A Fresh Taste of Philosophy
by CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS
W. W. Norton & Company
Are you into philosophical inquiry, into answering lifes big questions which can also be the smallest questions of all? Are you one among the crew trying to "Know Thyself"? Have you ever imagined being part of a group that gets together for the sole purpose of philosophy?
This is the very purpose of Socrates Café. In 1996, author Christopher Phillips made a bold decision: life for him was falling apart, and he decided to start anew. He hit the road and began to travel, taking his idea of resurrecting Socrates to jails, nursing homes, schools, coffeehouses anywhere he thought he could pull people together for bringing philosophy to life. That dream appears to be working and spreading.
Socrates Café is about Phillips effort to bring deep inquiry into peoples lives, and how others can begin their own "cafés" anywhere they please. The task is merely gathering a group that wants to question though asking the most piercing questions may take some talent!
Although Phillips does act as facilitator in his own groups, he makes it very clear that he is not the teacher or guru or if he is a teacher, then so is everyone else in the group. He doesnt believe in people having to approach others to learn about themselves. And, beware astrologers and tarot readers: he likes not our cultures fascination with the "irrational," as he believes these fields. Although I am one to agree that there are charlatans in any field, I believe in a scientific basis to astrology, regardless of how well it is understood, and I believe that intuition should join with logic in any field of thought. Still, if one can read this book without becoming defensive about the authors views, I feel most will see great value in his efforts to make questioning a key part of knowing oneself.
Indeed, Phillips view on the so-called "irrational" would be ironic, since he proposes questioning all things; but it does appear hes up for questions about what the rational might not explain. I suppose this based on one discussion the book recounts in which an engineer explains how he spends all his time studying "whats," such as subatomic fields, electromagnetic fields, polymers, and bridges. The engineer says, "I often ask myself why these whats exist or why they are capable of existing. It has occurred to me that there would be no why without there first being a what. " When others in the group are fast to insist you cant ask "why is what," Phillips defends that all questions are fair game.
For someone interested in starting a Socrates Café of their own, the book is so full of sample discussions and thoughts that it can surely help to formulate ideas and approaches. For instance, the book reminds that the point of questioning is to wonder about our most basic assumptions, so that tradition neednt direct our whole way of life. Phillips says that the following question came up at one Café discussion: "How can we overcome alienation?"
While that could immediate launch a group into a brainstorm session on eliminating such a thing, Phillips suggests challenging the very premise of that question. "You may need to ask: Is alienation something we always want to overcome? For instance, Shakespeare and Goethe may have written their timeless works because they embraced their sense of alienation rather than attempting to escape it. If this was so, then you might want to ask, Are there many different types, and degrees, of alienation? Depending on the context, are there some types that you want to overcome and other types that you do not at all want to overcome but rather want to incorporate into yourself?"
For the philosopher at heart, this is an inspiring title indeed, especially because it shows how you can become directly involved, gathering friends or even total strangers together to join your own hearts passion. Asking questions in the Socratic method, we can get closer to knowing the essentials of life, to better perceiving our own biases and assumptions; and even without specific answers, we come closer to knowing ourselves. Believing this kind of questioning is imperative to living a conscious life, I encourage anyone with an interest in philosophy to pick up this book and to consider whether starting or joining a Socrates Café might be a thing to do! You can learn more about Christopher Phillips and his nonprofit Society for Philosophical Inquiry at <http://www.philosopher.org/>.