Socrates Cafe and Socratic Citizenship

My first two reads this break were Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Socratic Citizenship. I have been really intrigued by the whole notion around an “examined life” and asking difficult questions despite, as Cornel West says, our “anti-intellectual, market-driven civilization preoccupied with comfort, convenience and contentment.”

I recommend Socrates Cafe as an entry level book for one who doesn’t know a lot about philosophy and philosophers. The author tells his story as he traveled around the country setting up Socrates Cafes in community centers, coffee shops, libraries, etc. where members of the community came and asked deep questions. It’s a quick and fun read, though the repetition of his stories at all the various stops gets a little tiring. If you went a refresher or intro to Socrates and the Socratic method, or if you are thinking about setting up a Socrates Cafe in your neighborhood or office as a way to relax and think deeply, check out this book.

Socratic Citizenship is dense and academic and I only recommend if you have some general background information on the five political thinkers he dissects – John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. The introduction really captivated me. He presents the tired idea that good citizenship has to do with turning away from the false gods of materialism and toward the more meaningful life of community or political engagement. He presents his skepticism of how giving time and energy for a “cause,” having a rich associational life (churches, charities, etc), and doing active service for something bigger than the self, all mean you are a good citizen. Fundamentally, the idea of this book is that you can be both skeptical and morally serious, even though this form of negativity is often dismissed because moral seriousness is often identified with a positive conviction of political causes or positive moral doctrines. After a great intro, his detailed chapters and analysis of the various thinkers completely lost me. I’ll put this book in the “Read in 5-10 years category.”

I’m still looking for a great book on morals and citizenship, so I’d love recommendations in this area.

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