Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy
by Christopher Phillips
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
List Price: $14.95
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"A bracing, rollicking read about the spark that ignites when people start asking meaningful questions."—O MagazineChristopher Phillips is a man on a mission: to revive the love of questions that Socrates inspired long ago in ancient Athens. "Like a Johnny Appleseed with a master's degree, Phillips has gallivanted back and forth across America, to cafés and coffee shops, senior centers, assisted-living complexes, prisons, libraries, day-care centers, elementary and high schools, and churches, forming lasting communities of inquiry" (Utne Reader). Phillips not only presents the fundamentals of philosophical thought in this "charming, Philosophy for Dummies-type guide" (USA Today); he also recalls what led him to start his itinerant program and re-creates some of the most invigorating sessions, which come to reveal sometimes surprising, often profound reflections on the meaning of love, friendship, work, growing old, and others among Life's Big Questions. "How to Start Your Own Socrates Café" guide included.
For Christopher Phillips, philosophy is a passion: it is not so much a discipline to be learned as an experience to be lived. Taking his cue from Socrates, the inaugurator of the Western philosophical tradition, Phillips embarks on a search for truth and meaning through a series of conversations that is at once refreshing, humorous, troubling, confusing, encouraging, depressing, and provocative. What makes Plato's Socratic dialogues so enduring--and Phillips's book so intriguing--is that for both Plato and Phillips, philosophy is not something you read or study. It is something you do. Plato wrote in Parmenides that "without wandering around and examining everything in detail one is unable to secure understanding." Phillips takes this approach--the Socratic approach--to heart. In the course of Socrates Café, he travels around asking questions of everyone who's interested. Just like the real Socrates, who did not confine himself to the Athenian ivory tower, Phillips searches out public conversations--what he calls Socrates cafés--with children, seniors, psychiatrists, prisoners, ex-academics, students, lawyers, and everyday people. In a sense, the book is a series of short, modern-day Socratic dialogues interspersed with meditations on the nature of philosophical inquiry.
Phillips seizes upon what the Greeks called "elenchus," a method of inquiry that helps people see their own beliefs and opinions more clearly. In the course of the numerous Socrates cafés highlighted in this book, Phillips persistently reminds us that we ought to ask questions simply because the process is good for us. In each of the cafés, the participants vary as widely as the questions, and the dialogues are by turns candid, insightful, muddled, intelligent, bland, and piquant. The real meaning of Socrates Café lies in the contentious and wonderful space of human interaction. --Eric de Place
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