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Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy Paperback – April 17, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; W. W. Norton & Company edition (April 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332298X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393322989
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In an entertaining blend of memoir and philosophical reflection, a former journalist describes his adventures bringing philosophy to the masses through his Socrates Caf‚. Phillips travels the country starting philosophical discussion groups in caf‚s, schools, churches, community centers, prisons, hospices, nursing homes and senior centers. In each session, a question from a participant becomes the focus for free-flowing, sometimes contentious, communal inquiry. Questions spotlighted in this book include "What is insanity?" "How do you know when you know yourself?" "What is a world?" "Does anyone have the right to be ignorant?" and "Why question?" A rough version of the Socratic method is employed, characterized as "the sustained attempt to explore the ramifications of... opinions and... offer compelling objections and alternatives." Phillips presents several real discussions in poetically "filtered" form, interspersed with his own lucid commentary and citations. These dialogues are lively and sometimes moving, particularly his account of how he met his wife. But the quality of participants' opinions is often low, on the sophomoric level of such comments as "Communication is meaningless," and despite Phillips's efforts to probe, these dialogues yield few fresh insights. Phillips's own philosophical weakness is in romanticizing questioning as nearly an end in itself, claiming to run a "church service for heretics," even though his belief that "all so-called truths... are never the last word" is itself a popular dogma. Nevertheless, as in the case of the usually silent fifth-grader who wonders out loud about the word "wonder" ("I wonder what other kids think of me.... I wonder what they see, I wonder if they see a good person..."), he winningly showcases a tantalizing method for getting philosophy to thrive more widely.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Phillips does admit in passing that Socrates was pretty much an anti-democrat.
S. J. Snyder
This book has given me a lot to think about regarding the questions we ask in life, and how those questions can make such a big difference in our lives.
Lincoln S. Dall
This book is for anyone who is looking for an interesting book on philosophy and language that anyone can understand.
William Bradford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Sara on February 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is the fascinating story of a young man imbued with the love of philosophy, who wants to bring philosophical thinking into the lives of more people. So, in his words, as a Johnny Appleseed of Philosophy, he begins going to book stores, coffee shops, elementary schools, senior centers, even prisons, to hold philosophical jam sessions. With a little advance notice, he can usually draw at least a small crowd. Sometimes he's surprised at the numbers of people who show up. He introduces himself, and asks what questions the folks in attendance would like to discuss philosophically. Suggestions are made, and soon a free wheeling, yet Socratically disciplined conversation begins, typically among people who don't know each other, and who are perhaps from very different backgrounds, occupations, and worldviews. With Chris playing the role of Socrates, and teaching by example how we can all play that role - the role of a seeker after wisdom who is willing to question everything in search of the truth - he ignites philosophy in a place where it may never before have happened. He teaches and he learns. And he moves on to the next opportunity for creating philosophical community.
It's quite a story. This is a man on fire to help people think more deeply about their lives and experiences. And a man willing to go wherever he can to make this happen. Throughout the pages of the book, he comes across as an idealist who is willing to do what it takes to see his dream come true. And the book consists of stories from along the way. We get to sit in on discussions all over the place, in a prison, or in a school. We are allowed to listen in on people's ruminations, reflections, and efforts to articulate their deepest beliefs.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Avery on January 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book started off in a very interesting fashion. The dialogues he initiates are interesting. They also have some enlightening answers. Not to mention rational thinking, a very under-used part of the mind, is given an arena to exercise itself. However, I felt the second part dragged. Or as a family member described it, "he turned into his own commerical." The more I look back on it, the better that statement seems to describe later sections of the book. His writing is for the most part good. His aim is admirable. But in the process the book became bogged down and uninteresting. I also think the premise that truth can be arrived at through conversation is an untenable one. It can map out exactly what we are talking about and the complexities of the issue, but not much more than that. I don't think the book has anything lasting about it. It merely seems to reflect a trend to bring philosophy into the pragmatic, everyday world, such as Alain de Botton. I would recommend Botton's work as opposed to this, which has much greater insights into everyday life using traditional philosophy. If more people take this route, philosophy can be saved from word games and deconstruction, which even Derrida himself said "can not be a method and should not be one."
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Sally on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was blessed to go to a reading-signing conducted by Chris Phillips, who also facilitated a live Socrates Cafe. I was astounded by how his dialogues in his books don't just mirror his live dialogues, but tie in all these wonderful threads with great thinkers across the disciplines from the past and present, while Phillips himself weighs in critically and creatively -- Socratically, I guess he'd say -- on so many timeless topics. He shows what a sham it is to create all these artificial divides between the disciplines, he shows how art and poetry and the hardest of the hard sciences are all intertwined, and how we can reveal hidden likeness between so many things by joining him in his exhilarating pursuit to question, question, and question some more in a decidedly Socratic way. My favorite vignette of all from his book is "What's Love Got to Do With It," where he recounts movingly the story of how he met his wife at a Socrates Cafe; in fact, she was the only one who came to that particular session -- they discussed the question, "What is love?" -- and they ended up marrying one another! It's so beautiful, and all the sections of the book are deeply moving, penetrating and insightful. Best of all, Phillips never talks down to his readers. Rather, he prods us to think through our own unique answers to life's great questions. What a gift he has given to us. Already, thanks to his book, I'm asking myself, and answering more fruitfully, "Who am I?" and "WHo can I become?"
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Hal on February 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The only people who won't like this book are academics who have made their discipline irrelevant and sophists who have made their discipline a laughingstock. They'll feel threatened by the new and invigorating and exhilarating life Phillips breathes into philosophy. Phillips shows in a way that I have not seen before in a modern philosophy book that philosophy isn't merely about asking certain questions -- What is truth? What is being? -- in the way questions are asked. So it is that via his mesmerizing version of the Socratic method of philosophical inquiry, Phillips explores in a profound and yet sweeping way in "Socrates Cafe" such questions as "Why is what?" "How can an intelligent, sensitive person get stuck in a lousy job?", "What is home?" and "What is silence?" He has recaptured the tradition of unendlingly novel and illuminating philosophical exploration that sadly has gone by the wayside for the most part since Socrates' lifetime. This book is for everyone who wants to push their thinking, for everyone who wants to better answer such questions as "Who am I?" and "Who can I become?" Thank you Christopher Phillips for bringing philosophy back to the people and for having the courage of your convictions in presenting such a compelling alternative to the narrow, unimaginative thinking that passes for philosophy today in books by academics and sophists.
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