They happen in the privacy of our minds, pretty much everywhere. At the pool, the conference, the aisles of the supermarket. The dynamic is always the same: very little knowledge – indeed complete ignorance.
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: politicians act dishonourably, business leaders plunder, criminals bully and terrify.
In the West, we have a vague sense that poetry is good for our ‘souls’. Yet we don’t always know how this should work. Poetry has a hard time finding its way into our lives in any practical sense.
One of the most depressing aspects of travel is finding that the world often looks the same in many different places. The towers of downtown Tokyo are indistinguishable from those of Frankfurt or Seattle.
Few philosophers have achieved fame as cooks. However, many of their theories can be perfectly explained through the medium of food. Here we inaugurate a new series, Philosophy in the Kitchen.
There is something compelling and exciting about cities that makes many of us love them. They are full of bright attractions, intriguing strangers and endless, unimaginable possibilities.
Abstract art continues to provoke annoyance and confusion in equal measure. You know the kind of thing: a large empty white canvas, with a solitary deep black line down the middle.
The cultural elite gets nervous about cheerful or sweet art. They worry that pretty, happy works of art are in denial about how bad the state of the world is and how much suffering there is in almost every life.
We live in a world saturated with false glamour. In truth, the problem does not lie with glamour itself, but with the things we have collectively agreed to regard as glamorous.
There’s nothing very natural about caring for nature. The first impulse of humans has almost always been to burn the trees, exhaust the fish stocks, pollute the ground-springs and darken the skies.
Abroad is, as we know, the exciting bit. You’ve been so far recently. You were in Abuja only on Tuesday. Yesterday lunchtime, you were having fried plantain in the Wuse district with Promise and Chinwe.
It would be unusual today to find a travel agent recommending a sojourn in Detroit as the ideal vacation. The city is, after all, in decline.
You've been in the air for 12 hours. Now this anonymous box. It was your company's idea. You'd have a chance to sleep a little, then catch the next 11 hour flight, before heading straight into the conference.
You are - quite literally - in the middle of nowhere - and, unexpectedly, it’s helping. A lot. How frantic we otherwise normally are. We live competitive crazed lives.
At the dawn of the modern age lived a French philosopher who wrote a book, barely 60 pages long, that can deservedly be counted as one of the true masterpieces of philosophy.
Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was a highly creative and original Viennese Jewish psychoanalyst who discovered the work of Freud at the age of 26 and devoted her life to enriching it in valuable ways.
Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was an English paediatrician, who early on in his career became passionate about the then new field of psychoanalysis.
Emile Durkheim is the philosopher who can best help us to understand why Capitalism makes us richer and yet frequently more miserable; even - far too often - suicidal.
Max Weber is one of the three philosophers best able to explain to us the peculiar economic system we live within called Capitalism (Karl Marx and Adam Smith are the other two).
For hundreds of years now, humans have tended to believe that the best sort of government is one which leaves its citizens maximally 'free'.
In the developed more secular parts of the world, it is common, even among unbelievers, to lament the passing of the great days of religious architecture.
Modern societies are deeply invested in the idea of big, glamorous weddings. We have evolved highly-detailed collective ideas about what a proper wedding is supposed to be like.
The modern world is in love with entrepreneurship. Starting your own business holds the same sort of prestigious position as, in previous ages, making a pilgrimage or spearing multiple enemies in battle.
Jean-Paul Sartre was born in 1905. His father, a navy captain, died when he was a baby - and he grew up extremely close to his mother until she remarried, much to his regret, when he was twelve.
‘Stoicism’ was a philosophy that flourished for some 400 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, gaining widespread support among all classes of society.
There is no more ridiculed genre than the self-help book. Admit that you regularly turn to such titles to help you cope with existence and you are liable to attract scorn and suspicion.
One of the things that makes us fall in love with people is realising they can do something we can't. We get attracted to people who seem capable and at ease with parts of life in which we struggle.
The things that get us sexually excited can often sound rather improbable. On the face of it, Wellington boots, a heavy knit fisherman’s jumper or a car park seem unconnected to erotic satisfaction.
There are sweet moments - early on in relationships - when one person can’t quite work up the courage to let another know just how much they like them.
In almost all countries and communities around the world, there is one central (usually unvoiced) suspicion that arises whenever someone lets slip that they are ‘having therapy’: they are crazy.
One of the ideals of modern relationships is that both parties will be ‘good communicators’. ‘Communication’ is held to lie at the heart of a thriving partnership.
Under such a title, one expects something properly heroic: inter-planetary travel. Perhaps the flotation of a public company. A breakthrough in renal cancer research.
People are understandably confused about what philosophy is. From a distance, it seems weird, irrelevant, boring and yet also - just a little - intriguing. But it’s hard to put a finger on what the interest really is.
Anyone of childbearing age will be surrounded by examples of catastrophic parenting in their own and previous generations. We hear no end of gruesome stories about breakdowns and resentments.
We are - each one of us - probably more one than the other. The categories explain a lot about us; how we approach nature, what makes us laugh, our attitudes to love, what our politics are…
Having a decent conversation is something most of us imagine we can do without problem - and certainly without much thought. These things just happen naturally. Don't they?
Almost certainly, you’ve been having a bad time at work. In a perfect world, work should do so much for us: lend us purpose and a sense of achievement, offer us meaning and comradeship.
No one, probably, has ever much doubted that these things are nice. Clouds, trees and streams represent nature in its most gentle, tranquil guise. Their appeal is instinctive. But we take them for granted.
Everyone knows that at the beginning it happens all the time…and then, as relationships get longer, it doesn’t really any more. We say it’s because we’re too busy, or tired, or just not in the mood.
In general, we are very much alive to the benefits of exercise. In learning to speak another language, drive a car or play an instrument, we recognise the value of rehearsing and memorising.
You try to set aside a special evening every now and then. That would have been absurd in the old days, you were alone so much of the time, but now there’s a need to schedule it in the diary way ahead of time.
Typically, envious feelings swirl around unexamined. We carry them about guiltily but blindly. This gives rise to outbursts of bad temper directed at innocent bystanders (especially one’s partner).
In the US this weekend, and in other parts of the world at about this time, people celebrate Mother's Day – a ritual specially designed to allow children to take a moment to express their gratitude for their mothers.
It’s late and, across the nation, people are sinking back into the soft corners of sofas, clutching glasses of wine and TV remote controls and numbing their minds with soothing images and sounds.
Whenever something looks interesting or beautiful, there's a natural impulse to want to capture and preserve it – which means, in this day and age, that we're likely to reach for our phones to take a picture.
It comes naturally to most of us to think of music as therapeutic. Almost all of us are, without training, DJs of our own souls, deft at selecting pieces of music that will enhance or alter our moods for the better.
A deep-seated desire in many thoughtful people is to try to change, and improve, how their fellow humans behave: to try to make them a bit kinder, or more moral, or interested in nature.
In their more serious moods, news organisations tell us they want to explain the world to us. And that often means talking about money.
They have a habit of ruining embarrassingly long stretches of our lives. They will - by nature - seem absurd to others for they are triggered by what are, ostensibly, the very ‘small things’.
It’s far into the night, but sleep won’t come. You turn over. Perhaps a different position will quieten the mind. Or maybe the other side was better after all. Panic sets in. Not sleeping is a disaster.