Friday, June 25, 2010

What Passes for Socratic and Philosophical

Christopher Phillips set out to do something really exciting. He wanted to host several Socrates Cafés across the world and in radically different cultures. The result is a fascinating insight into all kinds of cultural points of view I have never considered or been exposed to before. Phillips arranges open discussions among these various groups, gathers people of different ages and in different circumstances of life, and asks them some of the great Socratic questions. I really enjoyed listening in on the conversations including Navajo Indians, Koreans, second generation Muslims in America, and life-long prisoners. In almost every instance there was a variety of opinions among the people in the group, which of course added to the joy of the read.

One interesting exception to the variety of opinion was the Manhattan crowd – every one of them was a morally and intellectually confused relativist (in my opinion). Another exception to what was standard in the rest of the conversations was the group of Catholic Christians near the end of the book. Instead of an open dialogue where every opinion was accepted, the conversation was steered toward dislike for the established Catholic Church.

One other detail deserves mention. That these conversations pass for Socratic is telling. At almost no time (with the possible exception of the Catholic Christians) did Phillips push back on any answer anyone gave. The guiding principle of these dialogues seemed to be, “all views are equally acceptable,” which is to say these dialogues were not Socratic. Socrates did not ask questions because he was simply curious about what his fellow human being believed. He was after the truth, and Socrates was not above vivisecting an interlocutor to get to it. But, it seems we would rather sit, gab, and accept and call it philosophical.

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