In 2009 we asked philosopher and author Alain de Botton to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I’ve been thinking about how employers, when they hire somebody, aren’t just getting a certain set of skills. They are hiring a whole person, into whom so much energy has been poured over the years, chiefly by parents. And yet the contribution of these parents isn’t really acknowledged, let alone rewarded. In an individualistic culture, we read people as spontaneous phenomena. We forget that there is never an individual, only ever a group, a family, a society… which we do our best to deny…
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
I’m very struck by an idea from the Australian philosopher John Armstrong who argues that the capacity to appreciate beauty is connected to having suffered a lot. We are ‘moved’ by beauty (a beautiful film for example) partly because it’s in such contrast to our everyday life. If you were designing a robot who could appreciate beauty, you’d have to give it a tough life.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
I have been repeatedly struck by the richness of ideas in Karl Marx’s work. Read The 1844 Manuscripts for a set of hugely penetrating ideas about work, politics,society.
Alain de Botton is the author of a number of bestselling books including Essays in Love, How Proust can Change Your Life and The Art of Travel. He is a founding member of The School of Life in London.