Sick Souls, Healthy Minds
How William James Can Save Your Life
John Kaag believes philosophy is the “stuff of everyday life.” The Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and an award-winning author of several books, he explores topics important to all of us: our mental and physical health, our happiness and emotional well-being, and how we can find our deeper purpose. In the aftermath of a pandemic that brought the world great suffering and collective trauma, Kaag's work is especially timely, revealing how we can consciously respond to grief and move forward with hope and pragmatism. His talks—intimate, soulful, and wise—teach us how to develop a personal philosophy that will ultimately help us lead better, more fulfilling lives.
“Mr. Kaag deftly weaves his philosophical concerns with the small and large crises of daily life.”— The Wall Street Journal
The father of American philosophy, William James, once asked: “Is life worth living?” It was not a theoretical question, but a very real one: “James's entire philosophy, from beginning to end, was geared to save a life—his life,” writes John Kaag. In his deeply personal, thought-provoking new book, Sick Souls, Healthy Minds, Kaag looks to philosophy, but also empirical psychology, to help answer some of life’s biggest questions—using his own life as the template. In doing so, Kaag confronts the challenges and uncertainties that we will all face at one point or another, and have confronted with more frequency during recent years: how should we process feelings of isolation and meaninglessness? How should we approach romantic relationships or raise our children? And how should we balance our routines, necessary and yet often anesthetizing, with the spontaneity and indulgence needed to truly experience life? Practical, compelling, and crucial for the anxiety-inducing times we live in, Kaag’s book offers more than a lucid introduction to William James’ philosophy—it shows us how to actively pursue a life worth living. Chosen as one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Next Big Idea Club’s most anticipated non-fiction books of spring, Sick Souls, Healthy Minds has been described as “earnest [and] accessible” (New Yorker), “pithy and exacting” (Wall Street Journal), and “characteristically elegant” (New York Times Book Review).
Kaag is also the author of two other books. His debut, American Philosophy: A Love Story, was chosen as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2016, selected as a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and took home the John Dewey Award in American History. His book Hiking with Nietzsche, also an NPR Best Book of 2018, is described as “a stimulating book about combating despair and complacency with searching reflection.” As a teacher, Kaag is both approachable and profound—introducing audiences to deep, life-altering concepts that have the power to influence where we find meaning and how we become who we are.
In addition to his role as Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Kaag is the External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and a Professor of Philosophy and Writing at Outlier.org (an offshoot of Master Class). His engaging teaching style has earned him a number of awards throughout his career, including the University of Massachusetts Teaching Excellence Award (awarded to one professor across the university system) and Harvard's Bok Center Award for Teaching Excellence. He has appeared with Derren Brown at the Barbicon Theatre to talk about living through suffering and Kaag has written extensively in academic philosophy but his work has also appeared in popular media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Outside Magazine, The Paris Review and Harper’s Magazine. Kaag studied at the University of Cambridge and received his doctorate in American Philosophy from the University of Oregon.