Socrates in Love

Our CoPhi discussions of Socrates, Plato, Platonic love, Higher Love, and human reality yesterday inspired at least one student, who boldly and generously offered to host gatherings that might partake of the free truth-seeking spirit of Socratic dialogue. We noted (with M.M. McCabe) the allure of a kind of conversation our culture’s almost forgotten how to have, an occasion for everyday people to get together and 

to discuss with others in this open-minded, open-ended way that allows them to reflect on what they think and us to reflect on what we think, without dictating, without dogma, without insistence, and without imperative… to be true to themselves: to be sincere about their beliefs and to be honest… and to have some respect for their companion.

Christopher Phillips was similarly inspired when he created Socrates Cafe,

gatherings where people from different backgrounds get together and exchange thoughtful ideas and experiences while embracing the central theme of Socratizing; the idea that we learn more when we question and question with others.

The point is to foster mutual understanding, empathy, respect, and collaborative enlightenment, to break down barriers to communication, to go beyond the superficial plane of trivial and meaningless discourse that so often characterizes our public exchanges, to put partisan prejudice aside and really listen to one another.

And, as with the great Gadfly himself, the point is to puncture the pretense that only a few of us really Know, and are licensed to engage in such discourse. No: philosophy is supposed to be for everyone.

So, with the pleasing vision of Socrates Cafe coming soon to the agora of our little ‘boro in mind, it felt serendipitous to come across this last night in the Times:

We can talk across lines [of partisan division and mistrust] by talking about what we love, because a lot of us love the same things: our kids and grandkids, our country, the natural world, the idea that people should be able to get ahead in life. Then we can talk about our doubts, because we all doubt that what we love is being served well. Beginning a conversation with loves and doubts rather than political ideologies opens a new door to dialogue, driven by story-telling rather than political point scoring. (“Reclaiming ‘We the People,’ One Person at a Time“)

This is the Socratic dream of one Parker J. Palmer, who runs retreats based on something he calls a Circle of Trust. Like Chris Phillips, he wants “to help people step back from the noise of modern life, reflect, and return more centered and effective in their vocations.” 

“Talking about what we love”: that’s what Socrates was all about, at his ancient Symposium and in Phillips’ Socrates in Love. Let’s do it too.

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