Breakfast With Socrates

Breakfast With Socrates

An Extraordinary (philosophical) Journey Through your Ordinary Day

Book - 2010
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Have breakfast with Socrates, go to work with Nietzsche, head to the gym with Foucault, then have sex with Ovid (or Simone de Beauvoir). Former Oxford Philosophy Fellow Robert Rowland Smith whisks you through an ordinary day with history's most extraordinary thinkers, explaining what they might have to say about your routine. From waking up in the morning through traveling to work, shopping, eating, going to a party, falling asleep, and dreaming, Smith connects our most mundane habits to the wider world of ideas. Start with waking up: What does it really mean to be awake? How do we know we're not still dreaming? Descartes argues that if you're able to doubt whether you're awake, you are at least thinking, and so you probably exist -- no small achievement for first thing in the morning. Or take going to the gym: As you toil on the treadmill, is your panting a sign of virtue or of vice, of healthy exertion or of unhealthy narcissism? Working out is a version of what Max Weber called the Protestant work ethic -- a kind of spiritual exercise, it also leads to worldly vanity. With dry wit and marvelous invention, Smith draws on philosophy, literature, art, politics, and psychology to wake us up to a stunning range of ideas about how to live. Neither breakfast, lunch, nor dinner will ever be the same again.
Publisher: New York : Free Press, 2010, c2009.
ISBN: 9781439148679
1439148678
Characteristics: xvi, 237 p. ;,20 cm.

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Sydruth
Nov 01, 2011

Confession: I did not read this book cover to cover. I picked it up because I need to summarize it for a book proposal I am writing, so I skimmed it and certain chapters with more depth than others.
However, the tastes that I did get left me with such a consistent sense of the most shallow, pathetic, ridiculous blandness I cannot not write a review. I am stunned that this actually passes for philosophical reflection even for the layman and published by Free Press no less? How did THAT happen? The publisher who has the likes of Roger Scruton, Leon Kass, and Wendy Shalit on its list, how oh how did this sneak in under the radar?
The basics: going through the general actions of a day, including normal things that you may not do everyday, and, ostensibly, reflecting on them with the aid of philosophers from Socrates to Derrida and Bataille to develop and enhance how we go about the ordinary things. What drove me to distraction?

--The conclusion to "Having Lunch with Your Parents": Since they fed and clothed you growing up, let them pay for lunch when you go out as a sign of your gratitude, and then do that when your children are adults. (p. 75)

--Part of the conclusion to "Booking a Holiday": The way to avoid feeling guilty about exploiting the natives of wherever you visit and the carbon footprint from all that airline fuel is to be a good host when people are tourists in your area. Then they'll be nice to you when you go there. (p. 108-109)

-- In the chapter on "Having Sex" Smith states that the Catholic position is that it's better if you never have sex but if you must, then do it with love, in marriage, and only for procreation. His colossal, and boringly stereotypical mistake in equating the requirements of love, marriage, and openness to procreation as equaling "don't do it" as the Catholic view shows that the man did absolutely no research, and I mean none, into this issue but just went on pre-Vatican II stereotypes. (p. 198)

-- This was the corker. This was where that wonderful moment on BBC radio where some book reviewer said (of another book), "This is not a book to be taken lightly. It is to be hurled across the room..." came to mind. In the chapter on sleeping and dreaming, he says this of their connection to death, "...if you're someone who's afraid of dying, for example, you can console yourself that every night you will have experienced a version of death---or, rather, you didn't experience it at all because you weren't conscious enough to be experiencing anything--and it wasn't so bad." (p. 216) Wow, I feel better already...

Since it's a library book, I didn't hurl it across the room. But I think the fewer people exposed to such thoughtless, badly researched, empty-headed, stereotype-ridden pseudo philosophy the better. If you want to have breakfast with Socrates, then read the Symposium while sipping your coffee. Really.

j
joshsmith
Apr 09, 2011

I thought I might learn something from this book. I didn't.

The references to philosophers are so brief that it feels more like name dropping than anything else.

I finished the book, but was disappointed.

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