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Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Awayby Rebecca Goldstein
Synopses & Reviews
Is philosophy obsolete? Are the ancient questions still relevant in the age of cosmology and neuroscience, not to mention crowd-sourcing and cable news? The acclaimed philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein provides a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden role in today’s debates on religion, morality, politics, and science.
At the origin of Western philosophy stands Plato, who got about as much wrong as one would expect from a thinker who lived 2,400 years ago. But Plato’s role in shaping philosophy was pivotal. On her way to considering the place of philosophy in our ongoing intellectual life, Goldstein tells a new story of its origin, re-envisioning the extraordinary culture that produced the man who produced philosophy.
But it is primarily the fate of philosophy that concerns her. Is the discipline no more than a way of biding our time until the scientists arrive on the scene? Have they already arrived? Does philosophy itself ever make progress? And if it does, why is so ancient a figure as Plato of any continuing relevance? Plato at the Googleplex is Goldstein’s startling investigation of these conundra. She interweaves her narrative with Plato’s own choice for bringing ideas to life — the dialogue.
Imagine that Plato came to life in the twenty-first century and embarked on a multicity speaking tour. How would he handle the host of a cable news program who denies there can be morality without religion? How would he mediate a debate between a Freudian psychoanalyst and a tiger mom on how to raise the perfect child? How would he answer a neuroscientist who, about to scan Plato’s brain, argues that science has definitively answered the questions of free will and moral agency? What would Plato make of Google, and of the idea that knowledge can be crowd-sourced rather than reasoned out by experts? With a philosopher’s depth and a novelist’s imagination and wit, Goldstein probes the deepest issues confronting us by allowing us to eavesdrop on Plato as he takes on the modern world.
(With black-and-white photographs throughout.)
"Novelist and philosopher Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem) has an imaginative conceit: to bring Plato into the 21st century by having him go on an American book tour. Here, Plato hauls around a Google Chrome computer, generally finds modern technology 'wondrous,' and takes the Meyer-Briggs personality inventory. In lieu of Socratic dialogues, he engages in contemporary American ones, appearing in a panel at the 92nd Street Y to discuss education and child-rearing with a psychologist who sounds like Alice Miller and a writer who sounds like 'Tiger Mom' Amy Chua. These witty contemporary sections constitute about a quarter of the book, while the remainder consists of an in-depth study of Plato's views and the historical and intellectual context of his times. Goldstein explores such concepts as the Athenian ideals of areté and of achieving kleos, and topics such as the challenge to philosophy posed by contemporary science. She proves a clear and engaging writer, and though the more academic parts of this book take precedence over the entertaining and accessible contemporary passages, overall, this is both an enjoyable and a serious way to (re)learn Plato's ideas." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“This could be one of the best ever demonstrations of the value and utility of philosophy. Richly insightful, beautifully written, it is at once introduction, exploration and application, revealing the fascination and significance of philosophical ideas and their relevance to life. Like the Plato who figures largely here, Goldstein has both literary and philosophical gifts of the highest order: the combination is superb.” A.C. Grayling, author of The God Argument
“A MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, Goldstein always delivers something exciting for inquiring minds. Here, she imagines Plato brought to life, hashing out challenges from Fox News on religion and morality, keeping Freudians and tiger moms from coming to blows, and wondering why crowd sourcing trumps experts. C'mon, philosophy is fun, and it sells. Think Daniel Dennett, Alain de, Botton, Jim Holt...” Library Journal
“A witty, inventive, genre-bending work...Goldstein’s philosophical background serves her impressively in this reconsideration of Plato’s work, and her talent as a fiction writer animates her lively cast of characters....[Her] bright, ingenious philosophical romp makes Plato not only relevant to our times, but palpably alive.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Plato lives! Brilliantly re-creating Plato’s philosophic dialogues, Goldstein transports the ancient Greek philosopher to the twenty-first-century headquarters of Google, where his probing voice engages three modern hosts in exploring what knowledge means in an age of computerized crowd sourcing....Though Goldstein’s gifts as a novelist animate these dialogues, her scholarly erudition gives them substance, evident in the many citations from Plato’s writings seamlessly embedded in the conversational give-and-take. Goldstein’s scholarship also informs the expository essay that prefaces each dialogue.” Booklist (starred review)
From the acclaimed writer and thinker — whose award-winning books include both fiction and nonfiction — a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden but essential role in today’s debates on love, religion, politics, and science.
Imagine that Plato came to life in the twenty-first century and set out on a multicity speaking tour: How would he handle a host on Fox News who challenges him on religion and morality? How would he mediate a debate on the best way to raise a child between a Freudian psychoanalyst and a Tiger Mom? How would he answer a neuroscientist who, about to scan Plato’s brain, argues that all his philosophical problems can be solved by our new technologies? What would he make of Google, and the idea that knowledge can be crowdsourced rather than reasoned out by experts? With a philosopher’s depth and a novelist’s imagination, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein probes the deepest issues confronting us — from sexuality and child-rearing to morality and the meaning of life — by allowing us to eavesdrop on Plato as he encounters the modern world. By reviving the Platonic art of the dialogue for the twenty-first century, she demonstrates that the questions he first posed continue to confound and enlarge us.
About the Author
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University. Her award-winning books include the novels The Mind-Body Problem, Properties of Light, and 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and nonfiction studies of Kurt Gödel and Baruch Spinoza. She has received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, has been designated a Humanist of the Year and a Freethought Heroine, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
α Man Walks into a Seminar Room 15
β Plato at the Googleplex 59
γ In the Shadow of the Acropolis 121
δ Plato at the 92nd Street Y 163
ε I Don’t Know How to Love Him 223
ς xxxPlato 261
ζ Socrates Must Die 281
η Plato on Cable News 335
θ Let the Sunshine In 361
ι Plato in the Magnet 397
Appendix A: Socratic Sources 423
Appendix B: The Two Speeches of Pericles from
Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War 425
Bibliographical Note 441
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