Philosophy has implications in our lives, ranging from the very ordinary to the grand systems of knowledge, politics, economics, etc. In this documentary series, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, popular British philosopher Alain de Botton invites us to explore the intellectual contributions and historical influence of various philosophers and, more specifically, their thoughts on the pursuit of happiness and how learning philosophy can turn us into better human beings.
Why do so many people conform to the beliefs of their culture and even help perpetuate such beliefs without properly understanding the rationale behind them? Partly, this might be due to the swaying power of what Nietzsche called the great number: the social consensus. Partly, it might be due to people’s inability to have confidence in their own beliefs, especially when these contradict the social norm.
Given his ability to turn arguments on their head, those barely familiar with Socrates tend to think of him as rather annoying. That’s a bit of a premature judgment, since there is a profound upside to his approach. As opposed to Jesus, who preached we all become his sheepish followers (and he does refer to himself as the shepherd and his followers as his sheep), Socrates teaches us to stand up on our own, to develop confidence in our own ideas through the use of rigorous and logical thinking, through questioning and critical self-assessment. These tools can help us all weed the good ideas from the bad, in any area of life, without having to fear the disapproval of the many. Philosophy, for Socrates, was an invitation for intelligent non-conformity; this is why he was considered dangerous by the Athenians.
Although philosophy has many democratic characteristics, there is also a sense in which it is not democratic: good ideas aren’t good because they are embraced by a majority, they are good because they survive scrutiny better than other ideas.