By Richard Bernstein
Socrates Café is a movement to bring philosophy outside the academic setting. In a Socrates Café session, topics are suggested by those present, and one subject is selected by group consensus. The remainder of the time is spent exploring the topic. In the process, the group is exposed to a wide range of ideas, alternative views, and mental stretching, thereby refining critical-thinking abilities.
Our summertime version of Socrates Café, Socrates on Sunday, is our platform meeting for June 26, starting at 10 am, on Zoom. All are welcome!
Guidelines for participating
Anyone can propose a topic for the session. It should be in the form of a question that is answerable and engaging.
It is OK to challenge anyone’s question or comment but never to insult or demean a fellow participant.
Typically, the discussion is pulled into as many directions as there are discussants. This may be disconcerting at first, because it may seem as if the group is not getting anywhere. But this is the beauty of diving and exploring new, contemporary subjects and ancient questions.
Benefits of participating
The process embedded within a Socrates Café inquiry involves what Plato and others call dialectic, that is, discovering and testing knowledge through questions and responses from the attendees (interlocutors).
The goal underlying Socrates Café is to improve everyone’s critical thinking about a subject.
Everyone comes to Socrates Café with a unique set of life experiences and perspectives with which to analyze the question and to provide examples and counterexamples that the question provokes.
Even without a final answer to the initial question, as is usually the case, the to-and-fro of the discussion, the clarification, and respectful challenges lead us all along a path to mining a topic, peeling back more layers of the onion, and having fun in the process.
In the end, Socrates Café can provide a toolkit of useful techniques for developing critical thinking and for avoiding common logical fallacies.
It is important for us, as members of society, to respectfully challenge our politicians, school boards, and others in positions of authority so that their decisions will more likely lead to better policies and outcomes for our community and nation.
If we strive to make the world a better place and want to improve the quality of decision-making in our democracy, we need more venues like Socrates Cafés.
Socrates Café is not only an unending learning experience; it is potentially transformative for each of us and for society.
And, as I said, it should be fun.
Richard Bernstein, founder of Socrates Café of Teaneck, NJ, is a longtime member of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.