Non-Fiction Notes: Plato at the Googleplex: First Impressions

(Pantheon/Pantheon) – ”Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away” by Rebecca Goldstein.

In case you’re wondering, the Googleplex is the corporate headquarters of Google. Rebecca Goldstein’s newly published book is about the continuing relevance of philosophy and philosophical inquiry, specifically Platonic philosophical inquiry, to the lives we lead in the 21st Century.  Her claim, as signified by the book’s subtitle, “Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away,” is that philosophy and Platonic inquiry not only remain relevant to our lives today, but have also made progress and advanced our understanding of ourselves since the time of Plato.

Goldstein is both a philosopher and a novelist; naturally, her book isn’t a dry philosophical treatise. She employs the narrative device of bringing Plato back to life in the 21st Century and has him in dialogue with thinkers, intellectuals, and philosophers of our time. This kind of narrative trickery could easily devolve into silliness if not handled with the requisite skill. However, in the opinion of a reviewer infinitely more well-read and possessed of an infinitely better honed critical acumen than yours truly, Goldstein pulls it off with a novelist’s aplomb and philosopher’s zest (in Dirda’s words: “madcap brilliance and commanding authority“). So here’s Plato at the Googleplex in conversation with creators of crowd-sourcing technologies arguing the relevance of philosophy in the age of crowd-sourced knowledge acquisition; and here he is at a televised New York talk show, in discussion with a Tiger Mom and a Freudian Psychoanalyst on raising children. This format is particularly apt for a philosopher all of whose writings took the form, not of treatises, but of dialogues. (Socrates is both a stock character and a star in most of these.)

I’m only about fifty pages into the book and am looking forward not only to gobs of food for thought, but also an entertaining tour de force.

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