What’s Our Read-In Group All About?
Our Merlin Philosophy Read-In Group is a gateway into classic and contemporary writings in philosophy. Unlike some of our more informal activities and events, these gatherings are structured around the book we’re reading together and the specific arguments given by the author.
With an eye both to understanding their specific ideas and arguments, and to cultivating general skills for reading and studying philosophy, we carefully read together and discuss important and influential books in philosophy. This includes evaluation, critique, and application to our contemporary lives, but always in a way that brings us back to the source.
Read-In Group meetings are facilitated by David Nowakowski, who brings specific knowledge and background to the text and helps cultivate the general skills of philosophical reading and analysis. FREE/$5 suggested donation. Reading group book(s) can be purchased from Montana Book Co. Alternatively, you can also visit Lewis & Clark Library to inquire about checking out a copy.
When Do We Meet?
Our Philosophy Read-In Group meets the 1st & 3rd Wednesday of every month from 6pm-7:30pm.
Cottonwood ALC Community Center located at 322 Fuller Avenue.
How Are Our Read-In Group Gatherings Structured?
With each text, and at each meeting, we:
- learn about the particular ideas and arguments advanced by important philosophers,
- apply those ideas and arguments to our own lives and circumstances, and
- learn strategies for engaging with philosophical writings, which will help us to read a wide range of other works, whether alone or in the company of others.
For each book, we move from background and context-setting, to examination of a few central questions, to a wider overall view of the text and its structure, to critical discussion and evaluation. By emphasizing the earlier steps, we build the foundation for everyone in the group to read and engage with depth, rigor, understanding, and confidence.
Each participant should read the relevant sections of the book before coming to our meeting. To help guide the reading, questions are provided to read-in participants in advance by the facilitator. In our meeting, we examine the text for a second (or third, fourth, …) time, in order to dig deeper.
While there is no long-term commitment — new participants are warmly welcome every time we start a new book — those who attend regularly will see patterns emerging across different books, and will be able to apply the ideas and skills from earlier works to later ones, developing an especially deep and rich appreciation for the life-changing work of philosophical reading and study.
Check out what we’ll be exploring each month below!
Nov. 6th & 20th (6pm-7:30pm)
~ Plato & Socrates ~
Nov. Reading Info & Questions...
We’ll start off our Philosophy Read-In Group series with two of the best-known Greek philosophers: Plato and Socrates.
In Plato’s Crito, Socrates is in prison, having been convicted to crimes against the city of Athens and condemned to die. When his friends come to visit, they tell Socrates that they’ve hatched a plan to get him out of jail, and safely away to another city where he can live out his life. But is this really the right thing to do? Or does Socrates (and do we) have a duty to obey the laws even when they seem to harm us, even when the punishments seem harsh or unjust? In the Crito, Socrates and his friends examine exactly these questions.
In the Euthyphro, we step back a few days in time, when Socrates has been called to court to answer charges of impiety. Outside the courtroom, he meets his friend Euthyphro, who is on his way to bring murder charges against his own father! As Socrates and Euthyphro try to work out the right thing for each of them to do, the discussion moves from the conflict between duties (to one’s parents, and to strangers, the law, and the city) into a wider examination of what exactly it is that makes an action just or holy. Is something holy because the Gods love it, or do the Gods love it because it is already holy? The dialogue teaches us both about the specific issues of goodness, holiness, and justice; and about Socrates’ general strategies for learning, understanding, and explanation.
- Plato: The Last Days of Socrates, translated by Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant. Penguin Books, 2003.
This book actually has four of Plato’s dialogues, all dealing with Socrates’ last month on earth, from his trial to his execution. In addition to the Euthyphro and the Crito (which we’ll be discussing this month), it also contains the Apology (Socrates’ defense speech at his trial) and the Phaedo (exploring why the philosopher does not fear death… and ending with Socrates’ own, fearless death!). If there’s interest among our group, we’ll return to the Apology and Phaedo in 2020.
Reading Group Questions
Dec. 4th & 18th (6pm-7:30pm)
~ The Bhagavad Gītā ~
Dec. Reading Info & Questions...
Perhaps the best-known of all Indian texts in philosophy and religion, the Bhagavad Gītā raises questions about duty, responsibility, and the morality of war. What should we do when the needs of our family and of our society pull us in opposite directions? Is killing always wrong, and is death really the worst thing that can happen to us? Is it better to be actively engaged in the messy, complicated world of everyday life and politics, or to walk away from it all, living a life of seclusion to focus on our own freedom from suffering?
The book has inspired countless, and quite different, writers and leaders, from Mahatma Gandhi, to Henry David Thoreau, to Robert Oppenheimer, the lead inventor of the atomic bomb! So in addition to examining the moral questions raised by the text, we will also reflect on how such totally different people could all draw meaning and inspiration from it.
- The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller. Bantam Classics, 1986. (New for $7.95; widely available used.)
The Bhagavad Gītā has been translated into English more than 100 times (!!), so we cannot possibly be familiar with every translation that’s out there. Barbara Stoler Miller’s version is especially fluid and approachable, though if you already have another version, that’s totally fine, too.
January & February 2020
Jan. 8th & 22nd (6pm-7:30pm)
Feb. 5th & 19th (6pm-7:30pm)
~ Plato on Friendship & Love ~
January/February Reading Info & Questions...
To start off the new year, and carry us through to Valentine’s Day, we’ll be looking at two of Plato’s most beautiful and poetic dialogues on the themes of friendship and love: the Phaedrus and the Symposium.
In the Phaedrus, Socrates and his friend Phaedrus journey into the Athenian countryside, to consider whether it is better to love someone who also loves you, or whether (as Phaedrus’ teacher has recently suggested) it’s actually more noble to love someone who does not return your love. From there, Socrates offers his own speech in praise of Love, explaining how love purifies and elevates both the lover and the beloved to higher and more noble things.
In the Symposium, we find Socrates back in the city, attending a dinner party with a group of friends, when the subject turns to love. The six dinner guests compete to explain, and to praise, exactly what love is. Comparing and contrasting these different account, we’ll come to our own understanding of this powerful yet often mysterious aspect of human life.
- Plato on Love, edited by C.D.C. Reeve. Hackett Publishing, 2006.
This paperback contains translations of the Phaedrus and the Symposium, both by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (along with a few other things). The very same translations can also be found in the (more expensive) Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper (Hackett, 1997). If you already have another version of these dialogues, that’s fine too, but the Nehamas/Woodruff translations are really excellent, and highly recommended!
Mar. 4th & 18th (6pm-7:30pm)
~ The Stoic Art of Living ~
March Reading Info & Questions...
Information to be added Soon!
Our Merlin Philosophy Read-In’s are geared for kids and are opportunities for youth to enjoy listening to featured stories aimed at getting their synapses firing, along with a kid-inspired philosophical discussion. Parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. welcome and encouraged to attend.
FREE. Light snacks provided. $5 suggested donation.
What: Philosophy Read-In
Where: Reeder’s Alley Interpretive & Convention Center (101 Reeder’s Alley, Helena MT 59601)
Age(s): Children, Tweens, Teens
Featured Stories: TBD (followed by a lively philosophical discussion)
- Doors open at 6:15pm; Storytelling starts at 6:30pm
- 30-45 minutes of storytelling & 30-45 minute post-reading discussion
Venue Capacity: 15-20 people
Cost: FREE ($5 Suggested Donation)
Other Information: Light snacks provided.
For more information, please contact Marisa Diaz-Waian at [email protected] or #406-439-5788.
Our Philosophy Read-In Sponsors
Want more? Cool! Learn more about some of our other fun philosophy-based community events & socials, including our: