The Deepest Human Life (Hardcover)

An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone

By Scott Samuelson

University of Chicago Press, 9780226130385, 240pp.

Publication Date: April 3, 2014

List Price: 22.50*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Winner of the 2015 Hiett Prize in the Humanities. 

Sometimes it seems like you need a PhD just to open a book of philosophy. We leave philosophical matters to the philosophers in the same way that we leave science to scientists. Scott Samuelson thinks this is tragic, for our lives as well as for philosophy. In The Deepest Human Life he takes philosophy back from the specialists and restores it to its proper place at the center of our humanity, rediscovering it as our most profound effort toward understanding, as a way of life that anyone can live. Exploring the works of some of history’s most important thinkers in the context of the everyday struggles of his students, he guides us through the most vexing quandaries of our existence—and shows just how enriching the examined life can be.
Samuelson begins at the beginning: with Socrates, working his most famous assertion—that wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing—into a method, a way of approaching our greatest mysteries. From there he springboards into a rich history of philosophy and the ways its journey is encoded in our own quests for meaning. He ruminates on Epicurus against the sonic backdrop of crickets and restaurant goers in Iowa City. He follows the Stoics into the cell where James Stockdale spent seven years as a prisoner of war. He spins with al-Ghazali first in doubt, then in the ecstasy of the divine. And he gets the philosophy education of his life when one of his students, who authorized a risky surgery for her son that inadvertently led to his death, asks with tears in her eyes if Kant was right, if it really is the motive that matters and not the consequences. Through heartbreaking stories, humanizing biographies, accessible theory, and evocative interludes like “On Wine and Bicycles” or “On Zombies and Superheroes ,” he invests philosophy with the personal and vice versa. The result is a book that is at once a primer and a reassurance—that the most important questions endure, coming to life in each of us. 


About the Author

Scott Samuelson lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where he teaches philosophy at Kirkwood Community College and is a movie reviewer, television host, and sous-chef at a French restaurant on a gravel road. Visit the author's website:

Praise For The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone

“As a freshman in college, Samuelson fought with classmates over whether philosophy was essential for a meaningful life. Fortunately, he’s still fighting. Defying the widespread perception of philosophy as an academic specialty, Samuelson urges readers to join him in a humanizing intellectual adventure, one that begins with Socrates’ frank profession of ignorance. . . . But perhaps no one teaches more than Samuelson’s own diverse college students—a wine-loving bicyclist, a sleep-deprived housewife, a monk-faced factory worker. These seemingly ordinary people underscore the most important lesson of all: philosophy matters for everyone.”

— Bryce Christensen

“The Deepest Human Life offers us the kinds of tools we have always needed to face Pascal’s implicit challenge to face ourselves, difficult though the task may be.”

“Many professors claim to learn from their students while inwardly denying the claim. But the enchanting Samuelson takes us along to class with him in these lively pages. Unlike other members of the philosophers’ guild, he seldom serves up an abstraction without an accompanying concrete example culled from in-class comments and student papers. . . . This compelling story of philosophy nudges the reader toward the conviction that a sense of awe, which Samuelson lionizes and invites, will transform more than our ways of thinking.”

“Samuelson has given us a personal perspective on doing philosophy. While a close reading of The Deepest Human Life will let you come away with a broad contextual understanding of the development of western thought, the book is really about inspiring the reader to think—and act, and live—more philosophically.”

“For a survey of philosophical thought, Samuelson’s quirky, abundantly informed new book, The Deepest Human Life, is a surprisingly snappy read. A cynical elevator pitch might call it “philosophy for dummies,” but it’s not for dummies any more than it’s for overly serious chin-massagers. The book would be useful as either an introduction or a brush-up, and enjoyably personable in either instance.”

“A basic but thoughtful introduction to philosophy. Samuelson treats philosophy not merely as a topic or academic subject, but as an approach to life. As a teacher and as a person, Samuelson encourages his students—who, as community college students in a small, Midwestern city, come from all walks of life—and his readers to do the same. . . . Samuelson works through a wide spectrum of key issues and thinkers—both classical and contemporary—in a fair, efficient, sympathetic, and enjoyable manner. His writing style is both engaging and approachable. The “interludes” between the book’s four parts encourage readers to reflect on what appear to be commonplaces in human experience (laughter and tears, wine and bicycles, campfires and the sun); yet, these experiences can and should give rise to wonder, the beginning of philosophy. A notable feature of the book is the wide range of sources from which Samuelson draws, from philosophers and mystics to poetry and modern mythologies.”

“Scott Samuelson is a philosopher with a knack for storytelling.  As a result, The Deepest Human Life is a book that humanizes philosophy and that relates grand philosophical themes to the lives of ordinary people. Not only that, but Samuelson writes in a manner that ordinary people—meaning those without a philosophical background—will find inviting. Readers will come away with a better understanding of some of philosophy’s fundamental concepts and in many cases will also have taken important first steps toward conducting an examination of their own lives.”

— William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life