Monday, October 23, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Alain de Botton


Swiss writer, television presenter, and entrepreneur, resident in the UK His books and television programs discuss various contemporary subjects and themes in a philosophical style, emphasizing philosophy's relevance to everyday life.
Alain de Botton
The unremitting division of labour resulted in admirable levels of productivity. The company’s success appeared to bear out the principles of efficiency laid down at the turn of the twentieth century by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who theorized that a society would grow wealthy to the extent that its members forfeited general knowledge in favour of fostering individual ability in narrowly constricted fields. In an ideal Paretan economy, jobs would be ever more finely subdivided to allow for the accumulation of complex skills, which would then be traded among workers. … But however great the economic advantages of segmenting the elements of an afternoon’s work into a range of forty-year-long careers, there was reason to wonder about the unintended side effects of doing so. In particular, one felt tempted to ask … how meaningful the lives might feel as a result.
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Our minds are susceptible to the influence of external voices, telling us what we require to be satisfied, voices that may drown our the faint sounds emitted from our souls, and distract us from the careful, arduous task of accurately naming our priorities.
de Botton
For all his understanding of worldly concerns, when it came to fathoming the deeper meaning of his own furious activity, Sir Bob displayed the sort of laziness for which he himself had no patience in others. He appeared to have only a passing interest in the overall purpose of his financial accumulation.




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Socrates, on being insulted in the marketplace, asked by a passerby, “Don’t you worry about being called names?” retorted, “Why? Do you think I should resent it if an ass had kicked me?”
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These inventors were elevating the formulation of entrepreneurial ideas to the status of a visionary activity. Though forced to justify their efforts in the pragmatic language of venture capital, they were at heart utopian thinkers intent on transforming the world.
Alain de Botton quotes
The great defect, for Chamfort, consisted in the public’s reluctance to submit its thinking to the rigors of rational examination, and its tendency to rely instead on intuition, emotion, and custom. “One can be certain that every generally held idea, every received notion, will be an idiocy, because it has been able to appeal to a majority,” the Frenchman observed, adding that what is flatteringly called common sense is usually little more than common nonsense, suffering as it does from simplification and illogicality, prejudice and shallowness: “The most absurd customs and the most ridiculous ceremonies are everywhere excused by an appeal to the phrase, but that’s the tradition.”
Alain de Botton
It would be foolish to describe the logistics hub as merely ugly, for it has the horrifying, soulless, immaculate beauty characteristic of many of the workplaces of the modern world.
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Not everyone is worth listening to.
de Botton
In an essay entitled ‘The Poet’, published in 1844, the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented the narrow definition of beauty subscribed to by his peers, who tended to reserve the term exclusively for the bucolic landscapes and unspoilt pastoral scenes celebrated in the works of well-known artists and poets of the past. Emerson himself, however, writing at the dawn of the industrial age, observing with interest the proliferation of railways, warehouses, canals and factories, wished to make room for the possibility of alternative forms of beauty. He contrasted the nostalgic devotees of old-fashioned poetry with those whom he judged to be true contemporary poetic spirits, deserving of the title less by virtue of anything they had actually written than for their willingness to approach the world without prejudice or partiality. The former camp, he averred, ‘see the factory-village and the railway, and fancy that the beauty of the landscape is broken up by these, for they are not yet consecrated in their reading. But the true poet sees them fall within the great order of nature not less than the beehive or the spider’s geometrical web.
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An understandable hunger for … potential clients tempts many [career counseling therapists] to overpromise, like creative writing teachers who, out of greed or sentimentality, sometimes imply that all of their students could one day produce worthwhile literature, rather than frankly acknowledging the troubling truth, anathema to a democratic society, that the great writer, like the contented worker, remains an erratic and anomalous event, … immune to the methods of factory farming.
Alain de Botton
Alcohol-inspired fights … are a reminder of the price we pay for our daily submission at the altars of prudence and order.




Alain de Botton quotes
Philosophy had supplied Socrates with convictions in which he had been able to have rational, as opposed to hysterical, confidence when faced with disapproval.
Alain de Botton
Two centuries ago, our forbears would have known the precise history and origin of nearly every one of the limited number of things they ate and owned, as well as of the people and tools involved in their production. … The range of items available for purchase may have grown exponentially since then. but our understanding of their genesis has diminished almost to the point of obscurity. We are now as imaginatively disconnected from the manufacture and distribution of our goods as we are practically in reach of them, a process of alienation which has stripped us of myriad opportunities for wonder, gratitude and guilt.
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Socrates compared living without thinking systematically to practicing an activity like pottery or shoemaking without following or even knowing of technical procedures. One would never imagine that a good pot or shoe would result from intuition alone; why then assume that the more complex task of directing one’s life could be undertaken without any sustained reflection on premises or goals? Perhaps because we don’t believe that directing our lives is in fact complicated. Certain difficult activities look very difficult from the outside, while other equally difficult activities look very easy. Arriving at sound views on how to live falls into the second category, making a pot or a shoe into the first.
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It seemed too easy to claim that there was nothing new under the sun, that … our spear-wielding ancestors had been as wise and good as ourselves and that the onward march of rational thought had brought with it nothing but tragedy. Did any of these arguments take into account Ariane’s profile on her way up? Did they credit the impeccable logic of her hydraulic systems? And most of all, did not such bromides merely betray the resentment of a defeated and unimaginative class? I felt my allegiances shift to the engineers and technicians around me, these new medicine men who often sported baseball caps, and had a tendency towards unsophisticated humour. What astonishing creatures they were! What extraordinary horizons they had opened up!
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In their different ways, art and philosophy help us, in Schopenhauer's words, to turn pain into knowledge.
Alain de Botton
Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or bicycle.
Alain de Botton quotes
It wasn't only fanatics and drunkards who began conversations with strangers in public.
Alain de Botton
He was reminded of a Dutch book whose moral he often returned to: De Schoonheid van hoogspanningslijnen in het Hollandse landschap, written by a couple of academics in Rotterdam University, Anne Kieke Backer and Arij de Boode. The Beauty of Electricity Pylons in the Dutch Landscape was a defence of the contribution of transmission engineering to the visual appeal of Holland, referencing the often ignored grandeur of the towers on their march from power stations to cities. Its particular interest for Ian, however, lay in its thesis about the history of the Dutch relationship to windmills, for it emphasised that these early industrial objects had originally been felt to have all the pylons’ threateningly alien qualities, rather than the air of enchantment and playfulness now routinely associated with them. They had been denounced from pulpits and occasionally burnt to the ground by suspicious villagers. The re-evaluation of the windmills had in large part been the work of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age, who, moved by their country’s dependence on the rotating utilitarian objects, gave them pride of place in their canvases, taking care to throw their finest aspect into relief, like their resilience during storms and the glint of their sails in the late afternoon sun. … It would perhaps be left to artists of our own day to teach us to discern the virtues of the furniture of contemporary technology.
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Our bodies hold our minds hostage to their whims and rhythms.


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