North Adams Transcript
"Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics" by Margreet de Heer (NBM)
When you read about the ideas that sprang forth from religious thinkers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who were in their own eras very progressive in aligning theological belief with rational observance and thought, you get a true sense of how far we've tumbled down the hill of brain power.
While there certainly are religious people who take their cue from such great men, the movement of time has not passed these intellectual heights to the common believer -- in that realm, not much has changed, and religion is not a reason to let your mind get to work, but to shut it down.
Dutch cartoonist Margaret de Heer is able to trace that theological strand from Greece to now -- and what we squandered on the way -- in her charming and insightful cartoon survey of philosophy. She asks the big question -- What is thinking? What is reality?-- and connecting its resonance in everyday life, reveals just how big they really are and the validity in asking them. The big questions, properly examined and answers strongly sought, bring a good life, and a good life effects others in a positive way.
That's the center of so much philosophy, despite that perceived headiness and abstraction that can often push laymen away from it. One of de Heer's great strengths is bringing the lofty concepts down to autobiographical moments, relating how the observations of Socrates, Plato and others have a direct context in anyone's daily existence.
By filling in the biographies of the thinkers and juxtaposing them with their thoughts, and then interjecting her own experiences, de Heer presents the full scope of what thinking has to offer, and how philosophy is possibly best described as the discipline of thinking, relatable to ordinary things in ordinary lives, as well as religion, science, art, psychology and much more.
The history of philosophy is the history of thinking, and in de Heer's treatment, that means much more than philosophers. Though she does a wonderful job of examining the work of everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Erasmus to Descartes, she hands off her own interests to those of friends and family, which allows her to look at less likely thinkers like George Carlin, as well as misunderstood ones like Nietzsche.
The point is that, following a section on reality and its inherent subjectivity, the individual perception of meaningful philosophy becomes important in de Heer's presentation, allowing her to acknowledge the accrued triumphs of the history of philosophy, while bringing it into each reader's personal bubble.
It's a smart and giving book that should be required reading for anyone -- a sweet and amusing manual of how to navigate human beings and use your own brain while doing it. You don't have to live life on automatic pilot and de Heer's cartoons can show you the way!