Issue #15 July 2018

Against Consolations, Alain De Botton, and the Demand for Accessibility

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Julia Wachtel, “Thrill”, (2014)

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The production of some clichéd wisdom is expected, nonetheless of fictional characters, whom people are fond of quoting. Academics usually capitalize on this (in their messianic effort to educate) by integrating philosophy to popular culture to show the potent philosophical issues in the latter that could gradually be raised to discussions of even bigger, more complex issues. On this note, the Popular Culture and Philosophy Series of Open Court Publishing Company and The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series are rather laudable multivolume enterprises that sought to highlight and extend the philosophical from the popular. It elevates the discussions on popular culture to a more educative and thought-provoking level. It’s praiseworthy in that it’s not pretentious: it does not claim to possess what had been presented as well-kept philosophical wisdom — much like lifestyle gurus do — now ready to be dramatically revealed to its readers in the most accessible way possible. Instead, academic philosophers who contribute to the aforementioned series attempt to show how we can be critical consumers of mass culture in understanding that entertainment could just as well contain the philosophically pertinent. It does not, however, promise ‘fun learning.’ It is serious engagement that may otherwise be brushed off by the uninterested. The volumes in the series are philosophical at best since it aims to entice the readers to keep on engaging even after the consumption of the product of culture, and perhaps, hopefully, even after finishing a volume from the set. This is in stark opposition to the resignation that one has been consoled or that one, at the end of a book, has gained wisdom. Pop philosophy of the kind we’ve introduced here, I believe, is faithful to the academic, in the sense that one will most probably end up with more questions than one originally began with. With the necessity of difficulty in mind, as opposed to the convenient and consoling, I find it hard to place de Botton on the same plane as those enterprises. Against consolations, and in consideration of the status of philosophy in the oscillation between the necessity of difficulty and the demand for accessibility, an advice from Tim Wu is worth noting: “We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest.”34placeholder

Ranier Abengaña is a philosophy graduate student affiliated in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Santo Tomas (Manila, Philippines) as a project technical staff.

Works Cited


See Heikki Ikäheimo, “Holism and Normative Essentialism in Hegel’s Social Ontology,” in Recognition and Social Ontology, ed. Heikki Ikäheimo and Arto Laitinen (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007), 145–209. Needless to say, the context of what was quoted from Ikäheimo is supposed to be understood against the backdrop of a warning against the caricaturization of Hegel’s philosophy.


See Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Ninian Hill Thomson (West Sussex, UK: Capstone, 2010), 42.


G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), § 29.


Ernst-Jan Pfauth, “The critics of Alain de Botton have got it all wrong — here’s why,” The Correspondent, 14 July 2014,


Tom Stern, “Do We Cheapen Philosophy When We Use It as Theraphy?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 July 2015,


Both are considered accessible references. However, Wikipedia is only unreliable given that it is open to be edited by anyone anytime. De Botton’s philosophy is dubious for other reasons.


Tim Wu, “The Tyranny of Convenience,” The New York Times, 16 February 2018,


Grant Maxwell, “Does Philosophical Language Have to Be Difficult?” Blog of the APA: The Official Blog of the American Philosophical Association, 18 June 2018,


Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1098a.


Maxwell, “Does Philosophical Language Have to Be Difficult?”


Maxwell, “Does Philosophical Language Have to Be Difficult?”


Finding myself in the “For Writers” section of this philosophy magazine sometime last month, I have found that they are interested in submissions that “distances itself from the simplifications of pop-philosophy.” Dib would probably cite this as an instance of academic elitism, although I would pre-emptively beg to differ. In an attempt to show that philosophy can be for everyone, i.e., not just for the “inaugurated few,” the foremost task of the publication is to “challenge amateur readers and engage academic ones.” This idea perfectly captures what I intend to argue. Philosophy is a challenge, much like any discipline or field that the uninitiated attempts to enter.


Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. 1, trans. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969), 429.


Edward Skidelski, “Comforting, but meaningless. In seeking to popularise philosophy, Alain de Botton has merely trivialised it, smoothing the discipline into a series of silly sound bites,” New Statesman, 27 March 2000,


G.W.F. Hegel, Preface to Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M. Knox, rev. and ed. Stephen Houlgate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 15.


Theodor Adorno, “Who’s Afraid of the Ivory Tower? A Conversation with Theodor Adorno,” trans. and ed. Gerard Richter, in Monatshefte 94, no. 1 (2002): 16.


Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value: A Selection from the Posthumous Remains, rev. ed., ed. Georg Henrik von Wright and Heikki Nyman, rev. by Alois Pichler, trans. by Peter Winch (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd., 1998), 98.


Adam Kotsko, “Public Engagement is a Two-Way Street,” Inside Higher Ed, 23 October 2017,


Adam Kotsko, “Public Engagement is a Two-Way Street,” Inside Higher Ed, 23 October 2017,


Justin Weinberg, “Is the Public Receptive to Public Philosophy?” Daily Nous, 24 October 2017,


See “About Us,” The School of Life,


“What is The School of Life?” YouTube video, 0:45–0:57, 9 September 2014,


Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 215 Addition.


Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The German Ideology (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), § 11, p. 571.


Karl Marx, “Letter from Karl Marx to Arnold Ruge (Kreuznach, September 1843),” in “Letters from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher,” trans. Clemens Dutt, in Karl Marx: March 1843-August 1844, vol. 3 of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works (London, UK: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), 142.


Mladen Dolar, “The Owl of Minerva from Dusk till Dawn, or, Two Shades of Gray,” in Filozofija i drustvo [Philosophy and Society], vol. 26, no. 4 (January 2015): 885. Emphasis mine.


Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, “The Ruling History of Education,” in Philosophers on Education: Historical Perspectives, ed. Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 1.


Maxwell, “Does Philosophical Language Have to Be Difficult?”


Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 23. Hereafter abbreviated and parenthetically cited as CON.


Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 46.


Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London and New York: Verso, 2009), 157.


Telegraph Reporters, “Who is the ultimate pop philosopher?” The Telegraph, 10 September 2015,


Wu, “Tyranny of Convenience.”


July 2018


An Aesthetics of Injury from Baudelaire to Tarantino

Daniel Rhodes in conversation with Prof. Ian Fleishman

Against Consolations, Alain De Botton, and the Demand for Accessibility

by Ranier Abengaña

Narrating Life. Dimensions of the Biographical in “Millenium Actress”

by Timofei Gerber

A Guide to Timothy Morton’s Humankind

by Omar Baig

Pulling the Normative Threads of Heidegger’s ‘Das Man’

by John C. Brady

Bergson’s “The Possible and The Real”