Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya review – philosophical self-help

What can a 2500-year-old discipline tell us about how to live better in the modern world?

Can philosophy help us with worldly troubles? Ancient philosophers thought the answer was obvious. Philosophy is a “medical art for the soul”, Cicero tells us. Its compassionate task is to lead us from suffering towards a life lived well. Contemporary philosophers are likely to be more circumspect. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to think that my training in philosophy equips me to offer advice? The only CPR I know is the Critique of Pure Reason and the tools of my trade – a careful distinction here, some logic-chopping there – seem laughably inadequate to the fears and worries of modern living.

In his new book, Kieran Setiya disagrees. Through carefully crafted examples, he makes the case that philosophy can help us navigate the adversities of human life: pain, loneliness, grief and so on. He, too, is trained in the splitting of hairs. But this is not primarily a book of argument. It is a reflection designed to offer us new ways of thinking about ordinary hardships.

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