The Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy:
I walked into my neighborhood bookstore the other day and the manager said "Hey Tom, come look at this book I just got with you in mind." She took me over to a display table and there was a beautiful little book, with a green cover displaying an old fashioned coffee cup on the front. The Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy was the title. And the author's name was across the bottom, "Christopher Phillips." I didn't know the author, but I had a vague sense that I had read somewhere about the book coming out. I scooped it up and bought it.
Despite the fact that I was already reading 3 other books in addition to editing one of mine for publication, I started reading this book and could not put it down. It's the fascinating story of a young man imbued with the love of philosophy, who wants to bring philosophical thinking into the lives of more people. So, in his words, as a Johnny Appleseed of Philosophy, he begins going to book stores, coffee shops, elementary schools, senior centers, even prisons, to hold philosophical jam sessions. With a little advance notice, he can usually draw at least a small crowd. Sometimes he's surprised at the numbers of people who show up. He introduces himself, and asks what questions the people in attendance would like to discuss philosophically. Suggestions are made, and soon a free wheeling, yet Socratically disciplined conversation begins, typically among people who don't know each other, and who are perhaps from very different backgrounds, occupations, and worldviews. With Chris playing the role of Socrates, and teaching by example how we can all play that role - the role of a seeker after wisdom who is willing to question everything in search of the truth - he ignites philosophy in a place where it may never before have happened. He teaches and he learns. And he moves on to the next opportunity for creating philosophical community.
It's quite a story. This is a man on fire to help people think more deeply about their lives and experiences. And a man willing to go wherever he can to make this happen. Throughout the pages of the book, he comes across as an idealist who is willing to do what it takes to see his dream come true. And the book consists of stories along the way. We get to sit in on discussions all over the place, in a prison, or in a school. We are allowed to listen in on people's ruminations, reflections, and efforts to articulate their deepest beliefs. We overhear polite disagreements and witness collaborative efforts to get at the truth. What is the examined life recommended by Socrates? How can we live it? What is the best sort of life to live? And how do we get our bearings day to day, whatever we happen to be doing?
The conversations can veer from the practical to the theoretical, but always the voices of real people break through. I couldn't put it down until I had read the whole book, and it's rare for a new book to hold my attention like that when I really should be reading three others.
Take a look at Socrates Cafeif you come across it in a bookstore, or look it up online. You may find yourself drawn into its great conversations like I was. And somewhere up in Platonic Heaven, Socrates himself may smile.
To Learn more about what Christopher Phillips is up to these days, visit his website at www.philosopher.org.
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