When people talk about philosophy, visions of stuffy old professors spring into our heads. Stale ancient figures plod before the mind’s eye, crushing consciousness with endless moral debates and obscure thought experiments, occasionally slapping the chalk-dust out of their moth-eaten tweed jackets.
But there’s something wrong with this picture, at least as far as Christopher Phillips is concerned. Socrates Café, his new book, begins with a short discussion of basic philosophy, but never becomes a typically dry primer on the history of a complicated and often obscenely boring subject. Instead, Phillips describes his endeavours to bring philosophy “back to the people” by starting up groups for philosophical inquiry in coffee houses and universities across America – the Socrates Café.
Philosophy, Phillips says, shouldn’t be about a tiny group of academics arguing about nothing. It’s about people figuring out for themselves what life is about by carefully and relentlessly asking questions.
The Socrates Café is a place where people can do what Socrates himself did – discover that they are often much smarter than they believe they are, and that real wisdom is something that anybody can and should discover.
Phillips deftly intersperses anecdotes from his various Socrates Café discussions with autobiographical accounts of his own journey of philosophical inquiry.
He weaves it all together with playful humour and equal measures of compassion and challenging questions.
By the end of the book, you’re tempted to start a Socrates Café of your very own, which is Phillips’ real success.
If you read this book, you run a real risk of being bitten by the philosophy bug – you’ll start asking questions and you might not be able to stop.