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Christopher Phillips: The Socrates Café Movement

Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips, PhD, is founder of the global Socrates Café movement, dedicated to making ours a more understanding, connected and participatory world through rigorous, methodical yet accessible philosophical questions. Hundreds of ongoing Socrates Cafés and kindred groups have been established, including in Saudi Arabia, with people of many ages and walks of life at venues including community and cultural centers, libraries, universities and schools, coffee houses, hospitals, prisons, as well as via virtual platforms.

In addition to many scholarly essays, he has authored an array of general interest books translated into many languages, including the acclaimed international bestsellers, Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, Six Questions of Socrates, as well as Socrates in Love, A Child at Heart and the upcoming Soul of Goodness. His various popular philosophical children’s books includes Philosophers’ Club and Day of Why.

Christopher has been Network Ethics Fellow at Harvard University, Senior Research and Writing Fellow at University of Pennsylvania, the first-ever senior education fellow at the National Constitution Center, and was recipient of the Distinguish American Leadership Award. Christopher’s newest book is Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal and Setback into Love, Joy and Compassion. You can find out more about his work at ChristopherPhillips.com.


How did you become interested in this area (Philosophy)?

I had little choice but to become interested. As I write in my newest book, Soul of Goodness, when I was quite young my Greek grandmother, or Yaya, Calliope Kavazarakis Phillips, began to instill me with philosophical teachings that she herself had learned from her own parents. She was the oldest of eight, and as such in that matrilineal society (the oldest female sibling received and all inheritances, per tradition), she was a forbidding, astute, loving, incredibly intelligent and passionate person. Though I was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia, I spent all my childhood and adolescent summers in Tampa, Florida, under my Yaya’s wing and tutelage. So while my friends back in Virginia were enjoying a leisurely break from the formal school year, I was being schooled by my Yaya, who took advantage of this time to instill me in all things bright and beautiful about my Greek heritage.

After immigrating (not once, but twice) from the tiny volcanic island of Nisyros, in the South Aegean, to the U.S. through Ellis Island and eventually settling in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, my yaya Calliope (named after the ancient Greek muse of wisdom and poetry) put out her shingle as a teacher of Greek language and culture. I believe she’s the very first one to have done that in Tampa.

As a youngster, I learned from my Yaya her unique take or slant on (what follows is notes I took when I was 11):

  • eudaimonia – Guarantor of human flourishing, wellness, prosperity, blessedness. Spirit of joy obtained through suffering and agony, when your heart is in another. “The one who lives well”—for arete—is blessed, prosperous and joyful.— Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 1
  • and atopos – Spirit of a wanderer rooted at home, apart from yet connected, out of place yet belonging, strange yet familiar, marvelous and distasteful – “This is a custom of [Socrates]: . . . he stands apart wherever he happens to be.”
  • and daimon – Divine voice of conscience, reflection, self-awareness, goodness
  • and sophrosyne – Spirit of a sound and healthy (good and just) mind and soul. Conductor of the spirit orchestra. Teaches you when to restrain and when to let loose, when to go it alone and when to team up. Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 4: “Sophrosyne . . . stretches through the whole, from top to bottom of the entire scale, making the weaker, the stronger, and those in the middle . . . sing the same chant together.”

As I write in Soul of Goodness, this is in essence “the chant of arete, a Hellenic Greek term for all-around excellence in all life’s dimensions. A siren song with sophia-scored notes, compelling you to lead a life outside common hours, marching to your own drummer. It does not lead one to set out to achieve the comparatively puny goals of happiness or the good life—goals commonly and scandalously misattributed to Socrates himself—but leads one to reach for kinds of excellence and joyousness on the other side of (or more likely, along with) suffering, agony, despair.

Even though I have since gone on to earn lots of lots of degrees, including three masters degrees and.a PhD, philosophy has remained earthy and down to earth for me, thanks to my Yaya Calliope, but in ways that inspire me forever to push outwards the bounds of creating, sculpting human ways of being

So I also learned about these rich concepts in ways that differ quite markedly from how they’re typically bandied about these days in academia and elsewhere. I try to set the record straight about them in Soul of Goodness, not as an end in itself but so readers can learn how to channel these concepts, which are also kinds of ‘spirits,’ I maintain, that can help get us through the most trying times.

