February 13, 2020
My introduction to Peter Kreeft’s work took place via his magnum opus Socratic Logic – A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, And Aristotelian Principles Edition 3.1.
In Socratic Logic, Kreeft set the bar extremely high for his own work from a personal standpoint, given the exemplary job he did in the surgical execution and the crucial importance of what I have found to be the best, and yet simplest book on Traditional Aristotelian Logic, whose core essence follows in the same vein as Aristotle‘s Organon, which were his six works on Logic, written over 2300 years ago.
In no uncertain terms, Socratic Logic should be held in very high esteem, as through the full length of the book, it seeks to educate and not simply school which are not the same thing, and helps those individuals that employ its lessons move beyond the seriously concerted effort to dumb down society, which the late award-winning teacher and researcher, John Taylor Gatto has covered extensively in his lifework. With that foundation in mind, let’s now transition to Philosophy.
Succinctly stated, Philosophy 101 By Socrates – An Introduction To Plato’s Apology, does an absolutely marvelous job in introducing individuals to Philosophy in the Socratic way. It’s that good. In essence, what Kreeft creates is what one may call a ‘user-friendly’ guide to Philosophy, all in a simple-to-follow, and yet high thought-provoking and engaging way, as Kreeft’s usual works are.
Philosophy 101 by Socrates is distilled to serve as a very pragmatic opening act for individuals to venture forth into many philosophical subjects from a kaleidoscope of angles. Additionally, not only is it possible to use this book as a portable classroom given the way that it is structured, but it can be useful for homeschooling and even college classrooms give its wide range of intellectual application due to the subject matter therein.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why is Philosophy even important? Isn’t that subject a relic of the past” Not. Even. Close.
Philosophy is paramount to acquiring understanding, given that it is in Philosophy’s nature to seek truth, no matter where it leads. Or as Kreeft himself argues, Philosophy takes no prisoners.
Philosophy questions everything. Like a curious kid asking ‘why’ in their nascent stages, Philosophy seeks truth – not belief – within every crevice it dares to delve into.
Moreover, not only is Philosophy 101 traditional in the way that it is taught and ponders various topics, by not defaulting to symbolic logic whose limited range is highly constricting, but it is clearly divided, commonsensical to boot, streamlined in its approach while still maintaining oceans of substance, all the while also being quite thought-provoking.
In fact, one of the best aspects of the book is how Socrates’ mindset is explored through it, following like a shadow, to wherever Socrates’ curiosity might lead him.
Kreeft shows an apt description of Socrates in the following passage:
“Socrates is the apostle of reason. He demands that we give logical reasons, grounds for beliefs, and follow the logical consequences of our beliefs, taken as premises or hypotheses, to their logical conclusions through a number of logically compelling steps.”
It is part of this philosophical method, the Socratic form of questioning that is now known as cross-examination that is explored, but Philosophy 101 features still much more. For example, the book even touches lightly on religion as well, and how those that follow a religion would benefit from philosophy.
Kreeft goes to show how faith and reason can coexist if used mindfully:
“One of the main functions of philosophy as practiced by Socrates is a critique of religion, finding reasons for (or against) faith. These reasons often claim only probability rather than certainty; and even when they claim certainty, they may be mistaken for man is not God and infallible; but it is surely a gain to use binocular vision, reason and faith, and to make at least somewhat clearer and/or more reasonable the ideas most people find the most important in their lives.”
As an introduction to philosophy and Socrates simultaneously, one would be hard-pressed to find a better book than this. In that, Kreeft does an exceptional job in showing how Philosophy and Socrates interweave and are forever joined at the hip, especially given how Socrates lifework planted the very seed that grew into the strongest foundation for philosophy.
Additionally, by employing Plato’s Apology as the foundation of the book, Kreeft undertakes the task of showing the many ways philosophy can be understood, by using forty different descriptions of the subject. It was particularly interesting absorbing the wide and refreshing range of descriptions that Kreeft was able to come up with for philosophy, and how he was able to incisively show how apt those descriptions were to the act of philosophizing and broadening an individual’s understanding of a wide array of subject matter.
Subsequent to that, Kreeft gives readers a cursory analysis of parts of the Euthyphro, as well as Phaedo, which are both dialogues by Plato, the latter of which details Socrates’ last days. These dialogues help undergird the book with a wider foundation of Philosophy that merge swiftly with the rest of the book.
Fortuitously, one of the main strengths of this book is its ability to narrow complex topics into practical – but not overly simplified – gems of wisdom that the reader can repeatedly learn from easily. By contrast, many other philosophy books tend to overcomplicate philosophy, which turn readers off, or to oversimplify philosophy, which ends up not showcasing the latitude and incisiveness that philosophy can employ when used effectively.
This practical primer of philosophy also helps readers realize the importance of the art of cross-examination, which Socrates is the father of, when mindfully exploring a subject.
In a thoroughly exploratory way, Kreeft helps readers gain an understanding of the significant depth that philosophy will venture to in search for truth and the process that it employs in seeking to achieve that. As such, Philosophy 101 can only strengthen an individual’s intellectual repertoire.
Plain and simple, this book by Kreeft should be an integral component in every single individual’s education. What the book offers is a template for what’s possible by the application of philosophy in a sound manner, and not having knowledge of these skills in life emblematic of a surgeon at the operating room without a scalpel.
Sources & References:
 Peter Kreeft Ph.D., Philosophy 101 By Socrates – An Introduction To Plato’s Apology, p. 104.
 Ibid., p. 141
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