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.
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.
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.
Today, like so often, the world seems insane. We need perspective. We need to breathe deeply and climb high above the mantle of the earth, beyond the atmosphere, out into a place of unfathomable silence and majesty.