The Book of Life


A new book is out. It’ll take years to write and exist only online. It’s called The Book of Life because it’s about the most substantial things in your life: your relationships, your income, your career, your anxieties.

The Philosophers’ Mail is Dead

The Art of Procrastination – a Film


A year ago we asked ourselves a question: could philosophers write the news? The experiment is complete. The team behind the Philosophers’ Mail is now putting its efforts into a new venture.


Procrastination isn’t just another word for laziness. There’s no logical explanation for this self-castigating behaviour. We’re nervous we won’t have enough time for things.

Why We Need a Digital Sabbath – a Film

Picture taken 28 March 2007 the French i

The news is the best distraction ever invented. But, if we pay too much attention to it, we’ll never have the time to daydream, unpack our anxieties and have a conversation with our deeper selves.

Why Some Countries Are Poor and Others Rich – a Film

Lao Tzu – a Film


Every country is now more or less on a path to growth, but the poor ones are growing very, very slowly. If Zimbabwe continues at its current growth rate, it will qualify as a rich country in 2,722 years.

Laozi_002 (1)

It's difficult to know much for certain about the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Even his name can be a little confusing: it's also sometimes translated as Laozi or Lao Tze.

Insomnia – a Film

Clouds, Trees, Streams – a Film


It's far into the night, but sleep won't come. Not sleeping feels like a disaster, but in smaller doses, insomnia does not need a cure. It's there for a reason.


We are preoccupied with ourselves in unhelpful ways. The clouds, however, know nothing of us. They float by, utterly unaware of our concerns. These vast, quiet things are always to hand.

The Buddha – a Film


The story of the Buddha’s life, like all of Buddhism, is the story about confronting suffering. He was born some time between the 6th and 4th century BC, the son of a wealthy king in the Himalayas.

The Great Writers: Virginia Woolf

The Philosophy of Heidegger – a Film


Virginia Woolf is an icon with a shaky reputation. She is known as depressed—a novelist who, at age 59, drowned herself in the River Ouse outside her weekend home.


Martin Heidegger is, without doubt, the most incomprehensible German philosopher that ever lived. Nothing quite rivals the prose in his masterpiece, Being and Time.

The Philosophy of Aristotle – a Film

The Philosophy of Plato – a Film

A Great Teacher

Aristotle was born around 384 BC in the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, where his father was the royal doctor. He grew up to be arguably the most influential philosopher ever.


Athens, 2,400 years ago: it's a compact place, only about a quarter of a million people live here. There are fine baths, theatres, temples, shopping arcades and gymnasiums. It's warm for more than half the year.

On Irritability

Exasperated teacher at public grade scho

Irritability is the tendency to get upset for reasons that seem – to other people – to be pretty minor. Your partner asks you how work went and the way they ask makes you feel intensely agitated.

On Self-pity

The Philosophy of Sartre – a Film


It was a sunny Sunday afternoon; you were nine years old. Your parents wouldn’t let you have any ice cream if you didn’t do your maths homework. It was achingly unfair.

887px-Jean-Paul_Sartre_FP (1)

Jean-Paul Sartre made philosophy and thinking glamorous. He was born in Paris 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.

The Philosophy of Nietzsche – a Film

The Great Psychoanalysts: Sigmund Freud

Erland Josephson in Beyond Good and Evil

The challenge begins with how to pronounce his name: the first bit should sound like 'knee', the second like 'cha': 'kneecha'. Then we need to get past some of his extraordinarily provocative statements.


He described himself as an obsessional neurotic. For although the father of modern psychology told us so much about our inner lives, he was touchingly vulnerable himself.

The Great Novelists: Jane Austen


Jane Austen is loved mainly as a charming guide to fashionable life in the Regency period. She is admired for portraying a world of elegant houses, dances, servants and fashionable young men.

How to Understand Sexiness – a Film

The Great Novelists: Leo Tolstoy


When it comes to sex, we are, in theory, living in wildly liberated times. So you would think it would be easy owning up to certain kinds of sexual desires. But it's very tricky to talk about many of the things that turn us on.


Imagining the inner lives of other people is a core human capacity. But we don’t automatically or naturally do this very well. We are prey to a range of cognitive biases.

Calm: On the Road – a Film

Adverts know what we really want: they just refuse to sell it to us – a Film


Neglected parts of one's inner life emerge on the road: ideas, associations, feelings. Driving is an unexpected tool for thinking. Out here, it becomes less frightening to look inside us.


Family life is hell for the most part: bitterness, divorce, regret, and there's no time to talk anymore. So no wonder we're so touched by adverts that we might be fooled into taking that entirely irrational next step.

Misemployment – a Film

FOX 2013 Summer TCA Tour - Los Angeles

Whenever unemployment comes down, if only very slightly, it sounds like really good news. It’s great that productive forces in the economy are growing and that they’ll be a little bit more money in people’s pockets.

The Great Philosophers: Henry David Thoreau

The Great Philosophers: Arthur Schopenhauer


Most of the time, successful modern life involves lots of technology, constantly being connected with other people, working very hard for as much money as possible, and doing what we are told.