I also was schooled by my Yaya Calliope about the pre-Socratics, about Zeno of Citium, to whom she took a particular shine; but her heart and soul was with Socrates. She gave me a collection of Plato’s Socratic dialogues when I was about 10, and I had but little choice to pour over it. Thankfully Plato, a poet and dramatist of the life of reason, was an engaging writer, and most of what he wrote wasn’t as over my head as I worried it might be. I became smitten with the Socrates he adumbrated – not just the historical version but latter versions that Plato featured and that also to me had an integrity and imaginative vision and intellectual honesty, even if that particular ‘iteration’ of Socrates didn’t exist in real life.

But these were not by any means mere didactic teachings. For her, the life of excellence and virtue hinged on cultivating what she referred to as the ‘Socratic spirit,’ a curious, fascinating amalgam of forces and practices and knowledge traditions that could see you through the most difficult times. I never really realized, until my father’s devastating unexpected death, how critical these teachings and practices of hers were in enabling me to see my way through all the terrifying ugliness that ensued in the wake of my father’s passing, and about which I write in Soul of Goodness – and not just as a memoir, but as a guide or path of sorts for others who themselves are experiencing grievous or extreme setbacks, reversals, loss, in their personal and private lives.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

That’s a challenging question for me, in part, because I don’t consider myself a teacher (probably why I feel atopos in the academic cloister 🙂 – more of a ‘modeler.’ I consider myself an ‘openist’ (which is different that a ‘pluralist’), and by that I mean I try to be open to new discoveries, ‘surprises,’ paradigm shifts in knowing and creating, and to model and sculpt a type of persona, sensibility, ethos in which to live a life of conscience, excellence, integrity, boundless childlike curiosity.

Be that as it may, there are key Hellenic Greek concepts by which I live and do try to impart whenever given the opportunity. I sport a heart-shaped tattoo on my forearms with the Greek lettering for the concepts of arete and meraki. These are words I was brought up with on how to live. The one I would choose above all the others, since you have asked for one, is arete. As the great Greek scholar H.D.F. Kitto put it, arete is about being an excellent all-rounder, but with an ethos imbued, in which duty to self and to others goes hand in glove.

Christopher Phillips Tattoo

By the lofty benchmark of arete, we should, each in our singular way, strive to be excellent doers, thinkers, makers, strive to learn between and above and beyond any specific discipline or knowledge category, and strive for a kind axiological and existential way of being in which we never try to advance by self-aggrandizement, at the expense of others, but rather to immerse ourselves in this world in ways in which we’re always trying to make conditions more fertile for all our other fellow humans to be all to ‘be all they can be,’ always while cultivating a keener social conscience, sculpting ideas and ideals (and maybe imagining, discovering and realizing new ones along the way) that make our mortal moment one in which those who came before us would be most proud.

The concept of meraki (as well as others) is entwined (I say this as someone with dual Greek-U.S. citizenship) with this unique Greek way of living out loud, with passion, and commitment and joy, soulfully, rather Zorba-like – probably the towering public intellectual and philosopher Cornel West, my dear friend, a great Socratic thinker and unswerving supporter, would call it living a life of jazz, guided by an existential ‘Coltrane-ian’ ethos and pathos. In this way, you live with ‘Socratic spirit,’ with poetry and passion and commitment and unwavering discipline and stick-to-it-ive-ness that not only is about living an engaged present, spending yourself in a way that does justice to those who came before you (many if not most of whom had no opportunity to articulate much less realize) their more sublime aspirations, those present with you know, maybe starting with your own family and forever expanding outward the circle of inclusion from there, and those still to come, not just in the next immediate generations, but for hundreds of generations hence. I believe we’re largely lacking that kind of imaginative and empathic vision today in the age of woke and cancel culture and extraordinary polarization that can lead us to be isolated even from ourselves. All the more reason to try to model and example of how to live rightly and righteously, not in a one size fits all prescriptive way, but in a way that inspires others to find and chart their own unique path that always takes into account arete and meraki.

