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Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy

Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy

by Christopher Phillips

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Socrates thought that understanding the perspectives of others on these six great questions would help him become a more excellent human being. In Six Questions of Socrates, Christopher Phillips poses Socrates' "original" questions -- as recorded by Plato -- in the most diverse cultural circumstances. This unconventional method of discussion brings out surprising


Socrates thought that understanding the perspectives of others on these six great questions would help him become a more excellent human being. In Six Questions of Socrates, Christopher Phillips poses Socrates' "original" questions -- as recorded by Plato -- in the most diverse cultural circumstances. This unconventional method of discussion brings out surprising commonalities -- he begins with "What is virtue?" in the remains of an ancient marketplace in Athens and moves on to a Navajo reservation in the Southwest, where it turns out that the Navajo conception of virtue, hozho, includes a sense of order and harmony with the natural world both similar to and distinct from the conception of the ancient Greeks. In Detroit, Phillips discusses "What is moderation?" with a group of twenty Muslim women, some veiled, some not, who explain to him the Koranic notion of a "just mean" or "balance between extremes."

Along Phillips's journey, one learns both about Western philosophers from the ancient Greeks to Nietzsche and about the philosophical traditions of Native American tribes, Asian cultures, and the Islamic world. Phillips shows how "big questions" are inseparable from timely political issues, as when in Mexico his companions consider the question of "What is justice?" and discuss the endemic corruption of the Mexican police force and political system; just as the question of "What is piety?" has particularly intense meaning for a group of Catholics reeling from the priest sex-abuse scandals. Six Questions of Socrates opens minds and reinvigorates the idea of philosophy not as an academic or historical exercise, but as a way of thinking about how to live now.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first book, Socrates Cafe, Phillips charmingly recounted how he roamed the country starting philosophical discussion groups inspired by the Socratic method of questioning. Here, Phillips ventures to many lands, including Greece, Japan, South Korea and Mexico, and stages dialogues with people from many backgrounds: Navajo, Confucian, Islamic, Jewish, Catholic. He discusses six questions, each in a separate chapter: What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is good? What is courage? What is piety? His hope is to "discover an array of timely answers" that may help us achieve "human excellence." The author's own ruminations, and an eclectic selection of published ideas from Tom Sawyer to Thich Nhat Hanh, supplement the 20 or so dialogues. In a final chapter, Phillips argues that the Socratic "pursuit of the virtuous life" may provide a way of countering the "downward [moral] spiral" he sees prevailing in today's world. Phillips's idealism remains refreshing, and the book is valuable for its inclusion of non-European points of view. But as in Socrates Caf , the philosophy often feels superficial. For example, a discussion in Mexico of "What is justice?" turns into a catalogue of government injustices with nothing more to say philosophically than, "We have to make sure that justice serves all of us in an impartial way." Such insights are obviously not without value, especially for those new to philosophizing, but they make this very much a book for beginners. Author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Phillips (Socrates Cafe) pursues philosophy according to the Socratic model, the antithesis of the modern academic: he travels around the world, organizing group discussions in which participants of all ages, education levels, and walks of life lead and follow one another in the pursuit of clarified thinking. The six leading questions he presents to such participative audiences-and here to readers-are literally thousands of years old: what are virtue, moderation, justice, the good, courage, and piety, and is excellence yet possible? As Phillips argues, "By looking at how these questions are conducive to examining particular issues in specific places and times, we can see how universal patterns emerge." And so we readers listen in on discussions held in Athens, Tokyo, Seoul, and Montclair, NJ, among other places. Phillips has transformed the actual records of these discussions to preserve participant anonymity, and so they seem to share qualities with Plato's dialogs, being both realistic and somewhat fictionalized. Educated readers will want to discuss the ideas in this book, which is precisely the author's intent. Those new to philosophical thinking will find it an admirable introduction.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-What is virtue? Courage? Justice? Piety? By discussing possible answers, Socrates sought understanding and perspective in order to become a better human being. With the same goal in mind, the author took these questions to informal discussion groups throughout the world. They included schoolchildren, the elderly, the homeless, university students, and average middle-class workers. What makes this book so fresh and appealing is how these age-old questions are revealed to be incredibly relevant today. September 11, Mexico's Zapatista rebels, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Native American struggles are just a few of the huge range of topics that came up. In trying to define modesty, Muslim women gave diverse viewpoints regarding traditional dress, Korean students argued the merits of Confucianism, and U.S. students offered thoughts on conspicuous consumption. The book is dialogue-driven with the thoughts of prominent thinkers like Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Jefferson, and, of course, Socrates inserted at appropriate places. Phillips's smooth, natural style enables readers to feel that they are part of the discussion at hand, making the book engaging and accessible to those who may have been put off by the formality of traditional works. YAs who are globally conscious or naturally inquisitive will find this title particularly attractive.-Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"What is virtue?" Socrates asked. Moderation? Justice? Courage? Good? Piety? Here, Phillips, founder and director of the Society for Philosophical Inquiry, goes on the road to pose the six classic questions to ad hoc forums around the world. Whether Socrates ever considered adding "How much time have you got?" to the list isn't noted here, but seems relevant in view of Phillips's presentation. The point, of course, is to enlighten the reader on how individuals as diverse-give the author credit-as members of the Navajo Nation in the southwestern US and Greeks in modern Athens place value on their societies, and themselves as members. Unfortunately, the feedback within these spontaneously recruited groups (we aren't told much about the process, but they frequently contain students and senior citizens) tends often to be oversimplified and circumlocutory. This allows the author to weigh in-mostly after the fact, one suspects-with his own opinions and a wide-range overview culled at length from contemporary philosophers, academics, and inexhaustible others who ponder fundamental thinking. At one point Phillips quotes the screenplay of Gladiator on the pursuit of excellence; at another he cites the rock star Bono paraphrasing Gandhi. The familiar code of the samurai as evinced in the work of film director Akiro Kurosawa is also given an airing at the appropriate juncture: discussing the concept of courage in Japan. There are a few surprises-a tribal member from the Mexican State of Chiapas, for instance, reports there is no word for "justice" in his native language because his people were never unjust to each other-but primarily, there is a lot of pondering and referencing. Proudly faithful toSocrates, whose mission was, per a quote from Greek writer Gregory Vlastos, "forcing himself on [those] who have neither taste nor talent for philosophy."

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 7.98(h) x 1.11(d)

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Meet the Author

Christopher Phillips is an educator, author, and pro-democracy activist. Visit him on the Web at www.christopherphillips.com.

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