How to Learn Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

“Beginning of modern thought.”

Witold Gombrowicz starts his guide through modern philosophy with characteristic concision. The “First Lesson” is a description of Kant’s contributions to philosophy, with some explanation of Descartes to see where Kant is coming from.

A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen MinutesGombrowicz — playwright, diarist, novelist, and thinker — leaps through philosophy since the Enlightenment with poetic, aphoristic prose. By the time the guide ends with Husserl and Nietzsche, we have travelled through Hegel, Marxism, and Existentialism with remarkable speed. In the end we get much more than perspective on some of the great thinkers of modern western Philosophy, but the style and insight of Gombrowicz himself. These lessons are given dates, leaving us the sense that we are moving through both Gombrowicz’s life and the life of philosophy. In these brief quotations from A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes, translated by Benjamin Ivy, we find Gombrowicz’s lucid encapsulations layered with his artistic flare:

On Writers and Kant:

“What was the most profound vision of the world in the 18th century? One finds it in Kant, without whom it would be impossible to know the development of consciousness through the centuries. Philosophy is needed for a global view of culture. It is important for writers.

On Philosophy:

“Philosophy allows us to organize culture, to introduce order, to find ourselves, and to attain intellectual confidence.”

On Schopenhauer and Art:

“Schopenhauer formulates an artistic theory which is, for me, the most important of all. And, just between us, the extremely naïve and incomplete manner of dealing with art in France is due primarily to the ignorance of Schopenhauer. Art shows us nature’s game and its forces, namely the will to live.”

On Existentialism:

“Existentialism is subjectivity.

Personally, I am quite subjective and it seems to me that this attitude corresponds to reality.”

On Marx and humankind:

“Man is in relation to the external world. He needs to dominate nature, and there lies his real problem, all the rest is frippery.

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