I Love Grumpy Old Philosophers

It has been a disgracefully long time since I posted anything on this blog.  Inspiration has been plentiful, I simply have not made it a priority to sit down long enough to record my thoughts.  Life has been full of activity and when I finally do find a moment to be sedentary I usually choose to rest and read.  Of the many library books I have out,  The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton is one I am enjoying a great deal.

The book is broken into six chapters titled with themes of common woe, such as “Lack of Money” and “Unpopularity”.  De Botton provides “consolation” for the reader by pairing each woe with a philosopher and describing what that gentleman offers for coping with the issue at hand.  There is nothing high and lofty about it.  It’s sort of like “applied” philosophy and the practical presentation is very accessible and at times humorous.  I found the chapter on Seneca, titled “Frustration”, to contain helpful insights, many of which were needed reminders of principles I already knew to be good.

Yesterday I finished the chapter on Schopenhauer. From De Botton’s description, Schopenhauer was a bit of a grouch.  But that is okay by me.  There is something comforting in the cranky wit and observations of grumpy old philosophers that appeals to me.  They have a way of articulating the true and difficult things about human experience that simultaneously reveals how woeful that experience can be and makes it easier to bear.  Some of you may find the following quotes to be disheartening, but for me they produce a smile or even laughter.  Hearing someone state, in language clearer and better than one’s own, what is dissatisfying or hard, helps one to feel less alone.  This may bring to mind the expression “Misery loves company.”  It’s true that misery does, but sympathetic company also eases misery; it removes the sense of being isolated in one’s disappointment.  It is also a relief to hear someone else admit things are wrong, when we are so often asked to wear a mask that says everything is as right as rain.

Now that the preamble is through, here are two Schopenhauer quotes which I appreciated and were included in De Botton’s book.  The first for its wisdom: I am a big believer in expectation management and often wish my expectations had been stifled, rather than inflated as they were.  In my mind it is better to expect the worst, or nothing, and be pleasantly surprised by anything better that occurs.  (Not that I live up to this mindset – apparent negativity aside, I seem to approach many things with an unconsidered naively optimistic attitude.)  The second quote I like because it manages to express a rather bleak view of humanity in language that lends it comedy and softens its significance.

“Much would have been gained if through timely advice and instruction young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”

“Human existence must be a kind of error.”


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