Porträt des Philosphen Arthur Schopenhauer, 1852

For the griefs of love, he may be the finest among philosophers. He was surely also one of the most pessimistic. Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig in 1788.

The Great Philosophers: Michel de Montaigne

The Great Philosophers: Jean-Jacques Rousseau


We generally think that philosophers should be proud of their big brains, and be fans of thinking, self-reflection and rational analysis. But there’s one philosopher with a refreshingly different take.


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

The Psychology of Colour 


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’.

The Philosopher’s Jumper

The Great Eastern Philosophers: Confucius


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.

Views of Nagasaki, Japan

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


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.

What is Philosophy for? A Film

The Great Philosophers: Alexis de Tocqueville 


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'.


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 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.

The Great Architects: Louis Kahn

The Great Artists: Christo and Jeanne-Claude 


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

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

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.

Crushes – a Film

The Stoics – a Film


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.

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 the West, philosophers write long non-fiction books, often using incomprehensible words and limit their involvement with the world to lectures and committee meetings.

In Praise of Melancholy

Why Melancholy People Can Be Attractive

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.

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


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.

Philosophy in the Kitchen

The Great Anthropologists: Margaret Mead


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.

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

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.

The Great Artists: Cy Twombly 

The Great Philosophers: Niccolò Machiavelli

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.


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 Great Artists: Henri Matisse 

A Short Dictionary of Psychoanalysis


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.

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.

The Great Artists: Johannes Vermeer 

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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

The Great Artists: Caspar David Friedrich


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.


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.

The Great Environmentalists: Rachel Carson

The Great Philosophers: John Rawls 

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.


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.

Travel as Therapy: Glenpark Road, Birmingham – for Boredom

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

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


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.


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.

Travel as Therapy: Eastown Theatre, Detroit – for Perspective 

Travel as Therapy: Pefkos Beach, Rhodes – for Anxiety 


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 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.

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

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

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

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.


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.

Travel as Therapy: Monument Valley, USA – for Calm

Travel as Therapy – an Introduction

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.

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.

The Great Philosophers 15: La Rochefoucauld


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

The Great Philosophers 13: John Ruskin

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.

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.

The Great Psychoanalysts 2: Melanie Klein

Man goes to Rijksmuseum – and changes his life


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.


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.

The Great Psychoanalysts 1: Donald Winnicott

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

The Great Philosophers 12: Augustine

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.


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).

The Great Philosophers 11: Emile Durkheim

The Great Philosophers 10: Martin Heidegger


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 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 Great Philosophers 9: Max Weber


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

Utopia series: the role of culture

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.


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.

Utopia series: the government of the future

Utopia series: the news of the future

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'.


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?

Utopia series: cathedrals of the future

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

Utopia series: the national festivals 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.

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.

Utopia series: the wedding of the future  

Utopia series: the cinema of the future

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.

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.

How to become an entrepreneur

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

The Great Philosophers 8: Theodor Adorno

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'.

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.

The Great Philosophers 7: Jean-Paul Sartre

The Great Philosophers 6: Hegel


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.

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.

The Great Philosophers 5: Adam Smith


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

The Great Philosophers 3: Epicurus

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 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.

The Great Philosophers 2: The Stoics

The Great Philosophers 1: Plato


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


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.

Why you should never admit to reading self-help books


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

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

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.

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.

Why you are so annoyed by what you once admired

Why might one still bother with marriage?

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.


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?

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

"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…

Have you become a bit lecherous?


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.

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.

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

Rolf Harris: the latest chapter in the history of kindness

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.

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.

Why you need to go and see a therapist

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

Wisdom – a short guide

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.


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.

Why you’re (probably) not a great communicator

Where to go on holiday – and why?

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.

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.

The hardest job in the world


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

What is History for?

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.

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.

What is Philosophy – and what’s it for?

Why you resent your partner


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.

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.

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

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?

Why you are anxious all the time

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.

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.

Are you Romantic or Classical?

How projection makes you hard to live with

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…


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?

Why conversations are often so boring

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

Why you get so angry – even though you are nice

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.

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.

Why you’re probably not enjoying your job very much

A guide to the pleasures of work

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.

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.

Clouds, trees, streams


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

On the madness and charm of crushes

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.

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.

Why we go off sex

The philosophers’ guide to gratitude


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.


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.

Exercise for the mind

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

The importance of staring out the window


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.


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.

What to talk about on date night

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


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.

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.

Envy: a philosophical exercise


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

Philosophical Meditation, a guide

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.


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.

I hate you Mum

Welcome to the dawn of Capitalism

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.

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?

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

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

The dirty secret of capitalism


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.


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.

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

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


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.

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.

Six works of art that could help you to live


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

Why secrets are good for love

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.

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.

More advice for those who want to change the world

Advice for those who want to change the world

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.

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 returns to the Philosophers’ Mail

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

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


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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

A lover’s guide to sulking


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

The upsides of insomnia, part 2


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.

© 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.

Insomnia matters, part 1


© 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.

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The School of Life

Ten Virtues For The Modern Age