophical arguments. Of course you can do no more than skate over a subject such as morality or virginity in the few pages Grayling devotes to each topic. But that is OK. There are many books available to those interested in a more in depth analysis. These thought are meant as no more than opening thoughts on an issue, from a smart and well read author, designed to get people to think avout these issues in a clear headed way. Grayling leans quite heavily on his understanding of history and Greek philosophy as an antidote to the modern analytical style of philosophy. I found his treatment of the many facets of love and romance particularly thought provoking.
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Format: Paperback
One of the most insightful works I've ever read. Extraordinary in its simplicity and wisdom. A must-read for anyone with an interest in understanding the curiosities and complexities of modern life. Truly inspiring.
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Format: Paperback
I'm sure any reader of this book will take away some favourite sections. For me, the consecutively-placed entries on Betrayal, Loyalty & Blame were exemplary juxtapositions of those complementary topics.
I would also recommend the entry on Racism.
Given the brevity of the articles, sure they can't give you an in-depth discussion on the topic, but its just deep enough to get one thinking about the topics.
I think this would be an excellent 'pocket-book' to dip into for anyone in their late teens trying to come to terms with the world.
Having read this book, I've moved directly to reading Graylings follow-up book, The Reason of Things.
Only disappointment - no Bibliography, so when Grayling frequently quotes other Authors / Philosophers, I don't know where to go to for further reading.
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