The Great Philosophers: Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Modern life is in many ways founded around the idea of progress: the notion that as we know more (especially about science and technology), and as economies grow larger, we’re bound to end up happier.

The Psychology of Colour 

The Philosopher’s Jumper


Alongside the notes of the musical keyboard and the letters of the alphabet, colours provide the building blocks of our emotions. It is not for nothing that we say we are ‘feeling blue’ or ‘seeing red’.

Simone De Beauvoir

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.

The Great Eastern Philosophers: Confucius


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.

The Great Eastern Philosophers: The Buddha

The Great Philosophers: Thomas Aquinas


The story of the Buddha’s life, like all of Buddhism, is a story about confronting suffering. He was born between the sixth and fourth century BC, the son of a wealthy king in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.


It seems, at first, weird that we might learn from him. Thomas Aquinas was a medieval saint, said in moments of high excitement to levitate and have visions of the Virgin Mary.

The Great Philosophers: Karl Marx

What is Philosophy for? A Film


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.


From a distance, philosophy seems weird, irrelevant, boring – and yet also just a little intriguing. But what are philosophers really for? The answer is helpfully already contained in the word 'philosophy'.

The Great Philosophers: Alexis de Tocqueville 


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 Great Psychoanalysts: Anna Freud

The Great Eastern Philosophers: Lao Tzu


We’re particularly down on people we call ‘defensive’. They blame others for what’s their own fault. They hear reasonable criticism as cruel attack. They deny they have a problem when they clearly do.


Little is truly known about the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (sometimes also known as Laozi or Lao Tze), who is a guiding figure in Daoism (also translated as Taoism), a still popular spiritual practice.

Meditation at the Shore – a Film

The Great Architects: Louis Kahn


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.


Modern architecture produces truly innovative work: glittering, staggeringly tall buildings, opera houses that look like folded origami, even museums that look like spaceships.

The Great Artists: Christo and Jeanne-Claude 

Christo Gains Approval To Drape Cloths Throughout Central Park's Promenades

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.

The Great Philosophers: William Morris

The Great Psychoanalysts: John Bowlby 


The 19th-century designer, poet and entrepreneur William Morris is one of the best guides we have to the modern economy - despite the fact that he died in 1896 (while Queen Victoria was still on the throne).


Among our deepest and seemingly most natural aspirations is the longing to form stable, satisfying relationships: to thrive in partnerships that are good for both people. It doesn’t seem much to ask.

On Forgiveness – a Film

Crushes – a Film

Lovers' Tiff

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.


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.

The Stoics – a Film

Wall Street Economic Crisis

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.

Epicurus and Happiness – a Film

The Great Eastern Philosophers: Matsuo Bashō


The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, who was born in 341 BC, spent all his life trying to work out the largest question there is: what makes people happy?


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.

The Great Eastern Philosophers: Sen no Rikyū

In Praise of Melancholy


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.

Siberian fritillary

Melancholy is not exactly a word on everybody’s lips. People don’t go around gossiping about how melancholic the new regional IT director is.

Why Melancholy People Can Be Attractive

Léa Seydoux, Venice Intl Film Festival, 2009

There are many types of beauty and many ways of being sexy. But at certain periods of history some major possibilities get neglected.

On Not Liking the Way One Looks

The Great Architects: Oscar Niemeyer

Tyrone Power

Frustration with one’s appearance is an embarrassing - but in truth highly serious and valid - pain. Mature, reasonable people are not supposed to go around regretting their nose or hair.


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.

The Philosopher’s Guide to Gratitude

Philosophy in the Kitchen


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.


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.

The Great Anthropologists: Margaret Mead

Samoan Girls

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.

The Transitional Object

The Great Urbanists: Jane Jacobs


The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott developed the idea of a Transitional Object. He wanted to draw attention to the very important work done by children’s much-loved teddy bears.

Rising Sea Levels Due To Global Warming Threaten Low-Lying New York City

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.

The Philosophy of Calm

The Great Artists: Cy Twombly 

Uluru under the stars at night Australia

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.

Roman Classic Surprise: Cy Twombly

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.

Philosophers Launch YouTube Channel

University students and professor have philosophy discussion on floor

Traditionally, philosophy has been nervous around the idea of communication. Academic philosophers have frequently erected barriers to wider participation.

