We know very little for certain about the life of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (a westernised version of his name, which means ‘Master Kong’). He is said to have been born in 551 B.C. in China.
Fashion has largely been abandoned to pretension, eccentricity and silliness. But clothes can play a very serious role in life. A vital function of clothes is to show that you belong to a particular tribe. They can tell others who we want to be, what we admire and what we consider important.
Most people agree that we need to improve our economic system somehow. It threatens our planet through excessive consumption and distracts us with irrelevant advertising.
Democracy was achieved by such a long, arduous and heroic struggle that it can feel embarrassing - even shameful - to feel a little disappointed by it.
The sea has been pounding the rocks mercilessly since dawn. How much lies beneath that deceptively simple word: the sea? In truth, a continuous, roiling, evolving drama of a billion waves.
We tend to get nervous around the idea of political art. Some terrible things have been done in its name: it’s encouraged fanaticism, demonised vulnerable groups and pumped out delusional propaganda.
Almost every week, someone lets us down. They overlook a commitment, they betray hope, they deceive trust. And on the world stage, similarly dark dynamics play themselves out.
Stoicism was a philosophy that flourished for 480 years in Ancient Greece and Rome and was popular with everyone from slaves to the aristocracy because, unlike so much philosophy, it was helpful.
In the West, philosophers write long non-fiction books, often using incomprehensible words and limit their involvement with the world to lectures and committee meetings.
There are many types of beauty and many ways of being sexy. But at certain periods of history some major possibilities get neglected.
The idea of pausing to take stock of what has gone well, to be content with things as they are, is in conflict with our times and their emphasis on constant ambition and striving.
When we use ‘modern’ to describe something, it’s usually a positive. We are very appreciative and even a little smug about the miracles of modern science and the superiority of modern viewpoints.
There are so many reasons to be frantic. And yet - as we know in our hearts - it is even more of a priority to keep an occasional appointment with a deeper, quieter part of ourselves.
Traditionally, philosophy has been nervous around the idea of communication. Academic philosophers have frequently erected barriers to wider participation.
All subjects have their specialised vocabularies; a set of words that initially sound unusual, even a touch frightening, but that can also prove oddly beautiful and beguiling.
We expect - of course - for it to be the other way around: we teaching them. But they have a host of important lessons for us too, if we dare to pay close enough attention.
Many of us feel that our societies are a little – or even plain totally – ‘unfair’. But we have a hard time explaining our sense of injustice to the powers that be in a way that sounds rational.
Groups of young men armed with planks of wood roam the alleyways extorting money. Houses are made of bits of tin, old doors, the occasional lump of concrete, oil drums and tarpaulin sheets.
You haven’t come to Rhodes to explore the medieval old town or the ancient temple of Apollo. You’ve not been drawn by a longing to try the local delicacy of chickpea fritters and ewe’s milk cheese.
August is perfect for sitting outside at the Café de Zaak in the Korte Minrebroederstraat. The decent beers on tap, plus a generous bring-your-own-meal policy make this one of the nicest cafes in town.
We're used to thinking of travel as the 'fun' bit of life, but enjoyment isn't a reason why it shouldn't also do some very serious things for us. At its deepest level, travel can assist us with our psychological education.
Matthew Arnold was the most important educational reformer of the 19th century. He realised that, in the modern world, education would be one of the keys to a good society.
Having spent his whole life grumbling, in 1949, J. B. Priestley wrote a book called Delight patiently describing all the things he had most enjoyed. One of them was going to the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam.
At the moment, food is highly prestigious. A vast amount of attention is paid to celebrity chefs, dietary advice, new restaurants and cooking shows. We have, it seems, become collectively obsessed with what we eat.
The field is not without other distinguished contestants, but in the competitive history of incomprehensible German philosophers, Martin Heidegger must, by any reckoning, emerge as the overall victor.
The system we know as Capitalism is both wondrously productive and hugely problematic. On the downside, capitalism valorises immediate returns over long-term benefits.
The news is the most powerful and prestigious force in contemporary society, replacing religion as the touchstone of authority and meaning. What are we searching for?
It is almost universally agreed that education is hugely important. But our large commitment to there being good schools ironically has not been matched by concern about what they are for.
Cinema is the most prestigious cultural activity in the modern world. It is for us what theatre was in the age of Shakespeare or painting was in the days of Leonardo da Vinci.
