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Armchair Philosophy

I love reading accessible philosophy, the stuff that takes philosophy out of the ivory tower. Here are some things I’ve read and watched lately that have been of particular interest.  My next challenge for myself will be to read some primary source philosophy and write about that, but for now here’s another list of some casual philosophy reader titles and movies.  


I AM — After suffering a head injury and severe depression, Tom Shadyak goes on a quest to answer the questions, “What is wrong with the world?” and, “What can be done about it?”  He interviews everyone from Desmond Tutu to Noam Chomsky and many others about these big questions.  This documentary also introduced me to some great books as Shadyak interviews the author of Field Notes on the Compassionate Life and the editor of The Essential Rumi, both books that I enjoyed incredibly after watching this film.  This film is inspiring and uplifting, and optimism absolutely wins out.  Shadyak eventually gives up his Hollywood lifestyle for a more humble and fulfilled life.  The filmmaker’s quest to answer these questions is the heart of what philosophy is, answering the big questions that really matter. Warning — You will cry during this film!



Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein —  Journalist, TV sitcom writer, mystery author and certified old man (but not an old-old man) Daniel Klein goes to an island in Greece with a pile of philosophy and psychology books to engage in contemplation on his attitude towards old age and death. A great reflection on time, aging, death, being, accomplishment and much more.  Although the author is doing his reflecting in Greece, and the book tends to favor Epicurean philosophy, the author discusses wisdom from diverse schools of thought including Hinduism, Taoism, existentialism and many more.  The discussion of time was of particular interest to me.    

“This classmate told me that Plato drove this idea home in his dialogue Euthydemus, in which Socrates puts down the Sophists, claiming that a man learns more by ‘playing’ with ideas in his leisure time that by sitting in a classroom. And Plato’s successor, that world champion of pleasure, Epicurus, believed in a simple yet elegant connection between learning and happiness: the entire purpose of education was to attune the mind and sense to the pleasures of life.” – Daniel Klein


Mala of the Heart – 108 Sacred Poems —  Not really philosophy, but a broad selection of poems from different religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  It includes everything from Rumi to St. Francis of Assisi and Confucius, plus much more. Inspiring and thought provoking short poems, great to get you in the mood for meditation and reflection.  



The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell — I know what you’re thinking, Bertrand Russell is primary source philosophy, not popular philosophy.  Ah, but this book really reads like popular philosophy.  Russell has a gift of taking complex philosophical ideas and presenting them in a way that is clear, easy to understand and doesn’t cause headaches.  He uses real world and relevant examples to demonstrate the principles of different philosophies and addresses why they are important to ponder.  


Examined Life — This is a documentary film that shows how philosophy applies to our busy everyday lives.  The filmmaker visits popular philosophers like Cornel West and Peter Singer.  He touches on many topics such as ethics, cosmopolitanism and ecology.  

What are your favorite philosophy books or movies?

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Scott M. is the Assistant in the Office of Programs and Partnerships at East Liberty. When not busy running around with his two daughters, he likes reading non-fiction, learning languages, gardening and cooking.

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