Raj Persaud Talks to Carlos Fraenkel - an academic philosopher at the University of McGill in Canada about his new book - Teaching Plato in Palestine.
From the Princeton University Press website:
Teaching Plato in Palestine is part intellectual travelogue, part plea for integrating philosophy into our personal and public life. Philosophical toolkit in tow, Carlos Fraenkel invites readers on a tour around the world as he meets students at Palestinian and Indonesian universities, lapsed Hasidic Jews in New York, teenagers from poor neighborhoods in Brazil, and the descendants of Iroquois warriors in Canada. They turn to Plato and Aristotle, al-Ghazālī and Maimonides, Spinoza and Nietzsche for help to tackle big questions: Does God exist? Is piety worth it? Can violence be justified? What is social justice and how can we get there? Who should rule? And how shall we deal with the legacy of colonialism? Fraenkel shows how useful the tools of philosophy can be—particularly in places fraught with conflict—to clarify such questions and explore answers to them. In the course of the discussions, different viewpoints often clash. That’s a good thing, Fraenkel argues, as long as we turn our disagreements on moral, religious, and philosophical issues into what he calls a “culture of debate.” Conceived as a joint search for the truth, a culture of debate gives us a chance to examine the beliefs and values we were brought up with and often take for granted. It won’t lead to easy answers, Fraenkel admits, but debate, if philosophically nuanced, is more attractive than either forcing our views on others or becoming mired in multicultural complacency—and behaving as if differences didn’t matter at all.
Carlos Fraenkel teaches philosophy and religion at the University of Oxford and McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of Philosophical Religions from Plato to Spinoza, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Nation, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement, among other publications.
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"What unites [the classroom conversations] is [Fraenkel's] skill in the art of posing questions designed to perplex and provoke. He lets us overhear the Socratic form of dialogue that Plato invented and that Mr. Fraenkel practices much to his students’ pleasure, and ours."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal
"Fresh, iconoclastic, stimulating debates."--Kirkus
"The author urges religious people who aren’t bound by literalism, secularists who don’t dismiss all religion as anachronism, and inquisitive types of all persuasions to try something. First, accept freedom of expression, recognize your fallibility and prepare yourself to revise received assumptions. And then plunge into debates about morality, faith, governance, rights and other matters that divide us . . . the discussions you engage in, as suggested by his and his students’ experiences, will likely broaden your horizons and nourish your intellect."--Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Toronto Star
"If you read one book published this year, then you might make it Teaching Plato in Palestine: Philosophy in a Divided World."--Aminatta Forna, The Independent
"Carlos Fraenkel thinks that philosophy is essential to a culture of debate that gets us out of our cultural, religious, and intellectual cloisters. We understand ourselves by arguing with others, and understand others by arguing with ourselves. Fraenkel takes these convictions out of the classroom and tests them around the world—from Makassar to East Jerusalem, from Bahia to Brooklyn. The result is a wonderful, engaging, and readable book about the power of philosophy."--Joshua Cohen, coeditor of The Norton Introduction to Philosophy