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5 Practical Philosophy Books to Bring Out Your Inner Philosopher

Knowledge is discovered collectively, wisdom is rediscovered individually.

Naval Ravikant

Can everyone be a philosopher? The most profound and lasting wisdom, so it seems, has already been imparted by a small group of larger-than-life thinkers. But the truth is, despite this knowledge being widely available, we all have to rediscover the wisdom in it for ourselves. There are existential truths to be discovered beyond the world of abstract theories. I’ve compiled a list of five practical philosophy books that can bring out your inner philosopher. But before diving into them we should clarify the nature of practical philosophy itself.

The Nature of Practical Philosophy

Practical philosophy is an approach to philosophy that focuses on applying philosophical concepts to real-world problems and questions. It asks how ideas about the nature of knowledge, reality and existence can help people make better decisions in life, guide their actions, and confront ethical dilemmas. This distinguishes it from a philosophy of the abstract type.

This kind is full of theoretical texts written in obscure language, lacking any applicability to our daily lives. Philosopher Daniel Dennett likened this variety to the study of chmess, a board game of his own invention. He argued that, despite being played by exactly zero people, we could devote our careers to studying and researching chmess. Even though it would be a pointless endeavour to solve such “artifactual puzzles of no abiding significance”.

Philosophy doesn’t have to be abstract or complicated. Practical philosophy applies to the problems we face each day. But to qualify as ‘practical’, a book must give timeless and accessible insights into universal truths of human nature. This way it can help us re-evaluate fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should or should not act as a consequence.

5 Practical Philosophy Books

Here are five practical philosophy books any budding philosopher should get their hands on. They’re accessible and have direct relevance to solving the big problems of the human condition: Who am I? Where do I go? And how can I be happy until I find out?

1. The Daily Laws

Think back on the moments when you felt deeply and personally connected to an activity. Think about the pleasure it brought you. In such activities are signs of your true purpose.

Robert Greene

Immerse yourself in daily meditations on power, the art of seduction, mastery, strategy and human nature with Robert Greene’s The Daily Laws. It features 366 nuggets of wisdom, one for each day of the calendar year.

Greene is the author of six international bestsellers. With this collection of wise and practical advice on how to best use the laws of the universe to improve our lives, Greene offers a variety of approaches to mastering the laws. From understanding the power of principles and aligning ourselves with nature, to overcoming obstacles and achieving success.

He stresses the importance of discipline and self-mastery and emphasises the need to stay on track and prioritize our goals. The book also provides guidance on how to build relationships with others, choose the right people to be around, and make the most of the resources available. Ultimately, Greene’s daily laws can be used as a manual for bringing balance and harmony into your life.

2. Zen Mind, Beginner‘s Mind

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.

Shunryū Suzuki

Study the art of meditation with this modern classic by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki. In the format of casual talks, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind introduces readers to the practice of Zen Buddhism. It explores the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, such as the importance of meditation, non-attachment to material things, and living in the present moment.

This practical philosophy book also delves into the practice of Zen, including instruction on how to meditate, the importance of awareness and mindfulness, and the concept of emptiness. The book also provides practical advice on living a Zen life, such as being compassionate and how to deal with difficult emotions. It’s an accessible guide to Zen Buddhism and meditation and encourages readers to open their minds and hearts to its teachings.

The book is full of useful instructions, eye-opening metaphors such as the railway track thousands of miles long and thought-provoking zen stories. Shunryu Suzuki himself was best known for popularizing Zen Buddhism in the West. He founded the first Zen monastery outside of Asia in San Francisco, California. Neither aloof nor abstract, he presents himself in a humble manner free of judgement. Read it ten times and discover new insights every time.

3. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep re-defining what you do until this is true.

Naval

Tackle life’s big questions with this easily digestible practical philosophy book. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant is a collection of hands-on advice from Naval Ravikant, an entrepreneur and practical philosopher. The book is divided into five sections: Wealth, Mind, Spirit, People, and Life. It covers topics such as financial freedom, self-improvement, networking, relationships and finding meaning in life.

