Who are you? Where do we come from? These, in the world of Jostein Gaarder at any rate, are the central philosophical questions. Being in thrall to these questions, succumbing to their charm and feeling the depth of their unanswerability, is what, in Gaarder’s opinion, distinguishes the philosopher from the herd; where the herd sleep peacefully, the philosopher is kept awake by the nagging insistence of the demand to ‘know thyself’. The philosopher is thus, in some sense, more alive than others, and Gaarder evidently sees it as his task to awaken the philosopher in all of us; to keep us, so to speak, from dozing off again.
It is a naive view of philosophy, and one completely at odds with current practice. Philosophers today don’t talk much about ‘knowing thyself’ (did they ever?); they produce inaccessible articles, which few people read, on pseudo-technical subjects such as the ‘assertibility-conditional theory of meaning’ or ‘idexical reference’ . Often, they