cover image Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way

Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way

Kieran Setiya. Riverhead, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-53821-0

MIT philosophy professor Setiya (Midlife) proffers advice for navigating suffering in this insightful guide. “What we need in our affliction is acknowledgment,” Setiya contends, exploring how such philosophers as Plato, Simone Weil, and Ludwig Wittgenstein have contemplated adversity. Probing Aristotle’s writings on the fundamental need for friends, Setiya suggests that friendship rests on the “reciprocal recognition of human dignity” and that readers might fight loneliness by volunteering or showing respect and curiosity toward others. Setiya critiques the contention of philosophers Daniel Dennett and Charles Taylor that humans must narrativize their lives to make sense of them and warns that “when you define your life by way of a single enterprise... its outcome will come to define you.” Tackling injustice, the author criticizes Theodor Adorno’s aversion to political action and urges readers to fight despair by accepting that one is likely only able to take small steps to ameliorate societal wrongs: “A protest may not change the world, but it adds its fraction to the odds of change.” The critical engagement with historical philosophers gives the impression of a lively debate, and Setiya excels at discerning which ideas speak to modern maladies and which don’t hold up. This thought-provoking treatise enlightens. (Oct.)