The book provides a unique approach to achieving success and happiness and is filled with inspiring quotes and actionable insights. Each section of the Navalmanack contains stories from Naval himself, as well as from other experts in their field. The book also includes an extensive list of references for further reading and learning. It’s a comprehensive guide to living a successful and fulfilling life.

It should be noted that Naval refrains from selling his solution as definitive wisdom. Instead, he encourages his readers and listeners to think for themselves by leaving room enough for their personal interpretations. I’ve previously written about his idea to escape competition through authenticity. Alternatively, check out my post about the most inspiring of Naval’s quotes. As for the Almanack, you can download it for free or buy it as a hard copy.

4. The Daily Stoic

Think of the life you have lived until now as over and, as a dead man, see what’s left as a bonus and live it according to nature. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?

Marcus Aurelius

Cultivate a Stoic mindset to live with intention and focus on the things that truly matter with The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. Comparable to The Daily Laws, it’s a guide to living a meaningful and fulfilling life inspired by Stoic philosophy.

Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasises virtue, self-control and resilience. It encourages living a life of moderation and tranquillity: Focus only on what’s in your own control: your thoughts, feelings and actions. Treat everything else with indifference.

The Daily Stoic is divided into three sections: “Understanding Stoicism,” which looks at the history and principles of Stoicism; “Practicing Stoicism,” which offers advice and practices to help readers apply Stoic principles to their own lives; and “Living Stoically,” which presents stories and examples of how to put the principles into practice.

Holiday’s book helps readers become more resilient and content. By combining ancient wisdom with modern-day guidance, The Daily Stoic is an invaluable resource for anyone looking to live a life of meaning and purpose.

5. Collected Maxims and Other Reflections

Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire.

Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Browse the collection of observations, aphorisms and witticisms about morality, society and the human condition written by a 17th-century French aristocrat. François de La Rochefoucauld’s timeless analyses tend to hit close to home. His maxims emphasise the self-centeredness of human behaviour and the foolishness of relying on luck or chance. They encourage readers to look inward and be honest with themselves in order to lead a better life.

Rochefoucauld highlights the hypocrisy and vanity of society as well as the impossibility of fully understanding the motivations of others. The French moralist also shows that relationships are complex and that it is impossible to always act virtuously, as we all have our own set of desires and weaknesses. We should be mindful of our own flaws and failings instead.

Rochefoucauld’s Collected Maxims can be seen as an encouragement to be self-aware and honest with ourselves. To recognise the complexities of relationships and the motivations of others. Ultimately, they serve as a reminder that life is full of contradictions and that we should strive to be the best version of ourselves. It’s an eerily timeless read to say the least.

BONUS: The Bed of Procrustes

You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a collection of aphorisms that provide philosophical insights into life. The book consists of a series of short, pithy and often counter-intuitive reflections on life and the human condition. As such they’re meant to inspire the reader to think differently about life and to challenge conventional wisdom.

The title of the book refers to an ancient Greek myth. Procrustes abducted travellers to make them fit in his iron bed by stretching them or cutting off their limps. It’s a metaphor for arbitrary standards and forced conformity. Similarly, the themes explored in the book include the perils of conformity, the importance of understanding uncertainty, the need for resilience, and the power of individualism.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb himself is a Lebanese-American author, mathematician, former trader and risk analyst. Probability and uncertainty are Taleb’s key areas of expertise. This is also reflected in his work about Black Swans or the importance of acquiring negative knowledge.

The Bed of Procrustes is a practical philosophy book written in an engaging and entertaining style, designed to provoke further contemplation. It’s the simplicity with which Taleb formulates his thoughts that provide the reader with new perspectives on age-old questions.

Closing Thoughts

In its accessible form, we can think of philosophy as a great equalizer; available to anyone regardless of status. If wisdom truly is to be rediscovered by each and every one of us, everyone can indeed become a philosopher.

Probably not a wildly influential one. But if we live long enough, we will all find our unique answers to the same age-old questions. They may appear mundane. But will be shaped by our life experiences, which will make them ours.