Socrates Café are gatherings around the world where people from different backgrounds get together and exchange thoughtful ideas and experiences while embracing the Socratic Method. The groups model their discussions from the book of the same name by Christopher Phillips. Today, there are over 600 ongoing gatherings around the globe coordinated by hundreds of volunteers who share the common goal of making a more inclusive world.
The idea behind the Socrates Café is that we learn more when we question and question with others. It all started a decade ago when Christopher Phillips, then a freelance writer, asked himself what he could do 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? The epiphany and also the answer for him was to be a philosopher in the mold of Socrates, and to hold Socratic dialogues with anyone and everyone who’d like to engage in a common quest to gain a better understanding of human nature - who shared with him the aspiration of becoming more empathetic people and more objectively critical and creative philosophical inquirers. Phillips' idea of having open-invitation meetings in a cafe to discuss philosophy was inspired by Marc Sautet, whose Café Philosophique Phillips joined after reading an article about Sautet in 1992.
A typical group meets in a public place, is open to anyone who wishes to attend, and uses the Socratic method to discuss a question which is chosen by vote or which is announced shortly in advance. Typically there are no prerequisites, and no reading or other preparation is required.
Janet Sisson, a philosophy professor at Mount Royal College, has questioned the appropriateness of identifying the methods and goals practiced by Phillips with those of the historical Socrates: "...the background for this enterprise [Socrates Café] is very different from that for the conversations of Socrates. Plato uses the figure of Socrates as a way of introducing the idea of intellectual discussion in order to promote the pursuit of truth, not as a path for personal discovery. ...To treat opportunities for dialogue as a means of self-discovery is a modern attitude, not the aim of Socrates own original dialectic. American scholars have sometimes encouraged this reading of Socratic endeavors; Phillips' fondness for this line of argument perhaps owes more to idealist or existentialist thinking than to Socrates himself."
- Socrates Café official website, the official website of the Socrates Café movement
- Montclair State University, Insight, 15 September 1997; Bill Workman, "San Bruno Thinker Spurs Robust Chatter in Cafes", San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1998; both accessed 20 Oct 2008.
- Review of Socrates Café, Metapsychology, Vol. 7 No. 21, 25 May 2003, accessed 13 May 2008.
- Morris, Thomas. The Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, Morris Institute of Human Values, accessed 2008-10-13