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The Openist - Podcast of Democracy Cafe/Socrates Cafe
A Fresh Taste of World-Viewing & World Making
Category: Society & Culture
Location: SocratesCafe.com
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I'm the founder of Socrates Cafe -- see SocratesCafe.com -- and a noted author (Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, The...


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January 17, 2019 10:31 AM PST

Once upon a time, nearly a decade ago, a student of mine by the name of Chad Adams, in a course I developed and taught called "Deliberative Traditions and Democracy," wrote a brilliant paper on Socratic inquiry. I gained new insights from it, even though my doctoral dissertation had been on this very subject.

Chad -- who has a tattoo on his arm, in Greek, that says 'the unexamined life is not worth living' -- wrote me some years later to tell me how meaningful my course had been. He told me that my class and what he learned had stayed with him, and he just wanted to thank me.

And so, about six years after I got that wonderful message from Chad (who'd since forgotten he'd sent it! smiley. He is now living and working in the St. Petersburg/Tampa, FL area, where my late father was raised and where his life was tragically truncated in 2011. Chad is doing great things professionally -- not to mention that he has become quite an adept surfer.

And so here we are, back in the saddle again, on our podcast The Openist, more or less picking up where we'd left off long ago. He's the same admirable young man I knew from way back when. It was an honor to have him as a student, and is an honor to still be in touch after all these years.

Among other things, Chad and I explore why thoughtful, rigorous, methodical Socratic inquiry, when entwined with careful and sympathetic listening, is needed now more than ever in these polarizing times.

Listen in.

January 14, 2019 10:22 AM PST

Jeffrey Sachs is a leading crusader to make ours a globally sustainable planet, and as a consequence, eradicate the extreme poverty that exists in a world of abundance.

The world-renowned economist, senior United Nations advisor, prolific bestselling author, shares with me in our latest edition of The Openist his fervent belief that what the world needs now, and in a big way, is the widespread practice of an Aristotelian virtue ethics based on what the Greeks of old called arete -- all-around excellence in which duty to self and to others goes hand in glove.

As Dr. Sachs eloquently puts it, only when we come to see one another, regardless of our social and economic station, as equally human and equally deserving of living a richly meaningful life imbued with social conscience, can we become committed to realizing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals crafted by world leaders in 2015 at a special United Nations summit (see: http://jeffreysachs.center/sdg ).

If you do listen in to this episode of The Openist, I warn you -- Dr. Sachs' palpable zeal and compelling evidence-based assertions for making a reality out of this noblest of causes are contagious, and you will not emerged unscathed, in the best sense.

[The photo is of Dr. Sachs, an ardent advocate of quality education the world over, speaking at a school in the village of Ruhiira, Uganda.]

January 11, 2019 09:03 AM PST

Justin Stone is all about tearing down walls -- between one person and another, between man and nature, man and machine, between and among the knowledge disciplines.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Justin, a one-of-a-kind professor of the Humanities at Valencia College, a premier place of learning in the U.S., when I was there last fall as keynote for their Humanities Speakers Series.

Listen in as this recently minted proud papa of a joy-filled daughter who also somehow finds time to facilitate a regular Socrates Cafe at Valencia shares his singular philosophy of learning and living.

January 08, 2019 12:54 PM PST

By his own reckoning, Paul Martin's nature has remained essentially unchanged since he was about 7 years old.

Far from making him someone "like stone," as Jean-Paul Sartre characterized those who did not change in the passing years, it is what has led Paul to remain ever open and childlike in the best sense -- filled with a boundless curiosity, insatiable sense of wonder, and passion for inquiry.

An accomplished artist, dedicated philanthropist, entrepreneur, philosophical thinker, beloved friend and mentor, not to mention Founder, Managing Partner and CIO of the quite successful Martin Capital Advisors (MartinCapital.com), a Registered Investment Advisor, it's safe to say that Paul is guided and driven by the ship of inquiry.

In this latest confab with Paul, our fifth on this podcast, we tack from theme to theme -- from the philosophical to the financial to the sublimely creative -- all interrelated and highly illuminating, in my estimation.

Listen in.

January 07, 2019 10:34 AM PST

I consider Adam Garnick, my former student at Penn (now in law school there after rich work and study experiences these past years in far-flung places), well on the way to becoming a citizen of the world.

Adam is in many respects rooted in Philly, but in ways that give him wings to hit the road and dig into the world. Now a fluent Spanish speaker, Adam likely this summer will be working at the U.S. - Mexico border, assisting those aspiring to immigrate to our country. I catch up with Adam while he is on the road, making his way to Vermont (the connection was a bit spotty at times but it was great to have this exchange with him while he was on the move).

Listen in to his striking story.

January 05, 2019 09:46 AM PST

How can you sculpt a life that's as healthy as it is sustainable? How do you meet the challenge of finding a meaningful balance in your relationship with nature and technology?

Dr. Thomas Doherty (website SelfSustain.com), a licensed psychologist in Oregon, has some profound insights on these questions that are as timely as they are rather timeless.

I've had the pleasure of crossing paths on several occasions these last years with Dr. Doherty, an award winning psychologist based in Portland, Oregon who is internationally recognized for his research on nature and mental health, as well as on the psychological impacts of global climate change.

