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Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy Paperback – April 17, 2002
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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 cafs, 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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In many ways, for this book the sum of its whole is less than certain of its parts. This is not meant to be disparaging but, to explain, the first level, which carries the book's narrative, is interesting but not totally absorbing. I would have enjoyed the book just for this level alone; particularly those sections where the author uses his experiences to illustrate a point. I particularly enjoyed the discussion concerning the nature of community which was sparked by the author's experiences at a church with no central religious belief - "When is a church a church?". The third level is also interesting in that one can imagine attending a Socrates Cafe and it was interesting to see how such a discussion is facilitated.
Both of these levels are interesting and would have been sufficient to produce a good book. However, and what I mean by the parts exceeding the book, is that on a number of occasions I was prompted to put the book down and think carefully before I continued. This did not happen on every page but sufficiently often for me to take some time to read what is a fairly slim volume. My particular favorite was the discussion concerning the theme "Why is what?". Another favorite was the discussion concerning the North American constitution and Declaration of Independence. These episodes turned an enjoyable book into something of great interest.
My only criticism is that the book is short (and that fact that the closest Socrates Cafe is too far for me to visit).