Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves. -Blaise Pascal
iSymposium Close Reading Seminars
Time-Commitment: 1.25 Hours per week (no homework)
Average number of pages per week: 2-5 pages
Maximum Group Size: 7
In the hour and a quarter you spend with us, you’ll find the weekly practice you’ve been looking for: an intellectual work-out, reading closely the greatest works and talking with a blend of seriousness and play about the best things with people who care: and then you’ll leave refreshed and ready for more next week.
Readings are short enough that preparation is optional for participants.
Sessions begin with a 10 to 15 minute reading out loud, followed by the conversation concentrated on the same section of text. The oral reading focuses the group’s attention collectively at the same point in preparation for the conversation. Conversation begins with an opening question, which has the intention of understanding the text as it understands itself. The conversation is not about self-expression, but understanding and inquiry. We don’t talk about books, so much as we try to think through them. Nothing will tell you more about an author and a book – and no other learning will gratify your mind more deeply – than close attention paid to the unfolding argument and action of texts that merit it.
In keeping with our core intention to offer the highest quality learning opportunities outside terminal degree program environment, our close-reading pathways are open-ended – restoring the true meaning of school – skhole or leisure. The richness and power of these books call out for our care and our time; and because we are not in time-sensitive degree programs, we offer a thorough going-through of the text.
Past seminars have included readings on Plato’s great works, readings on the theme of “law in times of public emergency”, the problems of popular elections and laissez-faire economics; Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, and even Supreme Court Cases. Authors from Sallust and Cicero, to Abraham Lincoln; Adam Smith and Karl Marx to Keynes and Hayek. Most recently we have finished a lengthy series on Socratic Education, by means of the shorter Platonic dialogues.
In 2018, we launched two new offerings: “The Education Quartet” (Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Rousseau’s Emile and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit) and “The Journey to the East”, a series or program on the Eastern Classics – from the magnificent Bhagavad-gita, to the dialogue between Confucius and Laozi, to great classics in Buddhism. Both pathways are ongoing, multi-year endeavors, with open enrollment.
Are iSymposium seminars webinars? No way! And aren’t you so glad? iSymposium is a vastly different experience than what you get through mass internet based educational products – or even schools and colleges themselves. You will not be one out of nameless and faceless thousands listening and watching a single person talk on a youtube video. Our groups are small by choice, no more than ten participants, lending a personal character to the conversational experience, giving space for participants to be able to participate freely and at will in the dialogue.
“iSymposium brings online learning to the next level. It takes the best parts of your favorite college seminar, combines that with an easy to use discussion board, and delivers it in straight to your living room. Where else will you have the opportunity to discuss the ideas of the world’s greatest artists and thinkers? The discussion leaders do not teach their own ideas, but skillfully guide participants to discovery through enlightening discussion. In this age where everything revolves around the shiny and new, Symposium opens an encounter with the wisdom that has founded and shaped the great civilizations of the world. Nothing is more refreshing or more life-changing than the rediscovery of the possibility of truth, in all it’s many forms. In this time of uncertainty and superficiality, the books and conversations you encounter through Symposium will spark a fire that can guide you through your life. There is a reason these works have survived for ages, and there is no better way to begin your discovery than through the Symposium discussions.” –Dan Kirkeby, New York, NY
“I’ve really enjoyed and felt enlightened by these seminars. It’s rarely easy to get a group of your friends together to discuss anything of consequence in a focused way, but Symposium completely solves that problem. Not only that, but it provides the impetus to learn about some of the classics I might have never made time for on my own.” Dusty James – Harrisburg, PA
“I have been familiar with Socratic seminars for nearly twenty years, and frankly I was a little skeptical about having one via a voice conference as compared with physical space, even in our day and age. How wrong I was! Our conversation on Adam Smith last night, coast to coast, was wonderful. I enjoyed listening to everyone, and I begrudge their availability to pick up the conversation next week where we left off. I suspect that though we know everything has a “natural price” we have no way of ascertaining that price precisely, and, even if and when we did, all the natural prices are relational to each other, and so Adam Smith’s argument is that theoretically the market price approximates the natural price best; eo ipso the public good, and not merely the private, is well served. Thanks to David and all my colleagues on the call : each time I’ve participated (remotely) in a Symposium the reading selection has been stupendous and the conversation excellent. Highly recommend it to any and all who are serious.” –Reynaldo Miranda , San Francisco, CA
“This really is an ideal venue for me in which to try to understand who Plato’s Socrates is and what he’s up to. I’ve always found Socrates a challenge, and it’s so refreshing to be able to approach the texts with a group of smart people who haven’t made up their minds about him. I’ve lately been using a phrase that sounds corny but which captures for me the essence of a really good seminar discussion: it’s the “spirit of inquiry.” This group truly has it.” –Mark Cwik, London England
Starting January 2018: The Education Quartet (Click Here)
Starting July 2017:
Xenophon’s Shorter Socratic Writings
1. Apology of Socrates to the Jury
Meeting Day: The first seminar will be held Monday July 17th.