He and I both attend a fascinating annual get-together of scholars and practitioners called the Summit for a Globally Sustainable Self, which most recently was held in Banff, Canada (where my wife Ceci gave a presentation on her longtime labor of love helping indigenous communities in Mexico thrive in a sustainable way, and where I facilitated a philosophical inquiry that included children and adults as equals).

Dr. Doherty has a wide array of clients, including healthcare and technology professionals, and those who work in sundry fields dedicated to solving our most pressing social and environmental conundrums. He also helps couples achieve shared life goals.

Listen in to Dr. Doherty's wealth of insights on how to sculpt a healthy, sustainable life flourishes in ways that also enhance the blossoming of society on local and global scales.

January 03, 2019 09:23 AM PST

What makes for a life worth living?

That's the rich question I explore in this latest Socratic tete-a-tete with Claire Diao, who became familiar with my writings while at University of Vermont, and with whom I have been in sporadic touch since she decided to leave her studies to work as a bartender in New York while figuring out her next step in her young life.

Claire's aspiration at this stage is to matriculate at Brown University, which she believes is the ideal place for her to learn; and in my humble opinion, it is a no-brainer for them to accept her. If only the powers that be at Brown would listen in to this latest exchange of mine with Claire, hopefully they would become as convinced of this as I am.

Hope you'll listen in, meanwhile.

January 01, 2019 10:38 AM PST

The photo for this podcast features yours truly and dearest friend Dennis Dienst plotting out a business venture together over cups of tea. Dennis carefully records what we are hatching in a notebook, while I scribble my patented illegible notes on a napkin.

Few people I've had the privilege to know have found the sweet spot, when it comes to planning, like Dennis Dienst, who among other things is a senior category manager at Smiths Medical in the Twin Cities, my client at Martin Capital Advisors (MartinCapital.com), and co-founder with me of SocratesGroup.org.

Dennis somehow manages to plan ahead and at the same time to be a spontaneous child at heart; to be a risk taker but also to be careful and methodical, with both the short and long view in minds; to plan not only for his own well-being here and now and in times to come, but for that for others for whom he cares -- and not just in his own family circle, but casting a much wider net.

Since the tragic 2011 death of my father, Alexander Phillips -- a consummate planner when it came to financial matters who devoted untold thousands of hours to the task, only for it all to unravel unspeakably in his final days -- I have thought a great deal about 'ethical planning,' all the while continuing to live as best I can a life of social conscience and creativity, tinged with responsibility and some considerable thought not just to leaving a legacy to my nearest and dearest of good works and deeds, but those across the globe and those in generations hence.

Here again, Dennis is in ever so many respects the quintessential role model and guide, his wisdom borne of experiences that have brought him greater understanding, conscientiousness, and from that an abiding desire to leave a most meaningful legacy to one and all. I dearly love and admire the man, who like me is in the last year of his 50s.

Listen in.

December 27, 2018 05:28 PM PST

Dr. Richard Bernstein has not only been a generous supporter of our nonprofit Democracy Cafe, but is the organizer and facilitator of one of our longest-running Socrates Cafes, at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck, New Jersey.

He related in a New York Times feature about Socrates Cafe in 2004 that he became ''hooked'' by the fact that ''it was a community of people that are passionate about ideas and people who really see that ideas make a difference.''

Dr. Bernstein, who studied philosophy at Yale, and had attended the original Socrates Cafe in Montclair, New Jersey, before starting one of his own, makes the compelling case that the kinds of philosophical exchanges our nonprofit promulgates, our flagship Socrates Cafe endeavor in particular, are arguably more needed than ever.

Listen in.

(I also invite you to read an exceptionally insightful essay about the bounties of Socrates Cafe written by Dr. Bernstein. You can access it via this blog post on our nonprofit website: https://www.socratescafe.com/?p=1127 )

December 23, 2018 01:28 PM PST

Anyone who has read any of my books (e.g. Six Questions of Socrates, Socrates Cafe, A Child at Heart, among others) knows that no one played more of a pivotal role in my decision to dramatically change my life in 1996 and establish Socrates Cafe philosophical inquiry gatherings the world over than the late philosopher and scholar Walter Kaufmann, longtime professor at Princeton.

Kaufmann, who died at age 59, led an incredibly productive, meaningful and somewhat iconoclastic professional life. I am far from the only person whose own life has been forever altered by Kaufmann's works and deeds, imbued with a decided Socratic sensibility.

Now, 37 years after Professor Kaufmann's untimely death in 1981, Dr. Stanley Corngold, Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton, has written a sweeping and majestic book -- 'Walter Kaufmann: Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic.'

I had the honor to speak for nearly an hour with Dr. Corngold, a celebrated Kafka scholar, about his tour-de-force work on Kaufmann, whom he knew personally. I encourage you to delve deeply into this book and relish every insight. And for those who haven't yet read any of Walter Kaufmann's original works, I hope that Dr. Corngold's book will serve as your port of entry to one of the most extraordinary yet under-appreciated philosophers and humanists of the 20th century.

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