For the average citizen of a developed nation, the World Cup generated a deeply unusual emotion. For a few weeks, we were allowed to feel happy about something other than 'me'.
Hegel was born in Stuttgart in 1770. He had a very middle-class life. He was obsessed by his career path. He fretted all his life about his income. He never quite got his hair under control.
The challenge begins with how to pronounce his name. The first bit should sound like ‘Knee’, the second like ‘cher’: Knee - cher.
Athens, 2400 years ago. It’s a compact place: around 250,000 people live here. There are fine baths, theatres, temples, shopping arcades and gymnasiums. Art is flourishing, and science too.
Anyone we could marry would, of course, be a little wrong for us. It is wise to be appropriately pessimistic here. Nevertheless, one encounters some couples of such primal, grinding mismatch.
It’s tempting to think of marriage as old fashioned. Why not just live with someone and be done with it? What need for a public ceremony? Why the weird traditions that people normally keep away from?
There are many nice things we want, but are somehow a little scared of getting, because they are bound up with risks and subtle inner complications we don't quite have a handle on.
The once very famous and immensely successful artist Rolf Harris has been convicted of a string of predatory sex-crimes that seem utterly horrible and debased.
It sounds strange to ask what a novel might be for. We tend not to wonder too much what role made-up stories should have in our lives. Generally we suppose we just read them for entertainment.
Going travelling is one of the most exciting pastimes. It’s up there with love in terms of the happiness it can bring – though, unlike love, it's generally assumed to entail no big philosophical issues.
It is one of the seven virtues in Christianity. It used to have a central place in Roman ethics and Judaism as well. Today, we remain deeply impressed by the idea of charity, but often from a distance.
One of the couple has been out all day: they’ve been to three meetings, grappled with a failing supplier, cleared up a misconception about tax rebates and sought to bring the new CEO on side.
It used to be when you’d hit certain financial and social milestones: when you had a home to your name, a set of qualifications on the mantelpiece and a few cows and a parcel of land in your possession.
You’re flicking through a fashion magazine and playfully suggest that your partner might want to make a few experiments with their wardrobe. How about a different pair of jeans or a new T-shirt?
There are - when you start adding incidents up - rather a lot of things about you that your partner seems keen to change. They notice how you put off ringing your mother.
You might think this bit would be easy, but one of the hardest things about our working lives is knowing what we ideally want to do with them. It’s simple enough to sense what is boring and soul-destroying.
Most weeks, someone mistreats us in a greater or lesser way: they overlook a commitment they’ve made, they let us down logistically, they betray our hopes or deceive our trust.
Feeling grateful about the good aspects of our lives is something we all know we should do a bit more often. And yet there’s often something uncomfortable about being reminded to do so.
Media organisations want us to care about the bad stuff that is happening out there - and the best way they feel they can do this is to tell us about the gore, the bombs, the landslides, the murders and the calamities.
Despite good intentions modern societies are profoundly unequal. Yet contemporary culture encourages the feeling that in crucial ways, everyone is, in fact, on the same footing.
Even though our minds ostensibly belong to us, we don’t always control or know what is in them. There are always some ideas, in the middle of consciousness, that are immediately clear to us.
Generous, thoughtful, sensitive people are often drawn to the view that we shouldn’t expect economies to ‘grow’. After all, the earth and its resources are limited, so why keep asking for GDP to expand?
For all of them, it started much as it will for you: a strangely persistent itch at the back of the head, a discomfort on the left side, a lump fingered in the shower.
Fake, copy, pastiche, forgery, reproduction. Many of the most bitter insults of the art world are designed to denigrate anything which is not the actual product of the master’s hand.
In a surprise move, the Netherlands' top cultural institution, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, has been turned into a giant therapeutic centre designed to help people with emotional issues.
The most boring question one can ever direct at a religion is to ask whether or not it is ‘true’. Of course, none of its supernatural claims can ever be ‘true’ - but that may not be a reason to dismiss it.
You and your partner are waiting, and waiting, at the airport carousel for your luggage. Other people are wheeling their bags away. Soon, you are the only ones left standing by the now empty conveyor belt.
For almost all of human history, it has been unthinkable that someone could lay claim to maturity, sanity and reliability by pinning a picture by a six-year-old to the walls of their office, or throne room.