Meeting Time: 8 Central (9 EST, 6 PST)
Meeting Duration: 1.25 hours
Time Commitment: 1.25 hours per week
Meeting “Place”: Zoom Video Conferencing
Past iSymposium Offerings
2016-2017 Session (Concluded June 2017)
What is Socratic Education? A journey through the shorter Platonic Dialogues
What is genuine education? What qualities of heart and mind does it require of both students and teachers? Even if you’ve never read Plato before, if you feel the sting of longing to learn and to keep challenging your mind far beyond the walls of conventional schooling, then this group might be for you. The spirit of this group is a lifelong interest in the meaning of genuine education. Instead of reading essays “about” education, we’ve set ourselves the task of investigating the matter itself by letting the fundamental problems and insights emerge from a careful reading and discussion of key Platonic texts.
The meeting frequency for this iSymposium series is once a week. As long as there is a quorum of participants (depending on the size of the group), we will plan to meet each week. Each session is one hour and fifteen minutes. The session opens promptly with a fifteen minute reading of the text by participants, followed by an hour long discussion based on that selection. Because each meeting begins with a reading of the text, participants are free to prepare as much or as little as desired prior to meeting. For many participants, minimizing prep time is an advantage, considering the length of the series.
Meeting Day: The first seminar will be held Tuesday, January 5th. Thereafter, the seminars will continue to be on Tuesday at the group’s discretion.
Meeting Time: 8 Central (9 EST, 6 PST)
Meeting Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes
We will follow the order of dialogues recommended by Christopher Bruell in his commentary On the Socratic Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. ISBN 0-8576-9401-1):
Hipparchus (Session 1 and 2)*
Minos (Session 3 and 4)*
Students and Teachers
Alcibiades I (Sessions 5 and 6)*
Alcibiades II (Sessions 7 and 8)
Laches (Sessions 9 and 10)*
Euthydemus (Sessions 11 and 12)
Greater Hippias (Sessions 13 and 14)*
Lesser Hippias (Sessions 15 and 16)*
Theages (Sessions 17 and 18)*
The Life Itself
Euthyphro (Sessions 19 and 20)
Apology (Sessions 21 and 22)
Ion (Sessions 23 and 24) *
Meno (Sessions 25 and 26)
Cleitophon (Sessions 27 and 28)*
Menexenus (Sessions 29 and 30)
Crito (Sessions 31 and 32)
(The number of sessions for each dialogue in the above syllabus is an approximation. Depending on the needs of the group sessions will be added or subtracted.)
*Dialogues thus marked are contained in the following translation, recommended for 9 out of 16 dialogues: The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues Thomas Pangle Cornell University Press; 1 edition (October 19, 1987)
iSymposium 2014-2015 Session: Plato’s “Laws”
Plato’s Laws, a great classic of political philosophy, is Plato’s last and longest work – spanning 12 books. It is the only dialogue which doesn’t feature Socrates. Three figures appear in the dialogue: The Athenian Stranger and two others – a Spartan citizen Megillos and the Cretan politician and lawgiver Clinias from Knossos. The Athenian Stranger joins the two men, who are making a pilgrimage from Knossos to the Cave of Zeus. The conversation takes place during this journey. The action of the dialogue is a mime of a journey made by Minos, the ancient law-giver of Crete: every nine years, Minos made the journey in order to receive instruction from Zeus on lawgiving. The aim of this iSymposium group is a careful and thoughtful reading of the text, meeting once a week beginning in February. Everyone is welcome – no prerequisites besides a love of good discussion and a desire to dig deep in the text. Click here for Amazon. Click here for Internet Classics Archive.