- Teaching Plato in Palestine: Philosophy in a Divided World by Carlos Fraenkel
Part One of this award-winning book takes us on an exploratory voyage through some of the most basic of philosophical questions as these are pondered in the least likely "corners" of the world. In Part Two, the "tour guide" finally lays out before us the intellectual map of this fascinating excursion. The purpose of this unique experience (which we signed on to, he as much as tells us, by reading the book) is to make us see the practical value of testing and introspecting our beliefs and ponderings through a congenial but sharp conversation with ourselves and others. Doing so essentially requires us to develop a disposition in ourselves to be open to such conversations, along with the analytical skills to carry them out. We are then part of what the author calls "a culture of debate." A programmed "habituation" of the young to these dispositions and skills, starting at the high school level, would guarantee over time a worthy life and better world, where varied convictions across cultures and religions would come to be grounded in good reasons for holding them but would not be blindly held on to or tightly sealed against possible alteration through a common search for truth.
Part Two of the book—a philosophical case for the culture of debate—shows us how to cope with each other in a world where we may share citizenship but at the same time be rooted in different cultures and hold different convictions, or where political borders may signal deep cultural or religious divides, often expressed in animosity and conflict. The "culture of debate" approach to dealing with such differences or divides stands to be far more conducive to a flourishing coexistence than alternatives grounded in a single set of liberal values. At the very least, the culture of debate accounts for and guarantees the achievement of the aims of these other accounts—from Mill to Rawls—while ensuring, through its mainstay of fallibilism, a dynamic promise of continued human betterment. An honest engagement with the "other" signals both respect for them as well as a readiness to be self-critical about one's beliefs: it is a positive engagement in civil [End Page 327] life, rather than a de facto toleration for living under the same political roof with suspicious strangers.
A reader might get the wrong impression—corrected in the author's afterword to the second edition—that what is being "naively" proposed is a magical formula to end major world conflicts and problems in one fell swoop, from wars to religious fanaticism, or to resolve all ideological differences over what to regard as the best social or economic policies. But the author makes plain that, while "critical questioning" is necessary for human flourishing, it is neither sufficient nor appropriate as a mechanism to resolve differences or conflicts. Clearly, a violent assault will need the intervention of police officers, rather than philosophers. Even so, it is arguable that a state of war—such as that between Israelis and Palestinians, with which the author begins his first essay—has shown that force is by no means a guaranteed "resolving agent": force will not bring peace or deliver a better world. Of course, it is arguable too that one side or the other may prefer a state of war to peace (this being more suitable for its particular ends). Once again, however, Fraenkel's main message suggests itself: one must put to the test whether one's reasons for such a preference are worthy.
Sari Nusseibeh, formerly president of al-Quds University in Jerusalem, now holds the UNESCO professorship in freedom of expression there. He founded, with Ami Ayalon, The People's Voice, a Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative, and was corecipient (with Amos Oz) of the Siegfried Unseld Preis. A Commander of the Order of Léopold, the highest order of knighthood in Belgium, he is the author, most recently, of The Story of Reason in Islam; What's...