Synopses & Reviews
Sometimes it seems like you need a PhD just to open a book of philosophy. We leave philosophical matters to the philosophers in the same way that we leave science to scientists. Scott Samuelson thinks this is tragic, for our lives as well as for philosophy. In The Deepest Human Life
he takes philosophy back from the specialists and restores it to its proper place at the center of our humanity, rediscovering it as our most profound effort toward understanding, as a way of life that anyone can live. Exploring the works of some of historys most important thinkers in the context of the everyday struggles of his students, he guides us through the most vexing quandaries of our existenceand shows just how enriching the examined life can be.
Samuelson begins at the beginning: with Socrates, working his most famous assertionthat wisdom is knowing that one knows nothinginto a method, a way of approaching our greatest mysteries. From there he springboards into a rich history of philosophy and the ways its journey is encoded in our own quests for meaning. He ruminates on Epicurus against the sonic backdrop of crickets and restaurant goers in Iowa City. He follows the Stoics into the cell where James Stockdale spent seven years as a prisoner of war. He spins with al-Ghazali first in doubt, then in the ecstasy of the divine. And he gets the philosophy education of his life when one of his students, who authorized a risky surgery for her son that inadvertently led to his death, asks with tears in her eyes if Kant was right, if it really is the motive that matters and not the consequences. Through heartbreaking stories, humanizing biographies, accessible theory, and evocative interludes like On Wine and Bicycles” or On Zombies and Superheroes ,” he invests philosophy with the personal and vice versa. The result is a book that is at once a primer and a reassurancethat the most important questions endure, coming to life in each of us.
“It is filled with beauty. . .a finely made whole that seems to emanate from a very special grace.” Baltimore Sun
“An unforgettable trip.” Time
“A miracle . . . sparkles like an electric dream.” The Village Voice
“Profoundly important...full of insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas.” New York Times
“The book is inspired, original. . . . The analogies with Moby-Dick are patent.” The New Yorker
“As a freshman in college, Samuelson fought with classmates over whether philosophy was essential for a meaningful life. Fortunately, hes still fighting. Defying the widespread perception of philosophy as an academic specialty, Samuelson urges readers to join him in a humanizing intellectual adventure, one that begins with Socrates frank profession of ignorance. . . . But perhaps no one teaches more than Samuelsons own diverse college students—a wine-loving bicyclist, a sleep-deprived housewife, a monk-faced factory worker. These seemingly ordinary people underscore the most important lesson of all: philosophy matters for everyone.”
“Scott Samuelson is a philosopher with a knack for storytelling. As a result, The Deepest Human Life is a book that humanizes philosophy and that relates grand philosophical themes to the lives of ordinary people. Not only that, but Samuelson writes in a manner that ordinary people—meaning those without a philosophical background—will find inviting. Readers will come away with a better understanding of some of philosophys fundamental concepts and in many cases will also have taken important first steps toward conducting an examination of their own lives.”
“The Deepest Human Life is a splendid book for students, writers, philosophers, and anyone interested in exploring the human condition. Samuelson wears his considerable learning lightly, addressing the enduring questions—What is philosophy? What is happiness? What is the nature of good and evil?—in an engaging and accessible manner, reminding readers that the quest for meaning is indeed a matter of life and death. What a marvelous professor he must be. And what good luck to have his wisdom here on the page.”
“The Deepest Human Life
offers us the kinds of tools we have always needed to face Pascals implicit challenge to face ourselves, difficult though the task may be.”
“The Deepest Human Life is charming and upbeat, but its also very poignant in places. Samuelson weaves his personal story of teaching at a community college into the philosophical adventure and shows how philosophy is an approach to life—a practice of self-knowing and self-forgetting—rather than a professional career. The result is a unique introduction to philosophy, composed with a rare voice of humane literary sophistication.”