The Great Philosophers: Niccolò Machiavelli

The Great Artists: Henri Matisse 


Our assessment of politicians is torn between hope and disappointment. On the one hand, we have an idealistic idea that a politician should be an upright hero.


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.

A Short Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

The Great Artists: Johannes Vermeer 

Ink Blot Test

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.

803px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_Project (1)

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.

What babies can teach us


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.

The Great Artists: Caspar David Friedrich

The Great Environmentalists: Rachel Carson


One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is teach us how to suffer. It can do so by evoking scenes that are dark or melancholy, and and lend dignity to the suffering we may be experiencing.

Rachel Carson

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.

The Great Philosophers: John Rawls 

Travel as Therapy: Glenpark Road, Birmingham – for Boredom


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.

Government Pledges Increase In NHS Funding

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.

Travel as Therapy: Comuna 13, San Javier, Medellín, Colombia – for Dissatisfaction


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.

Travel as Therapy: Pumping Station, Isla Mayor, Seville – for Snobbery 

Travel as Therapy: Eastown Theatre, Detroit – for Perspective 


There are many guide books suggesting what you might do when you get to Seville. But they all agree, pretty much, that you must go both to the Plaza de España and then to the Alcázar.


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.

Travel as Therapy: Pefkos Beach, Rhodes – for Anxiety 

Travel as Therapy: Capri Hotel, Changi Airport, Singapore – for Thinking


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.

Images Of Fraser & Neave Properties and Beverage Products as Company Plans to Spin Off Property Operations

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.

Travel as Therapy: Café de Zaak, Utrecht – for Sex Education

Utrecht cafe

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.

Travel as Therapy: Corner shop, Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama – for Shyness

Travel as Therapy: Monument Valley, USA – for Calm


On the first day, it was difficult. You went into the corner shop just off the main Motomachi shopping street to buy a prepaid mobile card. You pointed at your phone, you pretended to make a call. It was useless.

USA, Arizona, Utah, person on horseback in Monument Valley with Gypsum Creek and Spearhead Mesa in background

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.

Travel as Therapy – an Introduction

The Great Philosophers 15: La Rochefoucauld

General Views of Arena Pantanal & Surrounding Areas - FIFA World Cup Venues Brazil 2014

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.


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.

The Great Philosophers 14: Matthew Arnold

NPG Ax27807; Matthew Arnold by Elliott & Fry, published by  Bickers & Son

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.

The Great Philosophers 13: John Ruskin

The Great Psychoanalysts 2: Melanie Klein

NPG x12958; John Ruskin by William Downey, for  W. & D. Downey

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the most impassioned 19th-century social reformers. He was, at first sight, an improbable reformer because he seemed to care mostly about one thing: beauty.


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.

Man goes to Rijksmuseum – and changes his life

The Great Psychoanalysts 1: Donald Winnicott


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.

donald winnicott

Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was an English paediatrician, who early on in his career became passionate about the then new field of psychoanalysis.

Food as Therapy

17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Food And Wine Tasting Event

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 Great Philosophers 12: Augustine

The Great Philosophers 11: Emile Durkheim


Augustine was a Christian philosopher who lived in the early 5th century AD on the fringes of the rapidly declining Roman Empire, in the North African town of Hippo (present day Annaba, in Algeria).


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.

The Great Philosophers 10: Martin Heidegger

The Great Philosophers 9: Max Weber


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.


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).

Utopia series: how Capitalism should be reformed

Argentina Default And Weak Corporate Earnings Weigh Heavily On Stocks

The system we know as Capitalism is both wondrously productive and hugely problematic. On the downside, capitalism valorises immediate returns over long-term benefits.

Utopia series: the role of culture

Utopia series: the government of the future


We generally hold culture - by which we understand art, museums, cinema, literature and the study of history - in extremely high regard. But, equally, we tend not to look very closely at why culture has such prestige.

U.S. Navy Prepares For Columbus Day

For hundreds of years now, humans have tended to believe that the best sort of government is one which leaves its citizens maximally 'free'.

Utopia series: the news of the future

Utopia series: cathedrals of the future


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?

06_Architecture_Temple to Love_high_v2012

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.

Utopia series: the schools of the future

Queen Paola of Belgium (R) and Princess

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.

Utopia series: the national festivals of the future

Utopia series: the wedding of the future  

Brazil Begins Carnival Celebration

We’re used to the idea that a year should be punctuated by a sequence of special public days: Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, some kind of national day, May Day, the August Bank holiday etc.

