Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are the new unlikely heroes of a remote Italian town where local authorities are promoting philosophical thinking for a better way of life.
A philosophy trail leads past a sofa that pronounces deep thoughts when you sit on it, a park with no lights to encourage pondering and posters in the town’s streets ask questions like “Why were you born?” and “What is fear?”
“This is a revolutionary experiment,” the ebullient mayor of Corigliano d’Otranto, Ada Fiore, herself a philosophy teacher, told AFP in an interview.
Fiore said her mission was to get the 5,800 residents of this town in the southern Puglia region to take time out to ponder existential questions.
“All we are saying is ‘look at the direction the world is heading in, it’s not okay,'” she said, adding that Italy’s real problem was not the economic crisis but “the crisis in the relationship between man and his surroundings”.
She admitted the project which she launched in June had “objective difficulties” noting that some schoolchildren had not proved very receptive.
But the philosophical consultations she helped organised are proving popular, with around one in five of the mediaeval town’s inhabitants flocking to the 15 euro ($19) an hour sessions hosted by philosopher Graziella Lupo.
“People come and consult with me mainly on relationship dynamics,” said the bespectacled thinker.
The town council also organises regular philosophy debates and seminars in schools and public buildings to keep residents on their toes.
Other towns in the region are beginning to take note, especially considering the sharp increase in visitors in a part of Italy where tourists are rare.
Concetta Lucarella, a nun visiting Corigliano d’Otranto, said she was particularly impressed by the philosophy trail through the town centre.
“I think people who do the trail reflect on what they hear. It is really a hymn to life,” she said.
The jovial 49-year-old owner of a local bar proved equally enthusiastic.
“In answer to the question ‘Why was I born?’ I used to think I was born to live,” said Angelo Anchora, owner of “Castello” in the town centre.
“Then I understood I was also put on this earth to work and mainly to work!”
“We are a bit more optimistic. We have more of a philosophical outlook!” said Anchora, who has put up a sign reading: “Thinking is Ultra-Cool”.
Not everyone appreciates the initiatives, with psychologists in particular warning that it could be dangerous to look into people’s subconscious.
The mayor dismisses such misgivings, saying the philosophy she is encouraging is “exclusively on the conscious level” with no probing into people’s pasts.
Marianna Burlando, a psychologist at a local hospital, is also in favour since “psychology owes a debt to philosophy”.
“Philosophy is the mother of all humanistic disciplines. I think we should try and dialogue!”