I have this tattooed on my forearms not so much as a reminder but an impetus that these are at the core of how I live. Socrates said in Plato’s Republic that all questions we examine should ultimately lead to greater insight into that question of questions, namely how one should live. But I think we need to cultivate concomitantly the spirits of arete, meraki, atopos, eudaimonia, sophrosyne, as we explore these questions – indeed, it’s sort of a ‘feedback loop,’ the spirits driving the Socratic method, and the method driving the spirits.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

I’m not very practical by today’s benchmarks. Probably my most important piece of impractical advice is: you never know when your time is up, so give every day everything you have, take sublime risks if you have the opportunity, and try to do some good. Nietzsche said something to the effect that we shouldn’t requite evil with evil, but show those who have deliberately acted upon us and others in an evil way how they did us some good. But that can be too self-centered. I think we should, instead, when we are the victims of betrayal, loss, setback, and worse, because of the deliberate actions of others who may be filled with malignance, maliciousness, malevolence in this increasingly Age of Rage, that we should strive more than ever not to show how it did US some good per se, but how it drives us, more than ever, to DO GOOD, period. My own beloved father’s mysterious and untimely death certainly has, and all the ugly events that continue to swirl around it, more than anything else has made me even more driven to do what I can, while I can, to make ours a more heart-shaped world.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

That question has always resonated with me. I believe he posed that question at a high school discourse in 1967, as part of his speech’s overarching “What is your life’s blueprint?” theme. I never was called upon, by any legal statute (like conscription) to serve my country or world, yet for me it was incumbent to do so. I don’t really preach to others, but try to live by example. Here I am, nearly 63, and continuing to live on a wing and prayer, even though I have a family (a young one!) to provide for. It’s more important than ever to try to make ours a more connected and understanding world. One of our longtime Socrates Cafe organizers in San Antonio, Texas (we have over 500 Socrates Cafe ongoing gatherings around the globe – go to SocratesCafe.com to learn more), a wonderful retired educator named Marta Amezquita, recently wrote me to tell me, “I truly don’t know another person whose intent is to create community whose sole purpose is to deliberately make participants feel seen & be heard. It is the epitome of love.” I was deeply moved by Marta’s kind words to me, which I hope describe to the core all that I’ve sought to do this last quarter century (and more, really).

I relate in Soul of Goodness my formative experiences, living just outside of Washington, D.C. There I witnessed the aftermath of the riots after Dr. King’s assassination, bearing witness to ‘Resurrection City,’ a vast but temporary encampment that was a key part of the great people’s anti-poverty campaign in the Mall area of Washington, D.C. This drew tens of thousands from across the U.S. to give voice to the voiceless and address the glaring inequalities in society. I write in my new book about the serendipitous experience helping an overwhelmed single mother there that surely laid the foundation for everything I have done since. My grand aim in life is to make sure everyone not just has a voice, but the opportunity to develop, discover, contribute their voice as participatory co-creators of this world.

“No one recognized the linkage between, and drilled down into, Plato’s conception of a healthy soul and Shakespeare’s “soul of goodness” like the American transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is the only writer and thinker I’ve ever come across to link the two conceptions. In “Character,” Emerson tells us that “a healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus, men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong. Such a soul is the epitome of autonomy and social conscience, which aren’t at opposite ends of a continuum but inseparable.

from Soul of Goodness

Emerson then goes on to say that one with a soul of goodness escapes from any set of circumstances; whilst prosperity belongs to a certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which is its natural fruit, into any order of events.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

First, I’d encourage them to take part in a Socrates Cafe. There are gatherings everywhere, and I also preside over them virtually by Zoom, so they are welcome to write me so I can let them know when our next ones are taking place. (If you can’t find a gathering near you, we have a guide on our SocratesCafe.com website on how to start and facilitate a Socrates Cafe) One other way to learn about me is to dip or dive into my books, from my first ones, Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy, to my latest, by far my most intimate and personal work, Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal, and Setback Into Love, Joy, and Compassion.

