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Seducing Minds With the Socratic Method | Interview with Peter Kreeft
| Valerie Schmalz | November 28, 2005
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
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
Dr. Kreeft has written more than forty books, including C.S.
Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals
of the Faith, Catholic
to Virtue, and Three
Approaches to Abortion. His most recent Ignatius Press books include
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 IgnatiusInsight.com
IgnatiusInsight.com's Valerie Schmalz recently spoke with Kreeft about
his "Socrates Meets..." books.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the goal of the "Socrates Meets" series?
Kreeft: 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."
IgnatiusInsight.com: Why is philosophy important to the average person?
Kreeft: 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.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the purpose of the dialogue format and what
is its history?
Kreeft: 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.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Why did you choose Socrates as your protagonist?
Kreeft: 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."
IgnatiusInsight.com: How do you select the philosophers that Socrates
engages? What issues do these thinkers raise?
Kreeft: 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.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You're known as a Christian philosopher and Christian
writer and yet these books aren't explicitly Christian. Why is that?
Kreeft: 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
IgnatiusInsight.com: How can these books be used in the college setting?
How can they be used by people seeking to expand their own knowledge?
Kreeft: 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.
IgnatiusInsight.com: How many more of these do you envision and who will
be your next subject?
Kreeft: 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 IgnatiusInsight.com Links:
Peter Kreeft: Author's
Page at Ignatius Insight
Sartre: In Hell? | By Peter Kreeft
Peter Kreeft on "Writing
The Point of
It All | Peter Kreeft
of Christ | Peter Kreeft
How To Read
The Bible | By Peter Kreeft
of Christ in "The Lord of the Rings" | Peter J. 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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