Socratic Club

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The Oxford Socratic Club was formed in December 1941, at Oxford University, by Stella Aldwinckle of the Oxford Pastorate and a group of undergraduate students, in order to provide "an open forum for the discussion of the intellectual difficulties connected with religion and with Christianity in particular."[1] A student by the name of Monica Shorten had expressed a need for such a club. The society was to follow the practice of Socrates to "follow the argument wherever it led them." As all inter-college clubs at Oxford had to have a "senior member of the university" as a sponsor, Aldwinckle implored C. S. Lewis to be its first president. Lewis enthusiastically served as president from 1942 until he left for Cambridge in 1954. Basil Mitchell succeeded Lewis as president in February 1955. The first meeting was held on January 26, 1942, and the club disbanded in 1972.

The Oxford Socratic Club met on Monday evenings during term from 8.15pm to 10.30pm, with many undergraduates lingering long afterward. Many of the most notable figures of Oxford University presented or responded to papers, including G.E.M. Anscombe, Antony Flew, Iris Murdoch, Austin Farrer, A.J. Ayer, D.M. MacKinnon, C.E.M. Joad, E.L. Mascall, Gabriel Marcel, Frederick Copleston, I.M. Crombie, Basil Mitchell, R.M. Hare, Michael Polanyi, Gilbert Ryle, J.L. Austin, Dorothy Sayers, and many others.[2]

Commenting on the Socratic Club at Oxford, C.S. Lewis stated, “In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”

Famous debates[edit]

January 24, 1944, C.E.M. Joad and C.S. Lewis, "On Being Reviewed by Christians"

This debate involved a presentation by Joad that was based on his recent book, published in November 1942, God and Evil, which contained his arguments for theism, but also against Christianity. Joad was at this time taking a closer look at Christianity because of the evil he saw in Nazi Germany. He cited Lewis many times in his book, which was undoubtedly one of the reasons he was invited to address the Socratic Club. Joad later became a Christian.

February 2, 1948, Elizabeth Anscombe and C. S. Lewis, "The Self-Refuting Nature of Naturalism"

Catholic philosopher G.E.M. (Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret) Anscombe debated Lewis about a portion of Lewis's 1947 book, Miracles known today as the Argument from Reason, in which he stated that since naturalists claimed all of nature to be irrational, that would make the claim of the naturalists also irrational and therefore contrary to reason (for example, that if there is no God, if nature is the product of chance, then how can a human brain offer anything but chance observations that have no authority?). She claimed that he had mistakenly equated non-rational causes with irrational causes and confused the concepts of cause, reason, and explanation. John R. Lucas later helped in a rerun of this debate, which ended up vindicating Lewis. Victor Reppert's book, C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, further supports Lewis's original argument.

Meetings of the Socratic Club[edit]

Can Science Render Religion Unnecessary? H. A. Hodges
Science and Faith, Frank Sherwood Taylor;
Is the New Testament Reliable Evidence? Richard Kehoe
On Being Reviewed by Christians, C. E. M. Joad;
Materialism and Agnosticism, J. K. White, Gordon Preston;
The Grounds of Modern Agnosticism, H. H. Price;
Has Psychology Debunked Sin? L. W. Grensted, Barbara Falk
Marxist and Christian Views of the Nature of Man, Archibald Robertson, Emile Cammaerts
Can Science Provide a Basis for Ethics? C. H. Waddington, Austin Farrer;
The Limits of Positivism, Friedrich Waismann
Did the Resurrection Happen? R. E. Davies, T. M. Parker
The Self-Refuting Nature of Naturalism, Elizabeth Anscombe, C. S. Lewis;
Rudolf Steiner and the Scientific Outlook, Alfred Heidenreich, Frank Sherwood Taylor;
Atheism, J. B. S. Haldane, Ian M. Crombie

Trinity Term, 1949

April 25 Can Science Create Values? J. Bronowski, Basil Mitchell
May 2 Some Remarks on Analysis, Personality, and Religion, G. J. C. Midgley
May 9 Christianity, the Church, and the Churches, Oliver Tomkins, T. M. Parker
May 16 Psychoanalysis and Religion, Anita Kohsen, R. S. Lee
May 30 Value Judgments, R. M. Hare
June 6 The Morality of Dangerous Devices, I. M. Crombie, N. J. P. Brown

Michaelmas Term, 1949

Oct. 10 Are Tautologies Really Necessary? P. J. Fitzgerald, C. S. Lewis
Oct. 17 Agreement and Disagreement in Ethics, A. C. Ewing, R. M. Hare
Oct. 24 Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, John Wisdom, Leycester King
Oct. 31 Some Displaced Questions, E. L. Mascall, A. G. N. Flew
Nov. 7 Hindu Speculation and Jung, Basil de Mel, Vernon Katz
Nov. 21 Can Science Be Creative? C. H. Waddington, Frank Sherwood-Taylor
Nov. 28 Physics and Philosophy, Lord Cherwell, J. C. Stuart

Hilary Term, 1950

Jan. 23 The Nature of Faith, J. P. Hickinbotham, E. L. Mascall
Feb. 6 Certainty, L. A. Grint, C. D. Rollins
Feb. 13 Grounds for Disbelief in God, Archibald Robertson, C. S. Lewis
Feb. 20 Freudian Psychology and Christian Faith, B. A. Farrell, R. S. Lee
Feb. 27 The Relation of Psychical Research to the Scientific Method, N. M. Tyrell, L. W. Grensted
Mar. 6 Marxism, Douglas Hyde, V. A. Demant