In part, they might want to accompany me on the journey to sculpt a soul of goodness – and they can do that in part by using the complementary/complimentary guide that my wife and life partner Ceci (whom I met at a Socrates Cafe! she was the only one who attended that magical evening, as I write in ‘Socrates Cafe’) lovingly put together.

We also have a Socrates Cafe Youtube channel, which features everything from mini Socrates Cafes with my daughters to exchanges with luminaries like Cornel West,
author of the class ‘Race Matters’ .

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy. How would you feel about that?

I would be thrilled out of my mind. (And the prominent Greek publisher Livanis, which sponsored my Greek citizenship application – it flew through in record time –
is publishing my newest book in Greek, so all the more reason to venture there, as well as also pay a visit the island from which my forebears came to the U.S. and where I visit whenever possible. My last visit to Nisyros starts off my Soul of Goodness – nowhere else on this universe to I feel more connected to myself, my family, and the immensity
itself, then Nisyros.

If I gave a talk or workshop, it’d likely center around, ‘How to question like Socrates?’ The artful framing, and answering, of meaningful questions, as timely as they are timeless, has in large measure been lost, I lament. A method of questioning, from scientific to Socratic (they are kindred – and I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Socratic Method) without an ethos of heartfelt listening with all one’s being, is bereft of something critical. It would be interactive, and so I’d model it by actually having participants such a questioning love-in. I’d certainly touch on key influences in my decision to commit my life to spreading Socratic inquiry far and wide – starting with Socrates, but also including Hannah Arendt, Walter Kaufmann, Justus Buchler, and ever so many others.

When you learn to truly question like Socrates – not as a Socrates imitator or emulator, but as someone who understands that the best methods of questioning evolve over time – you learn better to ‘do’ like Socrates, because you become ever more imbued with the Socratic spirits about which I write in in Soul of Goodness – because make no mistake, daimon, sophrosyne, atopos, daimon, even arete and meraki, are comprised of spirits among other things.

In fact, I have held Socrates Cafes in the very agora area where Socrates once held court in Athens, and I lead off with that in my Six Questions of Socrates. I’d have at it in really immersive inquiry, guiding it with the Socrates Cafe method that I’ve sculpted and evolved over these past 25 years. I’m something of an accidental scholar and academic, and never dreamed I’d have three masters degrees (in the humanities, in education with an unheard-of specialty in Teaching Philosophy for Children), and in the natural sciences (with a specialty in DNA science), and then earning a PhD in Communications from an amazing university in Perth, Australia, long after graduating in 1981 from the College of William & Mary with a BA in Government. But through a serendipitous chain of circumstances, I did become a lifelong learner who straddles the informal and formal teaching and learning and doing disciplines, and I believe I’m a better human being for it. I’ve never aimed or sought to be a full-time prof, but I simply love to learn about things that give me more of a poetic-metaphorical approach to live and living, not as an end in and of itself, but that helps me discover more about what I can and must do to make life more worth living – and perhaps more worth dying for – for one and all.

My aim in large measure is always this: We simply must counteract the pervasive predisposition to think in black and white terms. We have to go back to thinking in nuance, to thinking in a dazzling array of colors in ways that lead us to continually reflect and to challenge ourselves, to explore the lapses and loopholes in any given way of seeing things, especially our own. There is a lot of preaching and proselytism these days, but not even of the kind of introspection that can lead us to mordantly yet gently examine whether our own ideas and ideals are all they are cracked up to be. The ongoing Socrates Cafe gatherings – hundreds of them now, the world over (I never dreamed it would become a global phenomenon, much less that it would have such staying power and even momentum after all this time) – are places and spaces where listen to one another with all our being, with all our might and mind, where we use philosophical questions as the springboard and platform to further discover uncommon common ground and forge meaningful connections, even or especially with those with whom don’t see eye to eye, but are my fellow beloved human beings.

