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Philosophy, Life and Philosophies of Life

Trudy Govier wonders whether the lives of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft tell us anything useful about their ideas.

When I was an undergraduate, we used to joke about people who asked of philosophy majors, “well, what's your philosophy of life?” We were sophisticated enough, we thought, to know that philosophy was a set of problems, questions, and methods – a specialized subject, technical in its own way, and not to be expected to tell us how to live.

Times have changed. These days there is considerable interest in philosophical teachings about how to lead a life. For all its familiarity, Socrates' dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living retains its importance. The Cynics and Stoics are also fascinating as philosophers of life.