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)
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