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Seducing Minds With the Socratic Method | Interview with Peter Kreeft | Valerie Schmalz | November 28, 2005

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What if you could sit down for a chat to talk with some of the modern philosophers who have most influenced the thought and action of Western civilization? What if you could talk with those philosophers through the prism of the world-view of one of the greatest philosophers to ever walk the earth–Socrates?

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D.
, is a professor of philosophy at Boston College who uses that dialog format in a series published by Ignatius Press, called "Socrates Meets..." So far, Dr. Kreeft has written Philosophy 101 by Socrates, Socrates Meets Marx, Socrates Meets Machiavelli and Socrates Meets Sartre.

Dr. Kreeft has written more than forty books, including C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic Christianity, Back to Virtue, and Three Approaches to Abortion. His most recent Ignatius Press books include You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and The Philosophy of Tolkien. (A complete list of Ignatius Press books by Kreeft can be viewed on his author page.)'s Valerie Schmalz recently spoke with Kreeft about his "Socrates Meets..." books. What is the goal of the "Socrates Meets" series?

The goal of the series is to seduce minds into falling in love with philosophy via the Socratic method, and to show that this method is just as useful for students in the 21st century who want to read the Great Books of our past and Socrates' future as it was for students of Socrates in the in the 4th century BC who could only overhear him. 

It also seeks to show students that philosophy is not an esoteric, specialized, scholarly, technical, and dull affair but rather a thing so natural and so universal and so important that it is one of the fundamental purposes we were created for: "the love of wisdom." Why is philosophy important to the average person?

Philosophy is important to every person because philosophy is about the meaning of the life of every person, and about the right conduct of the life of every person. What is the purpose of the dialogue format and what is its history?

The purpose of the dialog format is to be human.  And divine: even God is a dialog, or rather a trialog, a family, a society, a conversation.  We are made in God's image; that is why we become ourselves only through dialog with others.  And that, at least unconsciously, is why we are drawn to it. Why did you choose Socrates as your protagonist?

Socrates got under my hat and has not left, thank God.  He is the philosopher I should be, the philosopher we all should be.  But no one is.  Socrates was the greatest philosopher; that's why he wrote nothing.  He didn't need to.  He lived his words.  We think Socrates couldn't have been the greatest philosopher because he was the first; that's as silly as thinking God could not be the greatest being because He is the First.  As Heidegger says, "What is great can only begin great." How do you select the philosophers that Socrates engages
? What issues do these thinkers raise?

I selected (a) modern philosophers (b) who teach a philosophy very different from Socrates' philosophy, so that the reader can see the contrast and hear a dramatic debate, (c) and who wrote books that are (1) classics that have influenced many minds and have changed Western civilization, (2) short enough to cover in a small space, and (3) clear enough for the beginner to understand. You're known as a Christian philosopher and Christian writer and yet these books aren't explicitly Christian. Why is that

Socrates was not a Christian. He was a proto-Christian.  But just imagine if he had lived four centuries later; what a convert he would make!  Since the exigencies of divine providence would not allow that, I decided to rush in where angels fear to tread and imagine the next best thing: Socrates in Heaven.  Even then, he doesn't bring religious or theological critiques to bear on the philosophers he cross-examines simply because they are philosophers, not religious thinkers.  His philosophy is not explicitly Christian but simply universally human, a philosophy of natural reason and natural law and natural logic.  His job is not to preach but to analyze.  He is every other philosopher's intellectual psychoanalyst. How can these books be used in the college
setting? How can they be used by people seeking to expand their own knowledge?

They can be used in college introductory courses (or with smart high school college prep students) to simultaneously introduce students to logic and Socratic method, and some of the classics of the history of philosophy, as well as essential contrasts between the pre-modern mind (Socrates) and the modern mind.  They can also be used on a do-it-yourself basis.  It's a well-kept secret in academia that if you have a good mind and an adamant desire, you can become a good philosopher without paying a cent for tuition. How many more of these do you envision and who will be your next subject?

Next: Socrates meets Descartes (Discourse on Method), Kant (Foundations of the Metaphysic of Morals) and Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents). Perhaps Hume or A.J. Ayer too.  The last book of the series will be Socrates meeting Kierkegaard and confronting the first two chapters of the Philosophical Fragments, which is Soren Kierkegaard's masterful comparison between Socrates and Jesus.

Related Links:

• Peter Kreeft: Author's Page at Ignatius Insight
Socrates Meets Sartre: In Hell? | By Peter Kreeft
Peter Kreeft on "Writing and Apologetics"
The Point of It All | Peter Kreeft
The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
How To Read The Bible | By Peter Kreeft
The Presence of Christ in "The Lord of the Rings" | Peter J. Kreeft

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.

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