…Alain De Botton, philosopher.



1. Is there a philosopher or school of philosophy that your work directly derives from? 

I’ve been inspired by a number of philosophers:

– From Roland Barthes, I take away the idea that the stuff of daily life can rewardingly be a subject for philosophy.

– From John Ruskin, I take away the idea that the aesthetic realm is connected with ethics and the meaning of life.

– From Epicurus, I take away the idea of founding a small school dedicated to philosophical enquiry

– From Montaigne, I learn about the charms of speaking in a personal voice.

Alain De Botton book 1

2. Is philosophy becoming a forgotten means? 

Yes, philosophy is being forgotten, and the reason is simple; the university system – which essentially is the only agency sponsoring philosophy – demands that practitioners write about very abstract topics which are of no interest to the public and moreover, express themselves in technical ways which further bore the public. The answer is for universities to give salaries to people in return for writing things that the public might just want to read.

3. You’ve achieved a great deal in many fields; success in writing, broadcasting and architecture. Is there one personal asset that lends itself to all of those areas? 

I’m interested in what Aristotle called eudaimonia – or fulfilment. I track this idea across many different genres and topics. It’s my underlying concern as a writer.

Alain De Botton book 2
4. In terms of your self-determination, you have often referred to the relationship you had with your father. Does that continue to influence you in your work and in the same way? 

My parents were both very ambitious, active people. They started each new day with great energy and they imbued in me a sense that life had many possibilities and that despair and resignation to the status quo wasn’t a fruitful option.

5. Your new book ‘Religion for Atheists’ describes some features of various faiths as being useful to non-believers. Is that a softening of your views on religion or an attempt to move an age-old argument further along?

I’m interested in stealing from religion in order to reorganise and rethink aspects of the secular world, especially education, the arts, our relationship with nature, architecture and community. So I’m in no way religious but I am interested in analysing and then selectively appropriating aspects of religion.

Alain De Botton book 36. Richard Dawkins has been quoted as saying that religion has hindered scientific progress and AC Grayling has claimed it stalls political development. To what extent has religious doctrine affected philosophy?

Religion has given philosophy some wonderful categories of thought. For example, the idea of the division between sacred and temporal power is vital, as is the idea of fundamental equality between humans in front of God. The modern secular mind is the heir of some highly useful theologically based categories.

7. As well as substantial praise for your work you’ve also been subjected to great criticism. At times, your emotional responses to some of that criticism have surprised people. Does criticism influence your future works?

I say some extremely provocative things in my books – and many of the targets of my attacks (academia, the art establishment etc.) fight back. It’s a turf war.

8. When you speak of the ‘School of Life’ there’s an element of pride. Is it something you see as a significant accomplishment?

The school of life has an epochal mission: to reorient culture in the service of human need – in the name of eudaimonia.
It will take us ages to get there, but we’ve made a tiny start. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.

Alain De Botton School of Life
9. What do you have planned in terms of future work?

I’m launching a book called ART AS THERAPY in October, accompanied by museum shows around the world. And in February I am publishing a book about the media.

10. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your life?

I am often anxious and am very worried about wasting time.

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