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Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away Paperback – Illustrated, January 6, 2015
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“Highly original. . . . In Plato at the Googleplex, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein set out to showcase, in sometimes startling ways, the continuing relevance of a classic philosopher. But what’s remarkable is that she actually brings off this tour de force with both madcap brilliance and commanding authority.” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“I have not done justice to the richness and detail of this invigorating book. The combination of historical scholarship, lively presentation, vernacular dialogue, and intellectual passion make it a unique achievement. Plato may have died over two thousand years ago, but he lives on, vibrantly, in these piquant pages.” —Colin McGinn, Wall Street Journal
“Books like Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex are of the rare type that contribute to the popularization of knowledge and create appetite for more. After reading this book you will . . . question your views and knowledge about politics, psychology, science, history, and ethics.” —Liana Giorgi, New York Journal of Books
“Rebecca Newberger Goldstein manages to be so funny and right.” —Stephen Fry
“Consequently Plato at the Googleplex merits comparison to two of the best books of its kind in recent years, Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, but Goldstein’s is, in my opinion, the best of the lot, not because it necessarily has more facts or science, but because it hits more deeply and broadly at the faults of our societal discourse and makes us (well, me at least) feel embarrassed over it.” —David Auerbach, Slate
“Into a weighty discussion of the Platonic world view Goldstein inserts fictional interludes that see Plato, Cromebook in hand, touring the Googleplex, a neuroscience lab and beyond. . . . This thought experiment usefully casts an eye on our turbocharged century. And it shows what survives of this classical titan: an ability to plumb the deep questions we still grapple with, from the nature of knowledge to morality.” —Nature
“A witty, inventive, genre-bending work . . . Goldstein’s philosophical background serves her impressively in this reconsideration of Plato’s work, and her talent as a fiction writer animates her lively cast of characters. . . . [Her] bright, ingenious philosophical romp makes Plato not only relevant to our times, but palpably alive.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Plato lives! Brilliantly re-creating Plato’s philosophic dialogues, Goldstein transports the ancient Greek philosopher to the twenty-first-century headquarters of Google, where his probing voice engages three modern hosts in exploring what knowledge means in an age of computerized crowd sourcing. . . . Though Goldstein’s gifts as a novelist animate these dialogues, her scholarly erudition gives them substance, evident in the many citations from Plato’s writings seamlessly embedded in the conversational give-and-take. Goldstein’s scholarship also informs the expository essay that prefaces each dialogue.” —Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
“Plato at the Googleplex is an important and amazing book. It is important for two reasons: because philosophy is important, and Rebecca Goldstein does a wonderful job of explaining why, and because Plato’s genius remains inspiring, and she also does a wonderful job of explaining why, without losing sight of the fact that Plato lived and thought in a very different time, or losing sight of the fact that he was the beginning, not the end, of philosophy. It is amazing because the book takes great risks—including the risk of including 21st century dialogues about Plato’s philosophy, and thereby risking comparison with the greatest writer of philosophical dialogues that ever lived—and succeeds, in part because she keeps the dialogues as light hearted in tone as they are serious in intent. As she did in Betraying Spinoza, Goldstein beautifully combines the skills of a distinguished novelist with breathtaking philosophical scholarship. I repeat, this book is important and amazing.” —Hilary Putnam, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities Emeritus, Harvard University
“Plato at the Googleplex is a wonderful book—enjoyably readable, full of stimulating insights and refreshing observations, unintimidatingly erudite, and salted with a gentle wit. It will reward both readers who are professional philosophers as well as amateurs who are interested in acquiring a deeper understanding of what serious philosophy is all about and why it continues to flourish.” —Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit
“This could be one of the best ever demonstrations of the value and utility of philosophy. Richly insightful, beautifully written, it is at once introduction, exploration and application, revealing the fascination and significance of philosophical ideas and their relevance to life. Like the Plato who figures largely here, Goldstein has both literary and philosophical gifts of the highest order: the combination is superb.” —A.C. Grayling, author of The God Argument
“It would have been easy for a lesser author to drop Plato in a number of modern-day situations, cook up some clever dialog, and land on the conclusion that the philosopher is as comfortable at Google headquarters as he was at the acropolis. Instead, MacArthur Fellow Goldstein imagines Plato and his interlocutors as complex characters. She shows that we’ve brought Plato forward with us into the boardroom and the classroom because of our dependence on the Socratic method for arriving at new knowledge and refining old wisdom. Alongside a few more serious essays, we find Plato debating the distinction between information and knowledge with a Google employee, taking a personality test at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, and debating a ‘hardline’ host on cable news. Verdict: Goldstein is a serious scholar, and her careful citations, footnotes, and background research betray this fact. However, anyone with an interest in philosophy, Plato, or his legacy on Western culture will find this book to be an accessible and enjoyable read.” —Robert C. Robinson, Library Journal
