About Citizen Philosopher

Your Host, Steve Donaldson

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Studio art major, turned medical student, turned biomedical engineer, turned computer programmer, turned university professor, turned computer support manager, turned medical art and photography department head, turned digital imager, turned small business owner, turned internet entrepreneur, turned life-coach, turned philosopher, turned TV show host, turned high school physics teacher, turned premend tutor, and still evolving.

Seriously, I have an undergraduate degree in fine arts from Yale University. Then I briefly attended medical school before transferring to the biomedical engineering program at the University of Virginia where I received my graduate degree. I stayed on at the University as a research assistant professor for 15 years before leaving to run an Internet company for another 15 years. I have been involved in an number of side projects along the way, including philosophy TV shows and various "life coaching" activities. Now I make ends meet tutoring physics and chemistry to premed students.

My main interests are physics, philosophy, and psychology. The 3 P's, as I call them. Picture an inverted V with physics on the left, psychology on the right, and philosophy at the apex. I want to know how nature works on the most fundamental/material level. I want to know how we work on the most fundamental/ethereal level. And I want to know what it all means in the greater scheme of things.

Web Site History

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Citizen Philosopher is the companion web site for a philosophy discussion group that has been meeting in Charlottesville Virginia since the year 2000. The web site has undergone two major transformations. The first incarnation of this web site was called Tea With Socrates. The name came from the fact that our original "Socrates Cafe" group had had to relocate from our original venue at Barnes & Noble Cafe, to another venue at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. (You can still find the Tea With Socrates site here, though the message boxes have been disabled.)

The next incarnation was specifically tailored as a companion web site for the podcasts I started making from our philosophical discussions. I wanted to publish the podcasts on iTunes and iTunes required a "professional" companion web site for all their podcasts. To get up and running quickly, I chose to use Google's free web hosting service for bloggers called Blogger. (You can still find it here.) The podcast series was (and still is) called Thinking Out Loud, named after our local public access TV show that we ran for 11 episodes. (The TV show was basically our discussion group meeting in the TV studio.) I tried to get the thinkingoutloud.com domain name, but it was already taken, so I had to come up with another name. I chose Citizen Philosopher. I grabbed the citizenphilosopher.com domain and ported all the old material from Tea With Socrates, back-dating where necessary to fit into the blog format.

This latest incarnation, which retains the name Citizen Philosopher was prompted by my desire to get away from the restrictive blog format of Blogger and to introduce a more comprehensive and interactive web site for our group and the increasing number of visitors and podcast listeners. To incorporate these features I implement what is referred to as a Content Management System. The particular CMS I chose to use is the open source software project called Joomla. It is rich in features, is highly cusomizeable, and is continually expanding its capabilities. I am please to offer you this latest version of Citizen Philosopher. Enjoy.

Tea With Socrates

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I started attending the Socrates Cafe at Barnes & Noble in the spring of 2002. Steve and Ken were alternating as moderator and asked if anyone else in the group would like to join them in this capacity. I volunteered and enjoyed moderating so much, I decided to start another group. With the support and encouragement of Ken and Steve, I searched for another location where we could meet on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays. A new teahouse, The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, had just opened on the historic downtown mall and it seem to me to have just the right ambiance. Since "Socrates Cafe" didn't seem like an appropriate name for a group meeting in a teahouse, I decided to call the new group "Tea With Socrates". The first Tea With Socrates gathering was held on October 30, 2002.

Though I was thoroughly enjoying our local philosophical discussions, two related thoughts kept bugging me. First, it bothered me that our discussions, some of which I found highly enlightening at the time, would simply, in effect, evaporate into thin air after the meeting. I wanted to find some way to preserve what was said. The other thought was that surely there must be many others who would enjoy these philosophical dialogues, but have no idea that our group even exists. To address the first concern, I started writing down from memory as best I could some of the highlights of our discussions. To address the second concern, I created a web site entitled Tea With Socrates, where surfers could find out about us, read the highlights, and contribute their own thoughts on the subjects. That was the beginning of my own personal philosophical outreach.

Socrates Cafe

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In 1996 a disgruntled journalist by the name of Christopher Phillips started organizing gatherings of individuals from the general public in Montclair, NJ, to examine, through the process of inquiry, topics of common philosophical interest. These gatherings were typically held in coffee houses and became known as Socrates Cafes. He recounts the story about how he came to find his calling as a modern day Johnny Appleseed of Philosophy in his book, Socrates Cafe, A Fresh Taste of Philosophy. His goal, he says, is "to give philosophy back to the people" and "to reach out to anyone and everyone to engage in a common quest to gain a better understanding of ourselves and the human nature". (You can find his web site here.)

In the spring of 2000, Chris Phillips came to Charlottesville for a presentation and book signing at our local Barnes & Noble Bookstore. In attendance were Steve Semienick and Ken Thompson. Steve had participated in the original Socrates Cafe in Montclair and had since moved to Charlottesville. Ken had heard about the book signing event and was simply curious about the Socrates Cafe concept. Although Steve and Ken had not known each other beforehand, they were both motivated to start an on-going Socrates Cafe in Charlottesville and joined forces to make it happen. They started holding their meetings right there in the Barnes & Noble Cafe. After awhile the bookstore decided they preferred we use their meeting space instead of the cafe, as we were starting to usurp too many cafe tables. The Socrates Cafe at Barnes & Noble continued to meet every 2nd and 4th Wednesday each month until November of 2003. That is when Barnes & Noble finally gave us the ultimatum of restructuring our group as a book club with assigned reading (which would have helped the them to sell books) or find another venue. We chose the latter.

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