Trinity Term, 1950

May 1 Can We Trust the Gospels? D. E. Nineham, G. E. F. Chilver
May 8 Biology and Theism, A. Rendle Short, A. C. Hardy
May 15 Theology and Verification, A. G. N. Flew, Bernard Williams
May 22 The Spirit of Religious Intolerance, Gervase Mathew, H. C. Carpenter
May 29 Criteria in Ethical Judgment, G. E. Hughes, S. E. Tomlin
June 5 Personalism, J. B. Coates

Michaelmas Term, 1950

Oct. 16 God and History, Michael Foster, C. S. Lewis
Oct. 30 Explanation: Scientific and Philosophical, David Mitchell, S. F. Mason
Nov. 7 Is Theology a Science? G. C. Stead, Austin Farrer
Nov. 13 Reason and Rationalism in Religion, R. S. Lee, A. P. d’Entreves

Hilary Term, 1951

Jan. 22 The Problem of Freedom, J. Ward-Smith
Jan 29 On Clearing Up Philosophical Muddles, Bernard Williams
Feb. 12 Psychopathology and Sin, Seymore Spencer, Victor White
Apr. 30 The Philosophical Basis of Marxism, Marcus Wheeler, S. F. Mason

Michaelmas Term, 1951

Oct. 22 Appreciation of Linguistic Analysis, I. T. Ramsey
Nov. 5 Do the Mystics Know? Thomas Corbishley

Hilary Term, 1952

Jan. 28 Imago Dei and the Unconscious, Oswald Summer, R. W. Kosterlitz
Feb. 4 The Buddhist Approach to Philosophy, Auguste Purfurst, Basil Mitchell
Feb. 25 The Gospels—History or Myth? Christopher Evans, P. H. Nowell-Smith
Mar. 3 Rational Existentialism, E. L. Mascall, Iris Murdoch
Mar. 10 Cosmology and Theism, G. J. Whitrow, E. L. Mascall

Trinity Term, 1952

Apr. 28 The Notion of Development in Psychology and Its Bearing Upon Religion, R. S. Lee
May 5 Creation Never Was, Michael Scriven
May 12 Christianity and Humanism in Western Culture, Christopher Dawson, I.T. Ramsey
May 19 What Is Theology? H. D. Lewis, J. J. Hartland-Swann
May 26 Subjective and Objective Language, J. Z. Young, Gilbert Ryle
June 2 The Stability of Beliefs, Michael Polanyi, C. T. W. Curle
June 9 Guilt and Freedom, John Wisdom, J. L. Austin

Michaelmas Term, 1952

Oct. 17 Contemporary Philosophy and Christian Faith, Basil Mitchell
Oct. 24 The Logic of Personality, Bernard Mayo, R. M. Hare
Nov. 3 A Living Universe, D. E. Harding, C. S. Lewis
Nov. 10 A New Humanist Alternative to Christ and Mary, H. J. Blackham, Iris Murdoch
Nov. 17 The Ethic of Belief, Brand Blanshard, H. H. Price
Nov. 24 Topic Unknown, J. N. Findlay
Dec. 1 Soloviev and His Idea of Good and Evil, Nicholas Zernov, E. W. Lambert


The Gospels: Myth or History? R. Creham, A. R. C. Leaney


The Anatomy of Atheism, E. W. Lambert, John Lucas[3]

Other Socratic Clubs[edit]

Though the Oxford Socratic Club disbanded, several Socratic Clubs now exist in colleges and universities to this day. Among these are Socratic Clubs at Vanderbilt University, Oregon State University, the University of Gonzaga, Trinity Bible College, Samford University and the Queen's University of Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

The Samford Socratic Club was founded in 2007 by two undergraduate students seeking to promote rational discussion on campus by using the Socratic method of "following the argument wherever it leads."

As of 2007 there has been an Oxford University Socrates Society with similar aims to those of the Socratic Club.[4]

The Queen's University of Belfast Socratic Club holds similar aims to that of the original at Oxford. Founded in 2013, it seeks to continue the discussion into the 21st Century and beyond.

There are also branches of the society at West Buckland School in Devon and King Edward's School at Bath, where these branches are referred to as "The Socrates Club" and have the same aims as the original Oxford University "Socratic Society" of C.S. Lewis.

See also[edit]

  • Socrates — the Ancient Greek philosopher after whom the club was named.
  • Socrates Cafe - an international network of gatherings of diverse people in order to engage in discussions via the Socratic method
  • The Fourth K - a novel by Mario Puzo


  1. ^ The Socratic Digest, No. 1 (1942–43), p. 6.
  2. ^ Walter Hooper, "Oxford's Bonny Fighter," in Remembering C.S. Lewis, Ignatius Press, 1979.
  3. ^ Walter Hooper, "Oxford’s Bonny Fighter," 175–185.
  4. ^ "Oxford University Socrates Society". Retrieved 2012-08-17. 


  • Hooper, Walter. "Oxford’s Bonny Fighter." Chapter 16 in C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table. James T. Como, ed. Pages 137-185. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1992.

Further reading[edit]

  • Socratic Digest. Reprinted from five issues originally published separately between the years 1943 and 1952. Edited by Joel D. Heck. Concordia University Press, Austin, Texas 2012. ISBN 9781881848165
  • Mitchell, Christopher W. "Oxford University Socratic Club". The C. S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia. p. 311. 
  • "14 "University Battles: C. S. Lewis and the Oxford University Socratic Club"". C. S. Lewis: Lightbearer in the Shadowlands. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1997. pp. 329–351. 

External links[edit]