Soul of Goodness

Announcing: Socratic Method Virtual Conference

Socratic Method Virtual Event

How to Think Like Socrates

Virtual conference on reasoning like a Greek philosopher

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy and the Socratic Method can help us think more clearly and live better lives today, this is the online event for you!

Tickets now available on EventBrite. Payment is by donation, an amount of your choosing, and all proceeds go toward the Plato’s Academy Centre nonprofit. Not available or in a different time zone? Don’t worry as recordings will be available afterwards to everyone booking tickets in advance.

What’s it all about?

We bring together a special program of world-class thinkers and renowned authors for an exclusive online event that you absolutely won’t want to miss.

Each speaker will share with you their knowledge and captivating insights into the Socratic Method, including effective and practical advice and strategies to think critically, reason more clearly, and protect yourself against misleading information and sophistry.

Program

  • “Socrates and Civility”, Alexandra O. Hudson, author of Against Politeness
  • “Cognitive Therapy and Socratic Self-Doubt”, R. Trent Codd, III, CBT Counseling Centers; Co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors
  • “Street Epistemology: How to Think about Thinking”, Anthony Magnabosco, Executive Director of Street Epistemology International
  • “Self-Socratic Method for Personal Growth”, Scott Waltman, PsyD, ABPP psychologist and co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors
  • “Socrates as Cognitive Therapist”, Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, president of Plato’s Academy Centre
  • Keynote: “The Socratic Method”, Ward Farnsworth, author of The Practicing Stoic and The Socratic Method

NB: Details may be subject to change without prior notification.

About Plato’s Academy Centre

The Plato’s Academy Centre is a new nonprofit, based in Greece, run by a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from around the world. Our mission is to make ancient Greek philosophy more accessible to a wider international audience and to celebrate the legacy of Plato’s Academy in Athens. Everyone is welcome to join us.

FAQ

Will recordings be available? Yes, everyone who orders a ticket in advance will automatically have access after the event to recordings of all presentations. So don’t worry if you’re unavailable at these times or located in another time zone.

Will it be too academic for me? While many of our speakers are notable academics, the sessions are aimed at a nonacademic audience.

How much does it cost? We’re making it free to register, so it’s available to the widest possible audience, but you’ll have the opportunity to make a donation, amount of your choosing. As a rough guide, tickets for a physical conference like this might normally cost €150. Your generosity helps support our nonprofit’s work and allows us to reach more people through future events. *If you do not wish to donate anything whatsoever, you may contact us directly to apply for a free ticket or simply enter the promo code NODONATION when booking.

Where can I get updates? Follow our Facebook Event page and our Twitter account for updates on this event.

Thanks

We’re grateful to our board of advisors, Orange Grove incubator, Classical Wisdom, and the Aurelius Foundation, for their support in bringing you this event. Special thanks to Phil Yanov, Gabriel Fleming, and Kasey Robertson for their help organizing the event.

Socratic Method Virtual Event

Scott Waltman: Revising the Framework of Socratic Questioning

Scott Waltmann

Dr. Scott Waltman, PsyD, ABPP, is a clinician, international trainer, and practice-based researcher. His interests include evidence-based psychotherapy practice, training, and implementation in systems that provide care to underserved populations. He is certified as a qualified Cognitive Therapist and Trainer/Consultant by the Academy of Cognitive & Behavioral Therapies. He also is board certified in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is a board member for the International Association of Cognitive Psychotherapy.

More recently, Dr. Waltman, worked as a CBT trainer for one of Dr. Aaron Beck’s CBT implementation teams in the Philadelphia public mental health system. He is the first author of the book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. Clinically, Dr. Waltman strives to flexibly and compassionately apply cognitive and behavioral interventions to help people overcome the barriers in their lives, to facilitate building meaningful lives that are guided by passion and values.

How did you become interested in philosophy?

