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Socrates Meets Sartre : The Father of Philosophy Cross-Examines the Founder of Existentialism Paperback – August 1, 2005
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Kreeft takes the reader through the world of existentialist philosophy, posing questions that challenge the concepts that Sartre proposed. Based on an imagination dialogue between Socrates and Sartre that takes place in the afterlife, this profound and witty book makes an entertaining and informative exploration of modern philosophy
“Peter Kreeft’s work is (1) unfailingly brilliant, (2) intellectually agile, (3) astonishingly perspicacious, (4) gloriously orthodox, (5) Chestertonian aphoristic.” – Thomas Howard, author of On Being Catholic
About the Author
Dr. Peter Kreeft , a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, is one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time. His many best-selling books include Back to Virtue, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Heaven: The Hearts Deepest Longing, Fundamentals of the Faith, and A Summa of the Summa.
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However, unlike Plato's Socrates's which relies on almost entirely on logic Kreeft's Socrates often relies on popular opinion and personal attacks.
We find Socrates here psychologizing almost as much as we find him philosophizing, leading Sartre to more than once or twice label him 'Dr. Fraud.' It is all in good fun and entirely within the existentialist tradition of melding psychology and philosophy. There is simply no other way to analyze a philosopher who takes a conclusion for a premise, and then claims that nearly all pre-modern philosophers are simply avoidant and fearful of his manly premise.
E.g. Sartre's stubborn emphasis on responsibility is seriously undercut here, when Kreeft has his Socrates suggest that what Sartre really suffers from, is a fear of gratitude. Especially divine gratitude. This makes a lot of sense, and makes me want to read Gabriel Marcel, who pointed this out apparently. It makes a lot of sense for a philosopher to say that everyone is irresponsible if they accept any higher ontological grounding for morals or existence outside themselves, if that philosopher is wildly concerned with avoiding gratitude. Otherwise, there is no way of understanding the emphasis on the premise, other than the fact that it is more "manly" or "tough-minded." Just because a notion is more dark or depressing does not make it more true. The fact that I fear that cockroaches will rain out of the sky does not make it likely. Nor are cockroaches more reliable because they do not engage in wishful thinking... the proposition "there is a tunnel beneath this prison" may be true or not, but the fact that it is wishful, or relies on outside sources for hope and truth, does not make it less likely to be true. Those prisoners that doubt it's truth, because of its wishful quality, may themselves be psycho-analyzed as fearful of disappointment in the event that it turns out to be untrue. Their fear drives their disbelief, instead of facts, and reason, driving it.
Christopher Hitchens says that the doctrine of the atonement is immoral. This reflects a lot of Sartre's thought. But receiving a gift from another person, whether from a friend or as a grace from God, does not lessen responsibility but increases it. It is precisely by allowing oneself to receive such gifts that one entwines oneself in increasing responsibility (debt) to others. Sartre himself sees this, but in a twisted way: "by giving to others I destroy by appropriating." The whole point of the Brother's Karamazov, as Kreeft points out, is that by sharing responsibility collectively, (whether that of original sin, or that of redemption) we increase our individual responsibility exponentially. Thus Dostoevsky not only pre-figured Sartre, but surpassed him.
One glaring inconsistency of Sartre's (which Sartre probably didn't miss) is that he says that an atheist existentialist is deeply disturbed at there being no God, yet later on he says that God's existence is irrelevant. The latter comment came at the end of his speech "Existentialism and Human Emotions" and (I think) it was probably more of a rhetorical device.
Not only does Kreeft expose these flaws, but he makes a point at how frightening such a philosophy would be if true. But this leads me to my criticisms and the reason why I gave the book only 3 stars:
-too often he resorts to personal and needless attacks on Sartre.
-he is unfair to Sartre in the section regarding collective responsibility and war
-there are a few typos that can create significant confusion (this is probably due to an inadequate copy editor)
-And finally, Socrates often appeals "ad populum" and seems to value happiness over truth. By that I mean that it seems as if Socrates would rather believe a false philosophy of objectivity even if it means believing a falsehood. This is not the Socrates of Plato, or for that matter, of Kreeft's other books. It doesn't even seem like the Kreeft of the classroom who advocates being "tough-minded," that is, believing the truth even if it makes us absolutely miserable.
I enjoyed the book, but I felt too much of it was unnecessary and irrelevant to the discussion of Sartre's work to give it more than 3 stars.
As for the comment in another review about "Existentialism and Human Emotions" being a work Sartre rejected, Sartre did his best to live the philosophy presented in that book. He said too many things to take them all seriously.