Here's a simplified scenario of the mission that Christopher Phillips has set out for himself: put all sorts of people in a room, ask them a philosophical question, and let the discussion begin. In an era when political corruption and cynicism seem to be ubiquitous, Phillips attempts to return the term democracy back to its etymology: by creating room for discourse that encourages social equality and respect for the individual within the community. Since 1996, Phillips has traveled the country and world forming what his organization, the Society for Philosophical Inquiry, calls the Socrates Cafe. In this setting, each individual learns to become a better listener and questioner, and to rationally confront the problems of living by giving equal weight to every voice and seeing what each person might have to offer others who come from different backgrounds and hold different ideologies. Socrates believed that the insights and perspectives of diverse others would help him to become 'a more excellent human being.' In the author's latest book, Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery Through World Philosophy, Phillips explores Socrates' questions about what are virtue, moderation, justice, courage and piety and what is good. We have to live in the world we are given, but we don't have to fight, or worse, be passive. We can think critically about our governments without being treasonous and about the beliefs of others without being hateful. Phillips promotes active participation from all members of society, not just the elite, well-educated and elected. The goal of the Socrates Cafe is not to force agreement, but to bring back the tradition of 'thoughtful and reflective philosophical sharing' so that each individual, with the help of an empathetic group, has the opportunity to articulate his or her own rationally formed and critically questioned personal philosophy. The author will hold a 'Socrates Cafe' dialogue and sign his book. Free admission.
7 p.m. Thursday, May 26
Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., 899-7323; www.octaviabooks.com
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