Launched over twenty years ago by our founder Christopher Phillips, Socrates Café has gone on to become an oasis of reasonableness in a desert of rising intolerance and polarization around the world — from Montana to Mumbai, Portland to Tokyo. Hundreds of groups now convene far and wide in public places and spaces, including cyberspace, but also in bricks and mortar locales like schools, churches, community centers, nursing homes, prisons, shelters for homeless families, libraries. Oh, and we have a popular Socrates Cafe podcast, so be sure to check it out. And Chris and company blog pretty regularly on a number of places: here, here, and here (and sometimes here, and we also have Facebook pages here, here, here, and here — not to mention a YouTube channel.
Those who take part in Socrates Cafés — and Philosophers’ Club for kids (here’s a version in Spanish) — share the sensibility of the fifth century BC philosopher Socrates that continual close encounters with others of a philosophical kind, engaging in impassioned yet thoughtful exchanges of ideas and ideals, is a portal to sculpting what the Greeks of old called Arête —all-around excellence, of a sort that is an individual and collective pursuit rolled into one.
We don’t believe ‘civil discourse’ is enough. Heck, almost anyone can ‘behave’ for short bursts of time as they discuss ‘hot topics’. We reject the model of rhetoric, argument, debate, persuasion, and instead embrace the model of rigorous methodical inquiry that can lead to the novel and unfamiliar, forging bonds of connectedness because of the inquiry itself.
What the world needs now are kinds of inquiries — inquiries the Socrates Cafe way — that encourage and cultivate reasonableness, thoughtfulness, imaginativeness, empathy. And in ways that connect all of us, that tease out all of our stores of wisdom, and celebrate them, at every age and stage of life — in ways that lead to greater self discovery, and discovery of novel possibilities for who we might become, on individual and more global scales.
As motley people break philosophical bread together on a regular basis, close connections are often forged among the strangest bedfellows. If you were a fly on the wall at one of these gatherings, you’d see that Socrates Café-goers in action are an inquisitive, open, curious, and playful bunch —childlike, in a word. Socrates Cafes embrace the central theme of Socratizing; the idea that we learn more when we question, and question — methodically, purposefully, inquisitively, imaginatively — with others. This is how we best ‘child‘ as individuals and as a society.
When Christopher Phillips began these groups in 1996, he did so after asking himself what he could do, at a time of great polarization, that would in some modest way further the deeds of those noble souls who had come before him and, as William James put it, “suffered and laid down their lives” to better the lot of humankind? His epiphany was to be a philosopher in the mold of Socrates, and to inquire with anyone and everyone shared with him the aspiration of becoming more empathetic people and more critical and creative thinkers and doers.
Today, there are hundreds of ongoing gatherings around the globe coordinated by hundreds of dedicated volunteers who are deeply committed to making ours a more participatory and inclusive world. We encourage you to facilitate your own Socrates Café, click here for information on how to start one.
As one participant wrote:
“Thank you…thank you…thank you for all the time, energy and agonizing frustration you obviously overcame in creating a wonderful piece of liberating art…a life’s visa for those seeking freedom from the asylums of self-ignorance.”