Most people who come to philosophy for the first time know rather little about it. Nonetheless they often have a preconceived idea that philosophy ought to raise and answer fundamental questions about how to live, about what things are good and evil, and about what the 'meaning' of human life is. Yet, the philosophy books they read at the start of their studies rarely seem to have a direct bearing on these topics and from this they conclude that their preconceptions about philosophy were mistaken. Sometimes the result is that the newcomers discover a new interest in 'academic' philosophy and leave their previous interests behind; alternatively they abandon philosophy with a feeling of disappointment, and turn to more 'popular' works that come from writers with little or no training in formal philosophy, or to works of literature that throw light on their original interests in a different way.
Both these outcomes are regrettable and unnecessary. It is indeed wrong to think that philosophers are solely, or even primarily concerned with the questions philosophy is commonly supposed to address. Yet the popular conception of philosophy is not wholly mistaken. Many of the greatest figures in Western philosophy from Plato to Wittgenstein have wondered what the good life for a human being consists in, what makes it good and whether its being so has any cosmic significance. At the same time, these questions are not well answered by simple personal reflections, however sincerely meant, such as one finds in books where the author merely aims to set out 'my philosophy'. Two thousand years of philosophical inquiry has shown that surrounding the topics of value and meaning there is a large set of complex questions whose understanding takes considerable intellec-