Revered by some as an astute thinker and a pragmatic visionary, Niccolò Machiavelli is reviled by others for writing a manual for unscrupulous leaders everywhere, teaching them to do whatever it takes to defeat their enemies and stay in power, no matter how cruel or ruthless their actions might be.
Sunday’s guest is Robert Rowland Smith, author if Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato. These books explore how the sorts of events that happen to everyone can give rise to philosophical thoughts, provide examples of philosophical insights, and be enriched by considering those insights.
From his picture, Smith looks to me like a young guy. I don’t know how he has lived long enough to read all the philosophers he discusses. He has really mastered a fascinating kind of essay. He takes an ordinary event, like taking a bath, and finds all sorts of interesting things to say about it. The chapter ``Going to a Party’’ leads from Leslie Gore --- of ``It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” ---to Machiavelli.
As I read Breakfast with Socrates, it seemed to me that Smith and I seem to take exactly the opposite approach to philosophy. I usually start with something people find intrinsically philosophical and mysterious and extraordinary, like personal identity or consciousness or freedom, and put a lot of effort into finding that nothing all that fascinating is going on. That’s not really how I think of what I do, but it’s how lots of other intelligent people react to it. As if I were trying to make the philosophical into the banal.
Smith, on the other hand, takes having a bath, or driving to work, which seem sort of banal, and makes them philosophically alive, examples of insights from Socrates to Sartre.
We have a sort of a plan for the program. First, we’ll talk to Smith about the Socratic idea, which he has taken near the limit, that examining one’s life makes it more worth living. Then we’ll look at how this plays out over an ordinary day. And then, unless the conversation goes off some other direction, how it plays itself out over one’s life time.
Re: todays show: What about the close to a half a billion Chinese workers, as an example, do they examine their life? You all got into this a little but not enough.
And is there a transcript of this, I missed the last part the joke, Mr. Smith's voice was muffled at times.
I love you guys! Nancy Keiler
Philosophy is a broad topic, isn't it? And the word itself has come to mean just about anything someone or somegroup could want it to mean. The act of changing things is a philosophy, be those things political, cultural, theological, economic or what-have-you. The intention of keeping things just as they are is also philosophical (or dogmatic if one does not feel so generous.) That someone might write under titles such as Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato is not outside of imagination. Imagination drives the pen and this is what it is all about.
I always wish a new writer well because writing is such an onerous and unforgiving occupation in the first place. So good luck to Mr. Smith. And continued good wishes for Philosophy Talk, the blog. How WOULD Plato,transported to modern times,react to automobiles?
About the same as Descartes or Kant, I should think. Certainly differently from Jules Verne...
I look forward to seeing how he manages to weave philosophy into common experience. The feat reminds me of two of my favorite pop philosophy books, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, and Heiddeger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates. What shocked me about these books, the Plato one especially, is just how well they wove jokes into relatively recent philosophy. It was the first time I saw rigid designators joked about and put into a pop philosophy book. They made recent analytic philosophy accessible, and I'd like to see if Breakfast With Socrates can measure up to that.
I would love to have Socrates over for breakfast,
Lincoln and Gandhi for lunch,
And Einstein for dinner again.
We would resolve the questions of inequity and gorge ourselves on truth. All the while sipping rather than hemlock a beautifully sweet unitea.
Have just started reading Daniel C. Dennett's FREEDOM EVOLVES, Viking Penguin books, 2003. I like Dennett, not because I embrace everything he says, but because he has well-reasoned arguments for most of his ideas. Also, my own notion of the evolutionary aspects of all things human appears to receive some affirmation from folks like Mr. Dennett, so my thinking appears to be in good company: inasmuch as these learned scholars seem pretty successful.
Philosophy plays its role in our everyday lives whether we know that consciously or not. I would hazzard an informed guess that most of us think very little about philosophy, unless we have been moved by some outside force*. There are simply too many distractions in everyday living for most of us to give a flip about it.
It is not cool to try to engage friends in conversation about something that has no context within their current life struggles. This may change as they get older and less self-absorbed. Or they may go to their final rest, blissfully ignorant of what they might have learned.
(*Frankly, I have no specific outside force in mind. It's all good until you need a new roof.)