Carolyn and Fabio wed in the remote village of Airor on the Knoydart Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, Britain  - 11 Nov 2009

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.

Utopia series: the cinema of the future

How to become an entrepreneur

3D Film Audience

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.

A Celebration Of Music Hosted By Sean Parker

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.

Why we need new and better moments of collective pride now the World Cup is over

Switzerland v Ecuador: Group E - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

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’.

The Great Philosophers 8: Theodor Adorno

The Great Philosophers 7: Jean-Paul Sartre

Portrait Of Walt Disney

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was born in Frankfurt in 1903 into a wealthy and cultured family. His father, a wine merchant, was of Jewish origin but had converted to Protestantism at university.


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.

The Great Philosophers 6: Hegel

The Great Philosophers 5: Adam Smith

Portrait of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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.


Adam Smith is our guide to perhaps the most pressing dilemma of our time: how to make a capitalist economy more humane and more meaningful.

The Great Philosophers 4: Nietzsche

703px-Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog (2)

The challenge begins with how to pronounce his name. The first bit should sound like ‘Knee’, the second like ‘cher’: Knee – cher.

The Great Philosophers 3: Epicurus

The Great Philosophers 2: The Stoics


The Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was born in 341 BC, on the island of Samos, a few miles off the coast of modern Turkey. He had an unusually long beard and wrote over three hundred books.


‘Stoicism’ was a philosophy that flourished for some 400 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, gaining widespread support among all classes of society.

The Great Philosophers 1: Plato

Why you should never admit to reading self-help books


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.


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.

How we end up marrying the wrong people

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales with his fiance Lady Diana S

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.

Your desire to be famous – and the problems it will bring you

Why you are so annoyed by what you once admired

Premiere Of Summit Entertainment's "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" - Arrivals

We don’t always feel comfortable admitting it to our friends. But, secretly, the idea of being famous has great appeal. Fame is deeply attractive because it seems to offer very significant benefits.

The Diamond Jubilee By Flickr Photographers

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.

Why might one still bother with marriage?

What do the things that turn us on mean? A brief theory of sexual excitement


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?

"Smashed" Portraits - 2012 Sundance Film Festival

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.

If it wasn’t for you…


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.

Have you become a bit lecherous?

Why the fear of rejection never goes away – even when you are in a committed relationship

Men play volleyball on the beach below Sugar Loaf

You are queuing to go through to Departures; one of the guards at security has lovely, almost turquoise eyes. You are intrigued by the way they're frisking the occasional passenger.

A suspicious woman observing her husband at the phone

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.

Rolf Harris: the latest chapter in the history of kindness

Why you need to go and see a therapist

Britain Rolf Harris

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.

Military Families Retreat Designed To Relieve Post-Combat Stress

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.

How love stories ruin our love lives

Blue is the Warmest Colour - 22 Aug 2013

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.

Wisdom – a short guide

Why you’re (probably) not a great communicator


It’s one of the grandest and oddest words out there, so lofty, it doesn’t sound like something one could ever consciously strive to be - unlike say, being cultured, or kind.

Man writes 'I LOVE U' in the sand for his sweetheart, 1920-60.

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.

Where to go on holiday – and why?

The hardest job in the world

Greece Travel Destination

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.


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.

Why you need to learn a little charity

Retailers Hope For A Good Christmas Despite The Current Economic Gloom

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.

What is History for?

What is Philosophy – and what’s it for?

Parachute troops of the US 501st Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia. - 1-May-1941

If you had the misfortune to do too much, or the wrong kind of it at school, you’ll probably remember one thing about history: how dull it can sometimes be.


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.

Why you resent your partner

Why – when it comes to children – love may not be enough

Couple doing domestic chores

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.

Book At Bedtime

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.

When is one ready to get married?

Healthy Marriage Initiative Classes Held In Pennsylvania

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.

Why you are anxious all the time

Are you Romantic or Classical?

Travel Destination: Maldive Islands

Today, like most days, you are anxious. It is there in the background, always present, sometimes more to the fore, sometimes less so, but never truly banished - at least not for longer than an evening.

Pillow fight

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…

How projection makes you hard to live with

Why conversations are often so boring


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?

London Coffee Bar

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?

