About Citizen Philosopher

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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