In the past, I saw two remarks on Philosophy SE that were quite telling to me:

  1. all philosophy is a commentary on Plato
  2. modern philosophy is specialized.

These two remarks are obviously subject to debate.

What I'm looking for in this question is if there are what I would characterize as "desert island" books or particular philosophers or schools that one can live by.

Stoicism seems to have some currency today. And Yngve Slyngstad, onetime head of the Norwegian Wealth Fund, hung out in a cabin reading Heidegger.

So who might be the Western thinkers that could serve as free-standing go-to sources for inspiration.

  • 2
    Epictetus, Epicurus, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 18:31
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Thanks. It's been a long time since I studied math (and set theory in particular) but I remember you from Math SE. One of the best. With regards,
    – user49216
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 18:36
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    Russell's works are good.
    – Ajax
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 19:06
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    Seems like you want gurus rather than philosophers. Peter Singer's work & ideas around effective altruism can guide how to live, but don't fit your criteria of providing 'inspiration', or being 'free-standing'. I like Vervake's Meaning Crisis series on Youtube, on why it's not about one philosopher or philosophy, but a toolbox.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 1:58

1 Answer 1


Welcome, user663837

One minor point: What Whitehead said was that Western philosophy could best be seen as a series of footnotes to Plato: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” (Process and Reality, p. 39, Free Press, 1979). Footnotes, not commentaries.

A living philosopher who comes to mind is Alain de Botton. His works include:

Essays in love. Reprint of 2006 revised ed. London: Picador. (2015) [2006].

How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)

The Architecture of Happiness (2006)

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)

Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012)

Plato he ain't but he is a competent philosopher who has ideas about how to live.

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