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Painlessly instructed: Notes on ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’

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“Our experiences and beliefs are liable frequently to be dismissed with a quizzical, slightly alarmed, ‘Really? How weird!’, accompanied by a raised eyebrow, amounting in a small way to a denial of our legitimacy and humanity,” writes Alain de Botton in his book, The Consolations of Philosophy. He then, in commiseration, talks about Montaigne, who, by learning the beliefs and behaviors of people from other regions through travelling and reading, “could gain legitimacy for parts of himself of which there was no evidence in the vicinity—the Roman parts, the Greek parts, the sides of himself that were more Mexican and Tupi than Gascon, the parts that would have liked to have six wives or have a shaved back or wash twelve times a day…”

The Consolations of Philosophy essentially does two things: provide the titular consolation and exhibit the practicability of Philosophy. The common problems of man are presented and corresponding philosophers—their lives and views—are considered to discu…