We’re creeping toward the end of the first week of the new year and it’s time to announce my reading resolution for 2017. Can you guess what it is?
Yup, this year I’m aiming to read 12 philosophy books in 12 months!
Like with science, I’ve been meaning to learn more about the subject of philosophy, or philosophia (literally, the love of wisdom) for ages. I’ve made some headway previously after having read Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex and Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. The latter, in particular, is a favourite of mine and one I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about philosophy, but is uncertain where to start. Like my first book for my 2016 science reads resolution, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Sophie’s World provides a marvellous basic overview of the history of philosophy. The only reason why I’m not including this in my 2017 philosophy reads is because I’ve already read it and it seems a little negligent to re-read it here. But if you’re looking to start learning about philosophy, I would definitely recommend Sophie’s World as a starting point.
As for me, my starting point for my 2017 philosophy reads will take us right back to where western philosophy began with the ancient Greeks. It’s a book that has been defined as the cornerstone of western philosophy and is a mesh of the two most well-known philosophers of Ancient Greece, namely Plato and Socrates. It’s none other than Plato’s The Republic, of course!
The Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates has long been considered the “father of philosophy”. When he was alive, he spent much of his time in the agora, an open-air space in ancient Greece where people gathered to visit the markets and discuss politics and other subjects. At the agora, Socrates became known for accosting marketgoers and other passersby and asking them questions about the meaning of life. This habit of debating and questioning his students and fellow marketgoers on their opinions gradually became known as the Socratic method or Socratic debate. Unfortunately, the vocal Socrates soon fell afoul of the political powers of the day and he was eventually charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to death via a cup of poisonous hemlock. Thus was the fate of the father of philosophy and one which had a profound impact on his friend and student, Plato. Aristotle would later become, in turn, Plato’s student and together all three were to become widely accepted as the main founders of western philosophy.)
Being an oral philosopher, Socrates left no writings behind. But we know much about his teachings from Plato who wrote a series of works known as the Socratic dialogues. In these dialogues, Socrates, naturally, is featured holding any number of his debates with other characters as they discuss various philosophical subjects and viewpoints. Plato’s The Republic is one such dialogue, wherein Socrates discusses, among other things, the meaning of justice, goodness, reality and politics in search of the ideal city-state. The Republic is Plato’s best-known work and, in this present time of global political upheaval, it seems the ideal book with which to start of this year’s 2017 philosophy reads.
(Note: Though I begin with the earliest foundations of western philosophy, not all the books I choose will be based on this subject. Most of them, I expect, will be, but I also plan to concentrate on other aspects of philosophy, such as eastern philosophy and that of the Middle East.)
As usual, I will report back at the end of a month with my thoughts on the book. But until then, I look forward to getting started on learning more about the Plato and Socrates and their answers to some of the oldest and most important questions ever pondered by humankind.