“Many professors claim to learn from their students while inwardly denying the claim. But the enchanting Samuelson takes us along to class with him in these lively pages. Unlike other members of the philosophers guild, he seldom serves up an abstraction without an accompanying concrete example culled from in-class comments and student papers. . . . This compelling story of philosophy nudges the reader toward the conviction that a sense of awe, which Samuelson lionizes and invites, will transform more than our ways of thinking.”
“Samuelson has given us a personal perspective on doing
philosophy. While a close reading of The Deepest Human Life
will let you come away with a broad contextual understanding of the development of western thought, the book is really about inspiring the reader to think—and act, and live
“For a survey of philosophical thought, Samuelson’s quirky, abundantly informed new book, The Deepest Human Life
, is a surprisingly snappy read. A cynical elevator pitch might call it “philosophy for dummies,” but it’s not for dummies any more than it’s for overly serious chin-massagers. The book would be useful as either an introduction or a brush-up, and enjoyably personable in either instance.”
“A basic but thoughtful introduction to philosophy. Samuelson treats philosophy not merely as a topic or academic subject, but as an approach to life. As a teacher and as a person, Samuelson encourages his students—who, as community college students in a small, Midwestern city, come from all walks of life—and his readers to do the same. . . . Samuelson works through a wide spectrum of key issues and thinkers—both classical and contemporary—in a fair, efficient, sympathetic, and enjoyable manner. His writing style is both engaging and approachable. The “interludes” between the book’s four parts encourage readers to reflect on what appear to be commonplaces in human experience (laughter and tears, wine and bicycles, campfires and the sun); yet, these experiences can and should give rise to wonder, the beginning of philosophy. A notable feature of the book is the wide range of sources from which Samuelson draws, from philosophers and mystics to poetry and modern mythologies.”
"The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called 'yourself.'"
One of the most important and influential books of the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live and a meditation on how to live better. The narrative of a father on a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest with his young son, it becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions. A true modern classic, it remains at once touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.
As the title of Scott Samuelson’s manuscript suggests, his project introduces philosophy not as a “special, insular form of thought”—as Stanley Fish recently described philosophy—but rather as the very real and widespread search for meaning. Samuelson frames his “personal” presentation of philosophy with his own story of how he came to a community college as a classically-trained philosopher and rediscovered the true nature and power of philosophy among soldiers and chiropractors, preschool music teachers and aspiring undertakers, ex-cons and cancer patients—real people who surprised him with their need and flair for philosophy. A serious thematic and historical introduction to philosophy as way of life, the book is organized around four questions: What is philosophy? What is happiness? Is knowledge of God possible? And what is the nature of good and evil? Samuelson connects and compares some of the world’s great philosophers to his students, teachers, and himself, revealing that there is a pattern to the search for wisdom, even though it often leads to fascinatingly different places. This is a serious but accessible introduction to philosophy that empowers its readers as philosophers.
About the Author
Robert M. Pirsig was born in 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He studied chemistry and philosophy (B.A., 1950) and journalism (M.A., 1958) at the University of Minnesota and also attended Benares Hindu University in India, where he studied Oriental philosophy. He is also the author of this book's sequel, entitled Lila.
Table of Contents
Prelude on Light Pollution and the Stars
Part 1 What Is Philosophy?
1 Portrait of You as Odysseus
2 Portrait of Philosophy as Socrates
Interlude on Laughter and Tears
Part 2 What Is Happiness?
3 The Exquisite Materialism of Epicurus
4 The Mysterious Freedom of the Stoic
Interlude on Wine and Bicycles
Part 3 Is Knowledge of God Possible?
5 The Ecstasy without a Name
6 In Nightmares Begins Rationality
7 The Terrifying Distance of the Stars
Interlude on Campfires and the Sun
Part 4 What Is the Nature of Good and Evil?
8 The Moral Worth of a Teardrop
9 The Beast That Is and Is Not
Interlude on Superheroes and Zombies
Conclusion: The Most Beautiful Thing in the World
Recommended Further Reading