I first became interested in this area when I read the first edition of Donald Robertson’s The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapies. I had always leaned toward the thinking of Albert Ellis in regard to cognitive therapy and learning more about the Stoic philosophy lit a fire within me. I went on to become a trainer for therapists who were learning Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

As a CBT trainer I found that clinicians had a hard time learning to use good Socratic dialogue strategies. They had a strong tendency to focus on telling people what to think instead of teaching them how to think. This is something we demonstrated empirically, which caused us to rethink how we taught the skill and we created a revised framework teaching Socratic questioning skills to therapists and counselors. Our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene Like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist is currently being translated into several different languages and has been really well received. Therapists around the world are excited about learning how to apply principles of Stoicism to their clinical practice!

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people? 

The most important concept that I teach people is known as “Collaborative Empiricism” or “Collaborative Curiosity”. This is the idea is that it is the job of the therapist to collaboratively work with the client to help them mentally take a step back, identify what they are thinking, how that is affecting them, and then to jointly evaluate the situation in more accurate and balanced terms. Therapists often want a list of questions to challenge or disprove the target thought, but our goal is joint curiosity instead of being adversarial.

The most important piece of practical advice from my work is to first focus on trying to see if from their point of view instead of trying to show them why you think they’re wrong.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

The most important piece of practical advice from my work is to first focus on trying to see if from their point of view instead of trying to show them why you think they’re wrong. If people believe you’re in earnest trying to see it how they see it, they’ll be more willing to explore their blind spots.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by their opinions about those things.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, 5

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?


The best way to learn is experientially and with the help of a good guide. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is the foundation to build on. For clinicians who are looking to improve their use of the Socratic Method, I would encourage you to check out our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene Like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. 


I would jump at that. I have loved watching the process of the Academy be re-established and that way I could get my copy of Verissimus autographed!

Announcing: Plato’s Academy Centre Virtual Conference

Virtual Conference: Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive

Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive

Virtual Conference on Greek Philosophy and the Good Life

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy can help us live better lives today, this is the online event for you!

Tickets now available on EventBrite. Payment is by donation, an amount of your choosing, and all proceeds go toward the Plato’s Academy Centre nonprofit. Not available or in a different time zone? Don’t worry as recordings will be available afterwards to everyone booking tickets in advance.

What’s it all about?

We bring together a special program of world-class philosophers and renowned authors for an exclusive online event that you absolutely won’t want to miss.

Each speaker will share with you their knowledge and captivating insights into the most famous ancient philosophers, including effective and practical advice and strategies to help understand and manage the challenges of our uncertain and complex daily lives.

Speakers

  • Prof. Angie Hobbs, University of Sheffield; author of Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book
  • Prof. Voula Tsouna, University of California, Santa Barbara; author of Plato’s Charmides: An Interpretative Commentary
  • Prof. Nancy Sherman, Georgetown University; author of Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience
  • Prof. Chloe Balla, University of Crete; author of Platonic Persuasion: From the Art of the Orator to the Art of the Statesman
  • Dr John Sellars, Royal Holloway, University of London; author of Hellenistic Philosophy and The Pocket Epicurean
  • Robin Waterfield, classicist and translator of Plato and Xenophon
  • Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

NB: Presentation titles will be added shortly. Details may be subject to change without prior notification.

Who will be hosting?

Our hosts will be Donald Robertson, the president of the Plato’s Academy Centre, and Anya Leonard, the founder and director of the Classical Wisdom website.

About Plato’s Academy Centre

The Plato’s Academy Centre is a new nonprofit, based in Greece, run by a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from around the world. Our mission is to make ancient Greek philosophy more accessible to a wider international audience and to celebrate the legacy of Plato’s Academy in Athens. Everyone is welcome to join us.

FAQ

  1. Will recordings be available? Yes, everyone who orders a ticket in advance will automatically have access after the event to recordings of all presentations. So don’t worry if you’re unavailable at these times or located in another time zone.
  2. Will it be too academic for me? While many of our speakers are notable academics, the sessions are aimed at a nonacademic audience.
  3. How much does it cost? We’re making this event payment by donation, amount of your choosing, so it’s available to the widest possible audience. As a rough guide, tickets for a physical conference like this might cost €150. Your generosity helps support our nonprofit’s work and allows us to reach more people through future events.
  4. Why this date? 21st May is the approximate date of the Platoneia, on which Plato’s birthday is traditionally celebrated. The event begins at 12pm EST.
  5. Where can I get updates? Follow our Facebook Event page and our Twitter account for updates on this event.

