In the six-part video series Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, Alain de Botton looks toward philosophy as a discipline that “has wise things to say about everyday worries.” De Botton’s videos, each nearly 25 minutes long, explain the ideas of major philosophers as applied to modern life. Each video also functions as a travelogue of sorts, as de Botton visits the cities that produced the thinkers and tries to square their histories with the modern world around the relics.
In the first video in the series, de Botton discusses Roman philosopher and tragedian Seneca. As advisor to the Emperor Nero, Seneca had to deal with a psychopathic youth who made a daily practice of torturing people in various gruesome ways. Becoming angry with the young man — or angering him — could turn out to be a deadly luxury. Seneca characterized anger as a rational response that nonetheless relies on false premises, namely that we have more control over our circumstances than we actually do, and that our optimism about outcomes is unfounded and sets us up with unrealistic expectations. Seneca’s bloody plays, which inspired the Elizabethan genre known as “Revenge Tragedy,” are particularly grotesque explorations of anger. But perhaps it is those who most clearly see the pernicious effects of an emotion who understand it best.
To find out more about Alain de Botton’s work in practical philosophy, please see his website.