Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
Reading Plato was by far my favorite part of studying philosophy in college, and it was sheer delight to encounter him again in this book. Author Rebecca Goldstein, both a philosophy professor and a novelist, poses an interesting question: Now that the sciences have advanced so far in explaining the inner and outer worlds of our universe--from the subatomic level, to the farthest galaxies, from the genetic codes for life, to the structures of the brain that support thought, emotion, and morality--is there any role left for philosophy? Some scientists think there is not, but it won’t be giving away much to say that Goldstein disagrees. Then there is also the question: Has philosophy since the time of Plato made the same kinds of advances as other fields of knowledge? And: What would Plato make of our modern world--would he have anything to tell us, or, since we’re talking about Plato, it might be more accurate to phrase that question what would Plato ask us to think deeply about?
Goldstein approaches these questions with two methods, used in alternate chapters. First there are the expository chapters, well written discourses examining the questions that have been posed, including any new questions that come up along the way, and also providing some fascinating background history. These take a satisfying amount of mind exercise and it felt good to rejoin the philosophical discussion around a theoretical seminar table, but it’s the chapters following the expository ones that are the real reward for all that thought work. Because in them Plato is back, here in our modern world, and like Socrates he is engaging everyone he meets in dialogue, allowing them all to take another look at their unexamined assumptions.
Plato doesn’t do one-sided lectures, of course, and in these back and forths he is learning too--how to avoid using sexist language for instance. People Plato delves into discussion with include a Google software engineer who thinks crowd-sourcing is the most reliable way to attain information which he equates with wisdom, a book tour escort who is sure she knows how best to live her own life, a Fox news host who’s proud of his rigid beliefs about religion and morality, a neuroscientist who doesn’t believe in conscious free will, and a tiger mom and psychoanalyst who debate with each other and Plato about how best to raise a child. These sections are as substantive as the expository chapters, but they are also sometimes laugh out loud funny. Goldstein has put the fun back into philosophy while making a strong, well reasoned case that it still has relevance in today’s world.