“Novelist and philosopher Goldstein has an imaginative conceit: to bring Plato into the 21st century by having him go on an American book tour. Here, Plato hauls around a Google Chrome computer, generally finds modern technology “wondrous,” and takes the Meyer-Briggs personality inventory. In lieu of Socratic dialogues, he engages in contemporary American ones. . . . These witty contemporary sections constitute about a quarter of the book, while the remainder consists of an in-depth study of Plato’s views and the historical and intellectual context of his times. . . . [Goldstein] proves a clear and engaging writer, and though the academic parts of this book take precedence over the entertaining and accessible contemporary passages, overall, this is both an enjoyable and a serious way to (re)learn Plato’s ideas.” —Publishers Weekly
“A MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, Goldstein always delivers something exciting for inquiring minds. Here, she imagines Plato brought to life, hashing out challenges from Fox News on religion and morality, keeping Freudians and tiger moms from coming to blows, and wondering why crowd sourcing trumps experts. C'mon, philosophy is fun, and it sells. Think Daniel Dennett, Alain de, Botton, Jim Holt.” —Barbara Hoffert’s MY PICK, Library Journal
“‘Every generation could use a Plato,’ said Clancy Martin in The Atlantic. If you doubt it, pick up Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s ‘ingenious, entertaining, and challenging new book.” In an attempt to challenge the widespread contemporary assumption that science is leading us ever closer to resolving all mysteries, the ever-inventive philosopher-novelist has imagined Plato on tour in America engaging members of today’s chattering class in friendly dialogues that expose the inadequacies of various accepted paths to wisdom. . . . In the end, Plato can be a maddening figure because he never did get around to defining what living the good life would be. Much as he believed that careful thought might help us conduct ourselves more wisely, he remained skeptical even of his own capacity to discern the answer.” —The Week, Book of the Week
About the Author
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University. Her award-winning books include the novels The Mind-Body Problem, Properties of Light, and 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and nonfiction studies of Kurt Gödel and Baruch Spinoza. She has received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, has been designated a Humanist of the Year and a Freethought Heroine, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2015. She lives in Massachusetts.
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated edition (January 6, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307456722
- ISBN-13 : 978-1782395577
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.18 x 0.97 x 7.99 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #319,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book includes several "cute" sections where Plato visits Google, helps an advice columnist advise people on problems with their love life, debates a cable news character, shares the stage with a Tiger mother character and a psychoanalyst to discuss child upbringing, and debates free will with a neuroscientist.
These sections are good, and amusing, and extensively use quotes from various dialogues -- most of Plato's speeches are not made up by Goldstein, but are taken from his writings. For example, much of what Plato says to the cable news character is actually taken from the Platonic dialogue called the Gorgias, in which the character Socrates addresses a character who is very similar to some modern cable news personalities. So this chapter actually summarizes and redoes the Gorgias dialogue, which is both enlightening and amusing.
However, most of the content of the book is not these fantasy sections. Most of the chapters of the book are instead a straightforward exposition by Goldstein of what Plato's philosophy is, how it is based in the culture of ancient Greece yet deviated significantly from that culture and modified it for the better, how it is distinct from Judeo-Christian and other religious approaches to the "meaning of life", and how it influenced subsequent philosophy in the Western world, and in particular the liberal philosophies that came out of the Enlightenment.
I believe that this book is perhaps one of the best introductions to Plato for modern readers that I have seen. As far as I can tell, based on my reading both of Plato and of secondary sources on Plato, Goldstein's book is a highly accurate account of Platonic philosophy. It is also a sympathetic account of Plato.
At the same time, Goldstein makes clear that in some respects the philosophies that have developed since Plato HAVE made progress beyond Plato -- which, as she points out, would please Plato very much.
A reader of this book will get a biographical account of Plato's life, as well as summaries of some of the key points of many Platonic dialogues, and extensive quotations from many of these dialogues. It's a good introduction that should inspire many readers to read the original Plato.
I think this book also makes clear why Platonic philosophy can also be considered a RELIGIOUS philosophy, in the sense that it is not just a theoretical exercise, but a call to live a certain way of life.
Explaining this achievement In full would probably need many of the four hundred some pages Goldstein herself uses. But briefly, Goldstein sees Plato as affirming that the highest form of life is the contemplation of eternal verities. Philosophy’s role is to continue to challenge the personal assumptions each of us makes when living under this guise of eternity. His most significant lasting achievement was his own intuition/assumption that the universe is permeated with reason whether or not it is ultimately penetrable by human rationality.
