• Alex Vikner

Big Ideas for Curious Minds: an Introduction to Philosophy

Big Ideas for Curious Minds by The School of Life is a wonderful introduction to philosophy which presents 26 wise ideas from various great thinkers.


Philosophy is a mysterious subject for many people. The average school doesn't teach it, the average adult doesn't understand it, and the whole subject can seem odd and kind of unnecessary.


That's a real pity because philosophy (meaning "the love of wisdom") has a lot to teach us all. It's about being sensible, kind, calm, and accepting of how life sometimes can be.


1. Know Yourself

Socrates believed that to understand the core reasons for our feeling and actions, we should regularly question ourselves: why am I feeling like this, why am I doing this?


2. Learn to Say What's on Your Mind

Ludwig Wittgenstein said that when a person doesn't understand something that seems clear in your head, instead of getting frustrated, try to describe it more carefully and see if it helps.


3. It's Hard to Know What We Really Want

Simone de Beauvoir said that what we really want is to enjoy our lives, and it's not the objects we buy that bring us enjoyment but whether we have enough time and freedom to do things we like.


4. When Someone Is Angry, Maybe It's Not You Who Is Responsible

Ibn Sina believed everyone has an outside part which everyone can see and an inside part (the soul) which only they know, making it impossible to fully understand people.


5. People Are Unhappy, Not Mean

Zera Yacob thought that life is always quite difficult for everyone, but if we admit our sadness it will make us less angry with other people—and the amount of pain in the world would decrease.


6. Don't Expect Too Much

Seneca believed that our happiness depends on our expectations so the best way to stay calm and be happier was to become a pessimist as things would be nicer than expected.


7. Maybe You Are Just Tired

Matsuo Basho thought that we often get bothered and upset because we think that only big, complicated things are important but forget to enjoy the simple things in life like having a cup of tea in the morning or listening to a bird chirping merrily.


8. What Is Normal Isn't Normal

Camus said that we should worry a bit less about how other people judge us because this will make us feel less worried, less lonely, and give us the confidence to explore new things.


9. No One Knows...

René Descartes noticed how little anyone really knows for sure and was amazed by how much people think they know (read up on the Dunning-Kruger Effect if this intrigues you).


10. Politeness Matters

Confucius knew that manners matter because the wrong words can be as wounding as a sword.


11. Why We Procrastinate

Hypatia of Alexandria thought that we get discouraged from doing difficult things because we haven't been taught how to start with the easiest, simplest steps first.


12. Why It's Hard to Know What You Want to Do With Your Life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that adults should recall what they liked when they were little in order to find work that suits their own nature.


13. Good Things Are (Unexpectedly) Hard

Friedrich Nietzsche said that we should admit that things are hard, but do them anyway⁠—knowing that they will get easier the more we try, and that we'll get a great reward at the end of our efforts.


14. Weakness of Strength Theory

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out that all strengths are also weaknesses (e.g. a city like Venice that is extremely beautiful might also get so crowded with tourists that it's not very nice to visit) and therefore nothing can ever be perfect.


15. Kintsugi (Repairing a Broken Thing in a Beautiful Way)

Buddha loved the idea of repairing things instead of throwing them away and he thought that if something was old and worn and broken, you shouldn't see it as a bad thing.


16. The Need to Teach Rather Than Nag

Immanuel Kant said that to get people to do things, we have to get them to see for themselves why it's a good idea and so if you teach them, you won't have to force them.


17. The Mind-Body Problem

Jean-Paul Sartre thought that we can't know what someone is really like just by looking at them, because we don't know their personality, ideas, and hopes—we have to get to know them first.


18. Why You Feel Lonely

Michel de Montaigne realised that we feel odd when we don't fit in with what's immediately around us, but we might fit in fine somewhere else.


19. The Meaning of Life

Aristotle thought that happiness was about feeling that life is meaningful, and that this was achieved by making progress in solving the problems that most interest you.


20. Why We Hate Cheap Things

Mary Wollstonecraft felt that we can all become a bit happier by regularly reminding ourselves of how nice simple and ordinary things like a refreshing glass of water can actually be.


21. The News. Doesn't Always Tell The Whole Story

Jacques Derrida said that because news ignore the nice things are going on and instead portray the world as being more dramatic and dangerous than it really is, we should pay less attention to it.


22. Art Is Advertising for What We Really Need

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel believed that art makes ideas that we can see and feel, and that makes them much more powerful.


23. Why Do Some People Get Paid More Than Others

Adam Smith realised that if you want to make money, it's not enough to just ask what people need, you also have to work out how to make a lot of those things cheaply so that they are accessible to the greatest number of people.


24. What's Fair?

John Rawls invented a smart test that he called the 'veil of ignorance': would you think this was an ok country to live in if you didn't know which part of it you were going to have to live in?


25. Shyness: How to Overcome It?

Maimonides thought that the basic picture of being human is the same for everyone, and we are actually much more like other people than we usually think so there is no need to be so shy.


26. Why Grown-up Life Is Hard

Philosophy is your 'life-friend' when it comes to dealing with the difficulties of life—it's a whole group of people and their ideas that you can learn from and use to prepare for the hardships you are facing and those that lie ahead.


Remember

Knowledge without action is futile. I’m excited to reflect on these ideas and try to incorporate them into my life. I would be remiss if I didn’t call upon you to do the same!