French philosophers: Beware of “self-development” books

It angers them with its “superficiality” and they see it as a danger to the reader’s intelligence

It seems that we have reached a time when the boundaries between the so-called “self-development” and philosophy have become blurred… How? A quick look at the shelves of libraries tell us the answer. Books choose titles that make you wonder if you are really on the shelf of philosophy, such as the German Peter Sloterdijk and his book: “You must change your life,” the French Alain Badiou in “The Metaphysics of True Happiness,” or Jacques Atali with his author: “Control Your Life … Or How become you.” If you open social media, you may be shocked by the large number of “self-development coaches” who cite Epicurus, Plato, Emerson and Stoic philosophy to explain to you the recipe for happiness and inner peace. Some may disavow this “rapprochement”; Praising the excellence and superiority of philosophy or science, and another group may see positives in it, considering that some flee from reading philosophical texts because they seem difficult to understand, so what if self-development contributes to simplifying and generalizing them? The idea is based on the great demand that self-development enjoys, as her books often top the list of best-selling publications. In the United States, for example, the profits of this type of books jumped from 9.9 billion dollars in 2016 to 13.2 billion in 2021, and they constitute more than 30 percent of the book market in France; Whereas, 33 percent of the French have read at least one human development book a year; According to a recent study published in the newspaper “Le Figaro”.

Charles Beiban

Researcher at the University of Brussels, Nicolas Marche, sees in his book “From happiness to the market of misery … or the community of self-development” – Bove Publishing House, that “reading these books does not come as a means of entertainment, as the demand for them is the result of (need).” Or (a request) aimed at overcoming a problem: financial hardship, lack of self-confidence, social isolation…etc. And in the end, it glorifies the individualism of modern man, who is told that he is capable of everything thanks to his supernatural, untapped resources. Of course, there is no shame in a person trying to develop himself and overcome difficulties with his own effort, but the problem begins when these writings transcend their limits and cross them into other knowledge spaces spreading limited or wrong concepts. This is at least the warning issued by a group of philosophers who have vehemently attacked self-development and its books; At their head is the philosopher and researcher Julia de Vinas, who says in her book “Non-self-development… the success of the bluff” – “Lubservatoire” publishing house: “What happens is that the writers of self-development use philosophical concepts of Socrates and Epicurus and many ancient philosophies such as Buddhism It is similar to the (patchy) process to suit their discourse without a deep study of their works. The writer continues: “Take, for example, Socrates’ saying: (Know yourself). The writers of self-development see it as an invitation to internal reflection and self-development, while Socrates’ definition of this concept is far from the (narcissism) that they talk about. Socrates was of the opinion that knowledge (the self) does not come from within; Rather, it is from conscious contact with the world.” Julia de Vinas also criticized the concept of self-development of “rationality” which means that a person will change his life if he reprograms his mind towards what should be done, and confronted it with the views of philosophers such as David Hume and Descartes, and her perception of a person who cannot be rational at all. We choose the heart, or Nietzsche’s opinion of the emotional situation that is behind every decision…. Many other concepts such as “the self” or “absolute volition” and “positivity” are presented in self-development books from a limited and superficial perspective, while philosophy calls us to critical thinking and interview opinions to each other. The writer concluded that what combines self-development and philosophy is the search for answers; But the difference is in the method.

Julia de Vinas

As for Yves Cousy; The philosopher and artist, he adds in his satirical book: “Succeed in your life at first sight” – Flamarion Publishing House: “Self-development depends on the ideology of (speed); Who promises you to become a millionaire in 6 months, or successful in your work and your relationships in 20 days… which is what I call (the recipe) through which you are held responsible for your success, in addition to remorse in case of failure… This is all dangerous; Because it limits a person’s freedom and weakens his intelligence.”

Philosopher and professor Charles Pepin focuses on the superiority of philosophy in contrast to the absence of scientific legitimacy for self-development. He writes in: “Philosophy… Encounter” – Alari Publishing House – the following: “Hegel calls us to movement: Do not be satisfied with your inner convictions, try to Prove it objectively, after spending two hours explaining this philosophical statement to a student, I say to him: Now do you understand that you have to get out of the house and move? This advice is more effective than a self-development coach who has not read more than 3 books in his life and who trains you for morning sports by saying: Now move!!! Biban adds: “There is no war between self-development and philosophy. There are only bad books that help no one; Because it is badly written.

In his book: “They Understood Everything … Self-Development According to the Ancient Thinkers” – Hachette Publishing House – Nicolas Lizimacchio sees that “philosophy has been concerned with the problems of both the individual and society from the beginning, and when we turn to the development coach to help us; We pin the hope of self-development on someone else. The difference with philosophers is that when we read their works, we train ourselves; Because it invites us to self-reflection and pushes us to think, not to accept a ready idea.

For his part, Nicolas Marche reminds us that “philosophy did not wait for the twentieth century to make (work on the self) one of its main themes; In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant’s task was to answer two important questions: “What should I do?” and “What can I expect?” On the other side of the Atlantic, Emerson’s “Moral Perfection” was the path to a more meaningful life. Despite the certainty that philosophy deals with these topics much higher and deeper; Many of us find ourselves drawn to the ease of self-development books.”

What has also changed today is the exacerbation of individualistic tendencies in modern societies, and this general feeling that the world is in crisis and that we must move quickly to find a solution and without waiting for outside help, and this is the gap that self-development books have exploited.