Philosophy in 7 Sentences by Douglas Groothuis


[3 minute read]

Final Verdict – 3/5 – Light read and decent introductory text

We are exposed to philosophy on a daily basis – a quote overheard at a cocktail party, a moving soliloquy in a movie, a friend’s insightful opinion, or simply when lying in bed and pondering on the purpose of your life.  Philosophical thinking is all around us, is unavoidable, and impacts us profoundly.  During times of strife or when confronted with a challenging issue we can either give in or search for answers using logic and reasoning.  This is philosophy at its best – helping us act in a way which hopefully betters our present situation.  The etymological origins of the word ‘philosophy’ come from Greek roots where ‘philo’ means love and ‘sophos’ means wisdom.  Philosophy is literally the love of wisdom.  Ergo, only a fool can dislike philosophy.

A more clinical definition of philosophy is “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”  Wow.  That’s a pretty broad scope of study!  I would like to add some more flavourful context to this definition and take it one step further.  You see, I view philosophy as sitting at the top of the knowledge or human consciousness pyramid.  Under philosophy comes science, theology and all the other branches of knowledge.  Why?  Refer to the definition again.  Literally everything can fall under the domain of philosophy.  That’s what I love about it – we’re all philosophers in some way (whether practical or theoretical).  Anyway, that’s just my philosophy.  Get the jist?

So if philosophy is a practical and ubiquitous subject matter which is ever-present in everything we do then why bother to read about it and where does the book “Philosophy in 7 Sentences” come into play?  Well, to answer the first question – philosophical thought is by its very nature open-ended so I would argue that the journey into it is more important than the destination (which is almost always unknown).  This short, easy-to-read, introductory book contains a solid selection of quotes from well-known philosophers, their personal biographies, as well as Groothuis’ breakdown and discussion of the quotes.  Speaking of whom, Douglas Groothuis is a professor of philosophy in the USA and is also a Christian – which lends an interesting (and very light) theological flavour to his discussions.

His book is essentially a great diving board into philosophy for those – such as myself – who are beginners when it comes to structured philosophical thought and don’t necessarily want to jump into a book which is ominously difficult or time-consuming.  My favourite of the seven quotes in this book is by Blaise Pascal – “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  I like it because it explains so much of the folly which we persist engaging in as fallible human beings (love, investing, big decisions in life).  Let me know which is your favourite quote and why.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

[5 minute read]

Final Verdict – 5/5 – Must read

Much has been written on the perennial question, “What is the meaning of life?”  What makes this book by Viktor Frankl such a unique and rich addition to the existing discourse are the tragic circumstances which enabled its creation.  Frankl was an accomplished Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who had a successful track record of treating patients with suicidal tendencies.  In 1937, at age 32, Frankl opened his own practice in Vienna.  As such, he would have had intimate knowledge and extensive experience with how people grappled with issues relating to (lack of) happiness and success in their troubled lives.

But first, some more background behind the events which led to the creation of this book.  In September 1942 Frankl, his wife, and parents were all transported to Nazi Theresienstadt Ghetto.  In October 1944 Frankl and his wife were then transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Only a week after their arrival, Frankl was removed to the Kaufering camp where he spent five months working as a labourer.  He was then moved to the Yurkheim camp where he worked as a physician until his liberation in May 1945 by US soldiers.  Upon his release Frankl discovered that he was the only survivor.  Shortly thereafter he wrote and published Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946.

The book is split into two short, easy-to-read parts.  The first deals with Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps while the second outlines his psychiatric treatment methodology which he calls ‘logotherapy.’  I was greatly impressed by Frankl’s practical, humble, and clear writing style which conveyed his experiences in a touching and impactful manner.  I honestly couldn’t put the first part of the book down.  It is here that Frankl dispenses generous servings of wisdom on the matter of the meaning of life as seen through his real experiences of being a prisoner.  I’ve never seen such poignant observations of the human condition before.  The second part of the book is also worth mentioning.  It is here that Frankl breaks down a solutions-focused psychiatric approach to mental healing rather than the traditional problem-focused approach.  There are some fantastic and practical take-aways from this part of the book for those suffering from bad habits and seemingly hopeless frames of mind which are holding them back.

By writing Man’s Search for Meaning I believe that Frankl performed a sort of self-diagnosis of his indescribably horrific experiences – his personal way of coming to terms with what happened in Nazi Germany.  He recounts the terrors he was subjected to in a detached and surgical manner, almost as if seeing them through that mental haze which blocks consciousness from memories which are best left forgotten.  It really blew me away that even under the permanent conditions of suffering inside the concentration camps that the one freedom the prisoners had was how they chose to react to their situation.  Frankl emphasized that this freedom could never be taken away from us as individuals.

Personally, the most amazing insight this little book gifted me was that it put into words what I should have realized all along regarding happiness.  Hint: it is very true but not apparent at all.  Namely, that happiness simply ensues.  What’s more is that it can ensue even under the most unimaginably harsh and brutal living conditions as those he faced in the concentration camps.  As Frankl explained in his book, the prisoners which were consciously on the path towards greater meaning and understanding in their lives – despite and because of the tremendous suffering they were going through – were the ones who were most likely to survive the ordeal.  So don’t go about chasing happiness because you can never possibly find it.  Rather, it will find you through the meaning you have chosen to assign to your life.