Have you ever tried reading a book of philosophy, written by an actual philosopher?
I have, and it’s demoralizing.
Here I was, thinking I was a good reader, excellent in fact, but then why can’t I make a single bit of sense out of this text?
I am a person who needs a dumbed-down version to understand philosophy. But the 2022 philosophy book How to Be Perfect, by Michael Schur, is not for dummies. It made me think aplenty. It also made me laugh—Schur is a comedy writer—and that’s no small thing in the accounting of my enjoyment of a book.
How to Be Perfect is extraordinary in its understandability, considering the subject matter. It covers the ethical philosophies of Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and many others. If you’ve ever wondered how you ought to behave in any given situation, these philosophers offer interesting and plausible frameworks to follow.
If you can understand them. Which you can, if you read this book!
Here’s an example of Schur’s clear writing style. This sentence is from the section on the living philosopher Peter Singer:
“We do a lot of dumb stuff that we don’t need to do, and when we do that dumb stuff, we very rarely think about the moral opportunity cost—the other, better things we could be doing instead.”
—Michael Schur, How to Be Perfect
I love that down-to-earth sentence.
And it made me think. I recently bought a stationary exercise bike, which arguably I don’t need, since I get most of my exercise by running outside, and when I’m not running, I can always walk, unless the weather is extreme (which it rarely is in the DC area). Imagine if I had taken that money and given it to a reputable charity that saved lives or enabled dreams or helped clean up the environment or . . .
I do give to charity every month. But . . . how much is enough?
Have you bought anything unnecessary lately? Have you given to others lately?