If you loved me, you wouldn’t want to change me

Restoration Work Completed On Michelangelo's David

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.

Why you get so angry – even though you are nice

Why you’re probably not enjoying your job very much

Protestors Rally In Support Of Katrina Evacuees At White House

It is, of course, a form of madness. You pick up the largest jam jar and fling it to the floor. You go up to the attendant at the counter and deliver a stream of obscenities.

Wall Street Economic Crisis

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.

A guide to the pleasures of work

Clouds, trees, streams

Wall Street Economic Crisis

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.


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.

On forgiveness

Children play on a swing set on a summer day

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.

On the madness and charm of crushes

Why we go off sex

Claudia Cardinale in the street

You are introduced to someone at a conference. They look nice and you have a brief chat about the theme of the keynote speaker. But already you have reached an overwhelming conclusion.


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.

The philosophers’ guide to gratitude

Exercise for the mind


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.

Spain Madrid Open Tennis

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.

Photographer unlocks roots of human sympathy


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.

The importance of staring out the window

What to talk about on date night


We tend to reproach ourselves for staring out the window. You are supposed to be working, or studying, or ticking off things on your to-do list. It can seem almost the definition of wasted time.


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.

What to do about the envy we’re all quietly dying from inside

Envy: a philosophical exercise

The Hamptons in the Summer

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.


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).

Why you should clean up, not empty, your mind

Yoga at Nepal's Boudnath Stupa

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.

Philosophical Meditation, a guide

I hate you Mum


Our minds are filled with out-of-focus feelings and ideas: we dimly experience a host of regrets, hurts, anxieties and excitements. For the most part we never stop to analyse or make sense of them.

Thank kew mum, Kew Gardens, England, Mar 2014

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.

Welcome to the dawn of Capitalism

What the rich really want. And why we should give it to them

The Effects of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant

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?

Rupert Murdoch Portraits

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.

News for the not-yet-dead


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.

The dirty secret of capitalism

Why you should stop taking pictures on your phone – and learn to draw


On a good day, Capitalism can seem pretty impressive. Take the sheer organisational might of corporations, with their incredible ability to focus the efforts of thousands of people on precise goals.


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.

Leonardo’s Last Supper on sale in China for $45

Six works of art that could help you to live

China's Art Copy Center

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.


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.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum turned into therapeutic centre

De Botton Armstrong

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.

Why secrets are good for love

More advice for those who want to change the world

Postcards. Circa 1920. A picture of a romantic couple kissing behind an open book whilst sitting together on a bench.

For years, you felt burdened with thoughts, feelings and opinions that didn’t seem to make much sense to anyone else. You sometimes wondered if you were going mad.

Boston Prepares For First Running Of Marathon After 2013 Terror Bombings

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.

Advice for those who want to change the world

Russell Brand returns to the Philosophers’ Mail

Richard Dawkins in London

The world needs changing in all sorts of urgent ways: the great question is how to do it. The most popular and appealing answer has long been that one should try to write a book.

Russell Brand press conference, United Nations, Vienna, Austria - 19 Mar 2014

Further discussion, this time about Nietzsche and Prince Harry's sex drive.

Easter for atheists


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.

Feeling happy about a sunny day is stupid, absurd and simplistic

How economic news keeps us dumb and stops us changing the world

Hot weather in London, Britain - 19 Jun 2013

Many people will note a particular brightness to the light today, and a balminess to the air, which may trigger a surge of hope and a willingness to look at familiar problems with renewed determination.

Evening Standard newspaper headline on the credit crunch,  London, Britain - 09 Oct 2008

In their more serious moods, news organisations tell us they want to explain the world to us. And that often means talking about money.

I love you so much, you’re to blame for absolutely everything

A lover’s guide to sulking

Celebrity Sightings In Park City - January 18, 2014

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.


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’.

The most valuable piece of art in your world


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.

The upsides of insomnia, part 2

Insomnia matters, part 1

© Paul Woodmansey/Rex

Insomnia leaves us horribly exhausted, but there are a few benefits to sleepless nights, which we might focus on to alleviate the sheer panic that a failure to sleep can cause.

© Getty

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.

Very Old Tree Lives Another Day


Today, as on many days, on the slopes of the White Mountains in eastern California, the sun beat down on the parched, almost lifeless ground from a cloudless, cold sky.

The School of Life

Ten Virtues For The Modern Age