Thanks

We’re grateful to our board of advisors, Orange Grove incubator, Classical Wisdom, and the Aurelius Foundation, for their support in bringing you this event. Special thanks to Phil Yanov, Gabriel Fleming, and Kasey Robertson for their help organizing the event.

Ward Farnsworth on the Socratic Method

Ward Farnsworth

Ward Farnsworth is the dean of the University of Texas School of Law and holds the John Jeffers Research Chair in Law. He is the author of books on law, rhetoric, and philosophy, including The Practising Stoic.

“…the Socratic style of thought is what our culture needs right now. It’s an antidote to social media and to the toxic state of our politics.”

Ward Farnsworth

You’ve written a book called The Socratic Method. Why?

Two reasons. First, the Socratic style of thought is what our culture needs right now. It’s an antidote to social media and to the toxic state of our politics. Despite the fame of Socrates, though, most people nowadays don’t have a very clear idea of what his method was. It deserves better. It’s one of the great legacies of the classical world, and it’s useful for everyone. The book explains how it works.

What are the aspects of the Socratic Method that you think the culture needs so much?

For one thing, humility. The Socratic Method is a process of asking hard questions but also of welcoming disagreement. Socrates wasn’t said to be the wisest person in Athens because he had answers to the big questions. He was the wisest because he knew he didn’t have them.

Socrates also gives us helpful rules for good dialogue—things like saying what you really think, trying not to give offense but also not taking offense, and showing charity when you interpret what others say. I’ve proposed twelve Socratic rules of engagement, which you can download and read.

Ward Farnsworth, The Socratic Method
Ward Farnsworth, The Socratic Method

You said there were two reasons for writing The Socratic Method. What’s the other?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Practicing Stoic. It’s about the practical teachings that Stoicism has to offer and what the different ancient philosophers said about them. This book is a prequel to that one. It tells the origin story of Stoicism.

The approach that Socrates took to reasoning, and the conclusions he reached, are the start of Stoic philosophy. So, if you like Stoicism, learning about Socrates will help you understand it better. It takes you back to the roots.

Socratic dialogue is mostly an effort to test your consistency—to see if your surface reactions to things can be squared with what else you know and think.

Ward Farnsworth

What are some examples of how Socrates influenced the Stoics?

Socrates was a hero and model to the Stoics. They viewed his attitude toward his death and other attacks as examples of one of their key ideas—that things are made good or bad by how we think about them and handle them.

The idea that virtue is the only really good thing is another that they got from Socrates. And Socratic dialogue is mostly an effort to test your consistency—to see if your surface reactions to things can be squared with what else you know and think. That was the approach Epictetus used in his classroom, too. Epictetus was a great teacher, and he regarded Socrates as his teacher.

Do you see the Socratic Method as useful apart from teaching?

Yes, its real use for most of us isn’t for teaching or putting questions to other people. It’s a way to think. That’s the spirit in which Plato offered it. Socrates says in the dialogues that thinking—at least good thinking—is like an internal conversation. You have a skeptical dialogue with yourself.

That’s the best way to look at the Socratic method. It’s a discipline for the mind and a path toward wisdom, even if it also helps us see that we’ll never get all the way there.

Get our Free Email Course on the Socratic Method

Within a week of launching, over two thousand people signed up for our free email course on the Socratic Method.

You can join them right now just by entering your email address below, and you’ll also receive notifications and updates about The Plato’s Academy Centre.

Course Content

You’ll receive a new email in your inbox each week, for six weeks. The emails cover six topics:

  1. Who was Socrates?
  2. Socrates and Civility
  3. The Socratic Method
  4. Socratic Questioning Today
  5. Spotting Common Fallacies
  6. What next?

This course is suitable for everyone, and you’re all welcome to enroll. You can also join our online community to discuss some of the ideas in the course, via our Facebook discussion group.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Regards,

Donald Robertson
President of the Plato’s Academy Centre