Philosophy in 40 ideas by The School of Life

From Aristotle to Zhong: Lessons for Life

"In Ancient Greek, philo means love, sophia wisdom. Quite literally, a philosopher is someone with an unusually powerful love of wisdom."


A little book of magic, that's what I'd call this. I hadn't ever paid any attention to philosophy before diving into this book. In fact, I didn't even really know what the word meant. It seems to be a word that people just throw around, perhaps without really knowing what it is or what it means.

The School of Life state that within this book are "its most essential ideas rescued, highlighted and inspiringly presented so that they can work their helpful effects where it is needed most: in our daily lives."

The book opens with an introduction that states "philosophy is a deeply unpopular subject that almost no one knows anything much about," continuing, "it might be the most important subject you'll never be asked to study."

Philosophy in 40 Ideas is clear in stating that philosophy is one of the great ways in which we, as humans, can deal with the difficulties in life. At first, I was thrown off, wondering what that could possibly mean. That was until I dived head first into the book itself. 

I took away several things from the book, and wanted to highlight a few here. 

First, the word eudaimonia, meaning that the purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be fulfilled. I think we often spend a lot of time seeking happiness, in whatever form that comes to us. But maybe we don't seek fulfillment enough. Perhaps feeling fulfilled in our personal and professional endeavours, and other areas of our life, will bring us this idea of happiness that we crave. At the end of the day, what does it mean to be happy? 

I also found it interesting to think that "the less we expect, the less we will suffer," which the book covers in more detail. It resonated with me because I think, for me at least, I always expect so much, only to feel let down and that leads me to suffering. If I expected less, I would suffer less. It makes sense when I outline it like that, but I had never really given it much thought before.

The Sublime is another section of the book that resonated a lot with me. "The sense of awe that we might feel before an ocean, a glacier, the Earth from a plane, or a starry sky." 

The book also covers The Five Virtues according to Confucius which are compassion, ritual property, justice, knowledge, and integrity. 

The part of Philosophy in 40 Ideas that resonated most with me was the Japanese art of Kintsugi which is finding hope in brokenness. It's something I've heard many times in therapy, and something I find utterly beautiful. Kin means 'golden', and tsugi means 'joinery'. So the idea is that broken pieces "should never be tossed away, they should be carefully picked up, reassembled and then glued together with lacquer inflected with luxuriant gold power." The point: render the fault lines between beautiful and strong. We are all in some way broken and "it is not shameful to need repair," the book states. 

Other sections of the book include: Democracy, Machiavellianism, Mettā/Benevolence (which is also very interesting), and so, so much more. 

Although this book is small, clocking in at only 85 pages, it is absolutely packed full of knowledge, practically bursting at the spine with deeply thought-provoking information. I took a lot away from it, as I do with all the School of Life books. Like I always say, they're small, contain all the necessary information, and they make for great gifts. 

About The School of Life

The School of Life is an organization built to help us find calm, self-understanding, resilience and connection - especially during troubled times. They place an emphasis on the need to understand ourselves better, so that we can secure serenity and make optimally reliable decisions, particularly around love and work. 

Philosophy in 40 Ideas is available for purchase at The School of Life, Indigo or in e-book format for Kobo. Check GoodReads for additional retailers. 

Thank you to The School of Life for my gifted copy in exchange for this honest review.