All of this leads to a distinctly modern Plato rather distinct from theory of the forms or the antagonist of the free society. I can’t say I fully buy this version of Plato for if Socrates is his philosophic guide it is hard to see how Socrates’ explicit disinterest in reflections on the cosmos would lead to Plato concluding that it is just such contemplation that is humanity at its best.
But, whether you fully or just partially agree with Dr. Goldstein you will be left with a strong feeling of pathos after reading this account of the life and death of Socrates and its effect on Plato. It gives birth to a philosophic vision worthy of response and reflection.
Not only a noteworthy book but a must read for those who continue to think that forms of reasoning other than science can offer a meaningful contribution to understanding the human predicament.
This book is a love of wisdom and the honest search thereof. I loved the approach of the author in giving an odd little chapter (Plato on a tv show with an obvious Bill O,Reily), followed with a chapter exploring subject within context and history.
This should be required reading for every undergrad, philosophy student or not. I put it alongside Durant’s books as beautiful starts on the road to philosophy. In these pages is love of wisdom.
Top reviews from other countries
This is the critique of philosophy that Goldstein is arguing against in this readable book. She brings Plato back to life and introduces him to the modern day: discussing the need for Philosopher-Kings and whether they could be replaced by computer AI, debating how to raise excellent children, giving relationship advice as an agony aunt in a magazine, being interviewed on cable news about science and philosophy, and finally, in conversation with a neuroscientist about mind v brain while waiting for a brain scan. Interspersed with these lively dialogues (an ancient idea, borrowed from Plato himself), Goldstein writes more traditionally-styled chapters, discussing the historical Plato and Socrates, and the cultural context in which their ideas were developed.
This is a fascinating read. I actually found the traditional chapters more informative, as the others are played for culture-clash laughs as much as for exploring the philosophical issues. What I found most interesting was the discussions of that cultural context: the explanation of precisely why those Greeks, insecurely looking back at their own Golden Age, found Socrates to be such an annoying little gadfly, and were so worried about the way he was corrupting their youth, that they were willing to democratically vote to put him to death.
The writing is lovely throughout, and I learned a lot, about Plato, Socrates and ancient Greece, about philosophy, and about the reason for doing philosophy (that is, for arguing a subject into the ground). There is a lovely passage near the end explaing why it is so important that we argue out all points, and that no ideas should get a free pass: [p377.] "Exposing our most cherished beliefs to the rough treatment of multiple points of view—each of which is prone to see the world from the vantage of its own advantage—is our only hope for defeating the hazards of self-serving subjectivity—complacent at best, murderously certain at worst."
Yet despite all this, I felt there was something lacking. In the very first paragraph of the Prologue, Goldstein says: [p3] "A book devoted to a particular thinker often presumes that thinker got everything right. I don’t think this is true of Plato. Plato got about as much wrong as we would expect from a philosopher who lived 2,400 years ago. Were this not the case, then philosophy, advancing our knowledge not at all, would be useless. I don’t think it’s useless, so I’m quite happy to acknowledge how mistaken or confused Plato can often strike us."
And yet, the majority of the book seems to be about what Plato did get right. The points Plato concedes in the dialogues seem minor compared to the overall point; the majority of the standard chapters are about Plato’s philosophical achievements, and relatively small improvements since.
I take it that the argument is that we still need new philosophy (so still need philosophy researchers), not just that we need to apply existing philosophical principles and approaches (that we only need philosophy teachers). So I don’t think this book achieves what it sets out to do: to demonstrate that philosophy research is relevant today (although I agree that it is). However, that doesn’t matter; what the book does deliver is very good: Plato in his historical context, and Plato coping with the modern world, at the Googleplex, and beyond.
Coming back, Chapter 1 was is a marvellous introduction to the sexiness of philosophy from Plato's eye. I literally used to close my eyes to feel the trance sort-of experience while reading some of the ending pages of chapter 1. Chapter 2 is where the journey begins. Plato is seen in his old toga sitting at the Google-Complex (or Googleplex) in Seattle (perhaps like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev), about to address his fans. The women who is the prime lady having conversations with him hardly know any philosophy, let alone Plato and the Greeks. The journey as you read is really akin of reading a deeply profound novel. This is in fact a novel. Philosophical novel!
Chapter 3 is introduction to Greek history and thought in general, which was boring to me. Maybe sometime in the future, I shall return to read it far more carefully than I did it the first time.
Erfordert vom Leser zwar gute Kenntnisse der englischen Sprache, ich hoffe aber, dass für alle anderen möglichst bald eine gekonnte Übersetzung zur Verfügung steht. Das Buch verdient einen großen Leserkreis.