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Book Review: Philosophy in 30 Days

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I’ve always been a philosopher of sorts.

When I was 7 or 8 I remember looking in the mirror, wondering, “Why am I me and not someone else?”

And then, “If I was someone else, how would I know?”

The art of asking questions no one can answer is one way to define philosophy. So why is it so popular?

That’s one of the questions that Dominique Janicaud tries to answer in his ambitious Philosophy in 30 Days. Written for his teenage daughter, and therefore accessible to a wide audience, this book tries to introduce the basic ‘big names’ in philosophy. But more importantly, it encourages the reader to think philosophically.

Knowing that philosophy can be a daunting subject, the thirty chapters are incredibly short, taking only five to ten minutes to read. Janicaud limits each chapter to a central thought, rather than overloading you with facts. Being a translation from French, there are some ideas expressed here that necessarily come across a little clunky in English. But generally the ideas behind the words shine through.

The subject of religion comes up often in the book, first as Janicaud expresses the impossibility of a modern (or postmodern) mind to relate to the important philosophical works of St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas, and then throughout the book, contrasting Jesus’ claim that “I am the Truth” with other philoshopers’ thoughts on the nature of truth.

I am pleased to say that Janicaud showed true philosophical detachment in dealing with the subject of religion – not judging it, neither insisting on it nor insisting it is wrong. I say this because another book released around the same time (The Heart of Things, by A.C.Grayling) which claims to “apply philoshophy to the 21st century”, completely ridiculed religion, showing a dogmatism which seems uncharacteristic of true philosophy.

I started this book hoping for an outline of the great thinkers and their great thinkings, and this book in part does that, starting with Plato and spending quite a few chapters on Nietzche, the author’s favourite philosopher. But Janicaud also warns that many philosophers’ works cannot be boiled down into a few paragraphs, and instead gives a beginner’s reading list for those with the time and inclination to go further.

What this book does very well is bring up the great questions of philosophy – questions about nature, about existence, and even about philosophy itself – so the budding philosophical thinker can at least know the conceptual landscape in which he or she stands.

Sadly, Janicaud himself died the day after this book’s first draft was published. I’m glad for his sake and his family’s that he wrote down what was very important to him while he still lived.

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