Cafe Philo


I have facilitated Café Philos in different environments such as local communities,

seniors in residential care etc. They can be the most rewarding experiences where those otherwise unfamiliar with  philosophy can take part in the process of expression, argument and questioning of ideas

What is a Café Philo?

A Café Philo is an approach to philosophical discussion, available to all without

distinction of social level, origins, age, level of education or personal culture. Its

purpose is to stimulate dialogue about the larger questions of life in an informal

setting for people who wish to share and learn from others.

What is special about Café Philo?

Café Philo allows a space for you to explore issues in a safe, friendly setting. It is a

chance to express your ideas about what you consider important and interesting

topics and to listen and contribute to the ideas of others. Discussion in a Café Philo

is ‘doing thinking’.

How can Café Philo benefit you?

Taking part in a Café Philo may help you become clearer about your own values,

learn about the values of others and can help you achieve a greater level of self-

understanding. Sharing open and free discussion can help you clarify your own

thoughts. Taking part in a Café Philo can make you a better listener or a better

speaker or both. You will gain intellectual stimulation from hearing a variety of views.

Respecting and understanding different opinions can be mentally stretching and

confidence building. Interacting with others in discussion is enjoyable and

informative. Look at my Reflective practice to get an idea of how practical philosophy can allow you to think about things that are important to us.

How does Café Philo work?

Your facilitator guides you through the process but does not lecture or give topics

for discussion. The format would be something like this:

Decide on the length of time

Agree rules of discussing

Listen to ideas for a discussion topic

Decide on the topic

Discuss the topic

Summarise the discussion

Think about ideas for next time

Who can take part?

Anyone who is willing to listen and speak in an open friendly way.

What is the history of Café Philo?

In the streets of Athens in the fourth century BC, Socrates discussed philosophy

with anyone interested. His central concern was to question all ideas we held – to

examine the reasonableness of our beliefs. Since Socrates’ time philosophy has

become a subject not much shared with the public. Café Philo is an attempt to

change that.

The idea originated in France in 1992 with Marc Sautet and several friends who

gathered to discuss issues of the day in the Café de Phares in Paris. The idea was

to bring real dialogue back into the community in much the same way that Socrates

had done two and a half thousand years earlier.

Good Listeners and Good Speakers

Good listeners:

Are open and receptive to speakers

Patient with different speaking styles

Know when to be silent

Listen with empathy

Listen in accordance with the speaker’s purpose

Are courteous

Do not engage in side conversations

Are open, honest and willing

Good speakers:

Focus on the topic

Take chances and risks

Think before speaking

Strive for eye contact

Check body language of listeners

Convey integrity

Build on the comments of others

Get to know their audience

Talk with not at their audience

Are open, honest and willing

Do not stray from the topic

Do not give monologues

Do not monopolise time

Taking part

Taking part in a Café Philo makes you a member of a worldwide movement. Looking at some of these will give you a good start: Philosophy Now (click on Links and Calendar for more information), Society for Philosophical Enquiry, Philosophical Dialogues (click on the Philo Café link for more information), Kingston philosophical cafe.

Starting a Café Philo

Many Café Philos run as small communities of  people who exchange  the role of facilitator amongst themselves. Others are facilitated by philosophers. It is very hard to obtain the benefits of philosophy without some strong philosophical input. My advice is, find a friendly philosopher. If you start a Café Philo you may find it useful to advertise it locally. Here are the headings and details of a brochure I have found useful both in advertising and for distributing to participants at the beginning of the first session.

Café Philo

…an exercise in thinking together…

The intention of the Café Philo

A Café Philo is meant to cultivate new habits of discussion the main purpose of

which is to inspire everyone taking part to inquire further in order to cultivate and

discover their own unique point of view.

General aim for participants

Café Philo is a discussion forum which by making us expert questioners and

listeners helps us become more independent and conscientious thinkers and doers

Role of the philosopher

The philosopher as facilitator will raise important points to universal level and so

show the philosophical in what is being said

Aim of the discussion

The aim of discussion in a Café Philo is not to win but rather, by talking together, to

reach a common understanding of the particular theme

The outcome

Discussion in a Café Philo will rarely reach a final answer but the process will always

provide important insights into the question

Taking part

Do be an active, engaged and respectful listener

Do be open to the ideas of others even if you disagree

Do try to develop coherent and well-reasoned views, supported by examples, of the

universal view under discussion

Do question the views of others

Do not monopolies time when speaking

If you want to know more about Café Philo or want help in starting one please contact me.

Cafe Philo