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The Philosophy of 'Socrates Cafes'

Christopher Phillips
Christopher Phillips
'Six Questions of Socrates'
'Six Questions of Socrates'

Author Chistopher Phillips travels the world to lead discussion groups he calls Socrates Cafes, engaging groups of people in the manner of the ancient Greek philosopher.

NPR's Margot Adler sat in on a recent gathering in New York, where Phillips began with a simple question: "What to you is courage?"

As Adler reports, Phillips fears that the kind of conversation most of us experience -- browbeating, talking through one another -- is literally destroying America. He proposes to revive a kind of anti-guru philosophy in which the questions are more important than the answers.

But Phillips is concerned that the conversations he seeks usually take place only among elites in contemporary society, so he has tried to broaden the dialogue.

To do this he crosses the world with his wife, living out of suitcases, most of his possessions in storage. And he has written two books: Six Questions of Socrates and Socrates Cafe.

In his travels he has visited prisons, Indian reservations and nursing homes in addition to bookstores and coffee houses. It's a search for "anyone whose questioning nature has ever been cut off." And it emphasizes Phillips' own philosophy:

"What you say and think and do generally matters and counts... it is vital and incumbent for you to take an important role in society during your mortal moment."

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Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career