Over the course of the last several months, I’ve made it a daily practice to start my morning reading philosophy. Back in the spring of 2021, I had picked up my first philosophy book since university. The book was Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, and I remember struggling through it to the same degree as I had in my early 20s. Reading was a balancing act—constantly flipping between reading and hitting up Google to search meanings, words and interpretations of what seemed to me like esoteric passages.
I wanted to give up reading philosophy after that since what I absorbed from the book was pretty much zilch. However, I held onto the hope that the more I read into this discipline, the easier it would become. I allowed myself to be a beginner by embracing soshin (beginner’s mind) which helped me practice self compassion.
I tend to go through phases with my reading, exploring genres and topics heavily before moving on to my next deep dive. For example, investing has always been a foreign concept to me—something I’ve struggled with understanding, but wanted to explore more. A few years back, I sped through as many books in a short period of time as I could, including The Intelligent Investor, The Simple Path to Wealth, Your Money Your Life, Quit Like a Millionaire, Set for Life, among others. I wanted to start investing and taught myself to set up my own Questrade account. After I felt I had sufficient knowledge, I decided to moved on to my next conquest, whatever that might be.
With philosophy, there’s no shortage of literature to read and learn. The literal meaning of philosophy (φιλοσοφία) is the love of wisdom. “For surely to be wise, is the most desirable thing in all the world,” writes Cicero. When many people think of philosophy, they don’t think of self-improvement, but rather, a complex and abstract topic that should be exclusively saved for the academia realm. However, reading good translations (and not skipping the translator’s intro which provides ad hominem background on the philosopher & their philosophy), using supplementary material (podcasts, courses, and good ol’ Wiki) has helped me decipher, understand and apply these learnings to my life. Approaching the discipline with a combination of both patience and curiosity has helped me persist.
Philosophy, I strongly believe, is some of the best self-improvement content out there. The industry of “self-help” in today’s world has become quite toxic in a way with people selling marked up packages on how best to live your own life. Reading and learning from the ancients, on the other hand, has so much value and applicability to our daily lives. Cicero writes:
If we are trying to achieve mental enjoyment, for example, or relief from trouble, the findings of philosophy are of incomparable value, because the people who practice this study are perpetually searching for the things that produce a good and happy life.
The acquisition and ongoing pursuit of knowledge feeds our souls. This lifelong quest helps us grow and live a more fulfilling life. Gaining understanding of a once foreign topic is so so gratifying. Not only can it help us in our personal lives and every day interactions, but also in our careers. Naval Ravikant writes, “Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years.”
However, we need to be wary of what we read and consume. Reading is a powerful tool that can either improve us or make us worst off. It has the ability to alter the way we think so it’s important to be wary and formulate our own judgments from the sources we draw upon. Skepticism and developing our own reasoning power is equally, if not more important in my opinion. In other words, not everything should be taken at face value. One of my favorite philosophical figures and known as The Father of Modern Skepticism is 16th century philosopher Michel du Montaigne. Montaigne never took what he read as gospel, but instead, only applied pieces of wisdom that had practical application to his life. He realized that some writing can “poison” rather than nourish us. He writes in his Essays:
But learning, we cannot at the outset put in any other vessel but our minds; we swallow it as we buy it, and by the time we leave the market we are already either infected or improved. There is some that only obstructs, and burdens us instead of nourishing us; and some too that, while pretending to cure us, gives us poison.
This is especially prevalent in one of the industries I’m most familiar with and that is, fitness. There are so many books written by supposed “health-gurus” and doctors that spread misinformation or “anecdata.” It’s so easy to do a quick Google search on any topic and find arguments supporting either side—many of the fitness books I’ve read like to selectively choose only the topics that neatly suit their thesis statement. It’s no joke when people say that social media, or even the internet at large, is an echo chamber. Diplomacy is not a word in their vocabulary.
Be wary of what you consume: daily news is a particular source that can have a pernicious effect on our minds. We start believing falsities as dogma which can influence how on we see the world and society at large. Especially during COVID, where a new community of pseudo “medical experts” popped up on Reddit forums and conspiracy theorist blogs.
Nothing can be known for certain is one school of thought adopted by philosophers, but they deduce that things are either probable or improbable based on pragmatic discussion and thought.
The more I read philosophy, the more I realize how much I don’t know and the more mysterious and exciting the world becomes. This not knowing has driven me to continue reading—in search for more knowledge and in turn, more wisdom.
Lifelong learning, the acquisition of wisdom, and feeding the mind with quality inputs, is a guaranteed path to a happier life; a life that I’ve fully devoted myself to.