Monday Motivator: Be a Better Person, Read a Book

If I were to invite any philosopher to dinner, it would probably be the Scottish Enlightenment scholar, David Hume. This is the way one of his biographers describe him:

The French learned to call him le bon David, but the epithet cannot be readily translated into one English word. To call Hume good would be misleading, for he was certainly no saint. In many ways, however, he was good: he was humane, charitable, pacific, tolerant, and encouraging of others, morally sincere and intellectually honest. He was always a loyal friend. He was, however, somewhat inclined to be jealous – jealous of his own reputation, jealous of the integrity of friendship, jealous of the prestige of his native country. Intellectually a citizen of the world, he was emotionally a Scot of Scots. He was, moreover, a worldly man who thoroughly enjoyed the good things of life – food and drink, wit, conversation, rational discourse.–E.C. Mossner The Life of David Hume, 2nd edition (Oxford, 1980)


Most of these qualities I would want in a dinner companion, but what makes me really like Hume is his thoughts on how to teach people to treat others better, to be, in other words, a more moral person. He did not, according to the Great Courses Lecturer, think they should turn to philosophy or theology. Instead, they should turn to literature, to read poetry and novels. 

I agree. Nothing takes you into the life of another person like a novel. It can change your viewpoint forever, even more than a movie because a book can take the time to develop a person’s character and explore his/her past. Books have let me vicariously experience and sympathize with slaves, kings, death-row inmates, adulterers, saints, servants, and gentility. I would not call myself a good person, but I am a better person from such explorations. 

Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all have friends and acquaintances among all different types of people. But for most of us, our worlds are made up of people who are pretty much like us. So a book is the next best thing.  



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