Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day (Anglais) Broché – 15 mars 2011
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As the day unfolds, Smith grounds complex, abstract ideas in concrete experience, giving you an informal introduction to applying philosophy to everyday life. Not only does Breakfast with Socrates cover the basic arguments of philosophy, it brings an irresistible, insouciant charm to its big questions, waking us up to the richest possible range of ideas on how to live. Neither breakfast, lunch, nor dinner will ever be the same again.
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My first thought was that Roland Smith leads an enviously full life since his typical day includes not only waking up, getting ready, travelling to work, being at work, taking a bath, cooking and eating, watching TV, reading a book and falling asleep, but he also manages to find time to go to the doctor, have lunch with his parents, bunk off, go shopping, head to the gym, book a holiday, go to a party, have an argument with his partner, have sex and book a holiday - which he no doubt needs after all that. It's a wonder he finds time to think at all with all that going on. It's a clever structure for the book though.
Both titles to the book are potentially a bit misleading. Socrates makes very limited appearances (the author suggests that the book may as well have been titled `Having a Bagel with Hegel' which appealed more to the inner Dr Seuss in me) and Roland Smith does not limit himself to traditional philosophers for inspiration. Here you will also find an eclectic mix of psychoanalysts, sociologists, painters, psychologists, political writers, anthropologists and writers as well as philosophers to offer their thoughts.
There is an old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but with philosophy a little knowledge can also be very interesting, particularly when you are dealing with philosophers like French Foucault and Derrida whose works I have always failed to understand beyond the first sentence. Roland Smith does his best to simplify and provide snippets of thought that make you see things just a bit differently. To a large extent Roland Smith is able to lead the casual reader through some of these ideas.
Indeed, he comes over as a very knowledgeable and affable guide. His points of reference range from his academic studies, to Shakespeare, `Jaws`, `The Godfather`, 'Sex in the City` as well as authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lewis Carroll, and Nabokov`. For the most part it's largely jargon-free (or at least effective at explaining the jargon used) and infused with amusing asides - although these can make some of the sentences long and difficult to read.
For me, some chapters worked better than others - he is at his best when he is being more playful than when he gets bogged down in some apparently random trains of thought. At his party, he takes his theme from the 'It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To` opening and the eloping Johnny and Judy, while on discussing an argument with a partner, he takes the example of George and Martha in Albee's `Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf`. When he doesn't quite have the same springboard (in the chapters on visiting the doctor or the lunch with parents, for example) it works less well I felt.
The book is much in the style of other 'popular philosophy for all' like Alain de Botton although the publishers have not helped Roland Smith's cause by the format of the book which is much more scholarly in terms of the layout and font than the glossy approach adopted by de Botton's publishers.
Ultimately though, it's hard not to recommend someone who provides you with an argument for not going to the gym, for promoting the power of using the TV remote control and letting your parents pay for lunch!
This is not a publication to read cover to cover, as most books are; rather it is one which should be read one chapter at a time, and in no particular order. If you are getting ready to have a meal with your parents, there is a chapter for that; preparing to take a bath, a chapter for that too; Breakfast with Socrates makes us think about everything.
I would like to read this book again, but next time, I want to read it with someone, and read it slowly. I want to read a paragraph, lounging under the sun, and share my thoughts on what I read with someone else, who is just as intrigued and just as challenged to think about what has been written as I have. I would like to take this book on vacation, sit under the stars, and just think about life, and what it really means.
I started my career in philosophy at UC Berkeley, where I undertook the most challenging courses (focusing on phenomenology), devoted every waking hour to the pursuit of wisdom, and left sorely disappointed in 2008 with a Bachelor's and a crushed spirit (and a 3.8 GPA). Since then I have more or less abandoned philosophy and turned to Linguistics. My philosophy education succeeded in communicating to me the futility and irrelevance (and I'm being polite) of professional philosophy (so much so that elsewhere I claim, grudgingly, and with some tongue in cheek, that my central interest in Linguistics lies in "Relevance Theory").
R. R. Smith is witty, erudite, but above all conversational. He heartily makes allusions to the Great Thinkers (not just to the philosophers of the Oxford canon, and indeed, not just to philosophers). He borrows insights from Nietzsche, Bourdieu, Montaigne, and Lacan, to give a very select sampling. The (slightly self-congratulatory, but forgivable) index gives some indication of this. His vocabulary is equally impressive. I disagree with one of the earlier reviews (by the so-called "English major") that this was a hard read. On the contrary, it was quite an easy read, with a very natural tone. Smith has a solid grasp on his subject matter and one can sense his authority shining through. It's coherent, well-conceived, and well-executed. I couldn't put it down, and finished it in record time. Admittedly, It's not written from the heart of a tortured soul, and can be a bit formulaic, but it's nonfiction after all.
(One small gripe: there was entirely too much (casual) talk about sex, which I guess is a peculiarly British (European?) fault.)
Final word: If the book's overarching aim was to bring philosophy to the people (and everything points to this), then it succeeds gloriously. (minus the sex part). It appeals to a wide audience (basically anyone with an interest in ideas), brings philosophy down to earth, and displays a sophisticated and deep style of thinking on everyday matters which ought to be everyone's "ordinary" style of thinking (it is certainly mine).
I feel the book is strongest when it relates, in relatively friendly terms, philospher's ideas to everyday life. However, often the chapters ramble--to the point where about the last half of the chapter is either redundant or off-topic. Given that some chapters don't even start off with a philosopher's ideas, a rather large portion of the book is filled with only slightly thought-provoking, and certainly not rigorous, discussion.
While I understand the book is meant for pleasure and not study, I think the author went too far--if the book had been a bit more rooted in philosophical theories, and had discussed counterarguments and differing views better, it would have easily been a 5 star book.