Greek-American philosopher Christopher Phillips in his quest to follow Socrates’ principle of “Know Thyself” retraces his roots on the tiny volcanic island of Nisyros, Greece.
In his new book, “Soul of Goodness,” soon to be published in Greek, Phillips explores the connections between his immediate circumstances and the eternal wisdom of popular philosophers.
The author is the founder of SocratesCafe.com, a global grassroots philosophical inquiry movement with gatherings around the world where people from different backgrounds get together and exchange philosophical perspectives based on their experiences, using the version of the Socratic Method, a form of argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions.
The Socratic method searches for general commonly held truths that shape thought and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs.
Phillips’s first visit to Nisyros and Socrates
In his moving, insightful blend of memoir and philosophical exploration, Phillips says that he owes to his dad and mother “to take on scholarly and professional pursuits that, over time, led me to discover just enough about who I am at my core to dedicate my life to Socrates Café.”
The book describes how he felt, and what he thought as he visited Nisyros for the first time, the island from which his grandparents emigrated to the United States. Upon the death of his beloved father and mentor, he had little choice but to confront the inescapable truth: that there are some things we cannot know for sure.
He describes the walls of the ancient acropolis, known as the Paleokastro, “the crown jewel and erstwhile centerpiece of the diminutive island of Nisyros… The surrounding sea is an impossibly deep blue.”
“As I make my way from the village to the ancient acropolis, I pass by immaculate agoras, public plazas where to this day, as in Socrates’s time, people barter goods as well as exchange ideas and ideals,” he writes on the introduction of his book.
He walks through hills and dells before the steep ascent to the acropolis, situated at the highest point—the precise walk “that Dad and I had long planned to make together,” and never managed as Phillips’s dad died in 2011.
“I make the climb lost in thought much of the time. But that makes even more breathtaking, whenever I emerge from my reverie, the terraces splashed with bright colors that I pass along the way, featuring a variety of figs, olives, almonds, carobs, prickly pears, flowering cactus.”
When he reaches the acropolis he is impressed by its towering walls. “How forbidding they must have appeared to their would-be besiegers back in the day. A marvel of craftsmanship and design,” he writes.
Home at last!
Phillips says that throughout his adult life, he never felt entirely at home. “I never felt I belonged— atopos, the Greeks of old called this feeling.”
But at Nisyros “at last, I have arrived. Home at last. I belong. While untold numbers of people have occupied the perch where I am right now on this acropolis wall, I can say with certainty that, right now, it belongs to me. It is my space on my wall. This is for me an Odyssey-like homecoming to a Greek island’s rocky shores after a long existential shipwreck,” he says.
“Here at last I feel a sense of place, and of inner and outer belonging. I can’t say this has brought me peace, but I am no longer so unmoored, no longer so roiling on the inside. I now know what it is to be anchored and untethered, at one and the same time, like an existential trapeze artist.”
“In Soul of Goodness, Christopher Phillips walks us down his joyful path as a philosopher from the day when he was twelve years old and his Greek grandmother handed him a copy of Plato’s Cave. From that inspired beginning, Chris implements the Socratic power of simple questions to transcend barriers and reach for greater insight,” author Kathryn Watterson said about the book.