Socrates Café comes to Quinnipiac

By on February 24, 2012

The Quinnipiac community stimulated its intellectual and philosophical side Wednesday evening at the university’s first Socrates Café.

The host of the evening was American author, speaker and originator of the Socrates Café concept, Christopher Phillips. He is best known for his 2001 book “Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy,” which was the model and guide to form Socrates Café groups around the world.

Lesly Alvarez | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Christopher Phillips makes a note while discussing the meaning of life with students.

A Socrates Café is when a group of people gather together to exchange thoughtful ideas and experiences, Phillips said.

Phillips has led and participated in Socrates Café dialogues since 1996. He told the audience that these dialogues stem from the idea that we all have something valuable to contribute when it comes to philosophical thinking. By creating these dialogues, Phillips hoped to generate “an alternative kind of discourse” modeled after the Socratic Method, which is based on proposing and answering questions to stimulate thinking and illuminate ideas.

Before beginning the dialogue, Phillips clarified to the crowd of students, faculty and guests at the Rocky Top Student Center that it would be an open discussion rather than a debate – and everyone would leave as a winner.

Phillips said he found the discussions to be most successful when he left with more questions than he arrived with, thus instructing the crowd not to worry about finding answers.

To get the conversation going, Phillips asked the group to propose philosophical questions to debate. Questions such as, “Do people have free will?” and “Is teaching possible?” were brought up, among many others. The group then voted on which question they most wanted to discuss. Phillips emphasized to vote for questions that audience members were “most perplexed by and least expert in.”

The question: “What is the meaning of life?” won the vote.

Over the course of the next hour, audience members discussed, shared personal points of view and made thoughtful assessments in attempts to provide an answer. Building off the ideas of their peers, and with the aid of further questions from Phillips, many audience members came up with inspiring conclusions in response to the question.

The group discussed if meaning is something you have to give to human life, or if life has an inherent meaning simply because we exist.

Professor of philosophy Anat Biletzki helped organize the first Socrates Café and announced that Quinnipiac will add a new philosophy major to undergraduates next September.

Biletzki made the case for why obtaining a philosophy degree is excellent preparation for the real world, stating: “Education in philosophy makes people respond to challenges wisely and ethically. So we are actually preparing students for ‘real life’ in the coming century, which promises to be challenging.” The philosophy program will offer a senior seminar, mandatory core courses and several electives ranging from more historical courses to topical courses.

“If you want to look at things on an even more concrete level,” Biletzki said. “Graduates in philosophy do amazingly well in law school, business school, and even medical school. So philosophy is a real training for life.”

“I thought the Socrates Café event was fascinating,” Biletzki said.

Biletzki said she was quite pleased with the turnout and that “people contributed reflective thoughts and the conversation developed into a structured, but in no way restrictive, give-and-take. [The discussion] was beautifully orchestrated by Christopher Phillips.”

Even after participating in hundreds of Socrates Café discussions, Phillips said that he still always learns something new about himself with each one, and finds philosophical discourse to be a process of self-revelation.

Biletzki announced the plan to establish a Socrates Café as a regular event on campus. It will be sponsored jointly by the department of philosophy, political science and Sophia, the philosophy club, as well as other student groups who have expressed interest.

Events would take place once a month during an experimental trial run this spring. More frequent meetings will be scheduled for next year if the trial run proves to be successful, Biletzki said.

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