Tea With Socrates

Conjure up the spirit of the original street philosopher as we inquire into the questions that vex our souls. Inspired by Christopher Phillips and his book Socrates Cafe, moderator, Steve Donaldson, facilitates these on-going informal, nonacademic, group discussions dedicated to the exchange ideas and the cultivation of insight and understanding.

Update 2006: Steve took some time off in the Fall of 2005 to teach a semester of physics at a local private school. During that time the attendance at the Tea With Socrates venue waned and eventually dissolved entirely. In its place, Steve is working on starting an Internet Philosophy Talk Radio show, converting some office space at his real job (www.iqimaging.com) into a radio studio. Initially, the radio show will be for local participants and podcast to the world for feedback. Eventually, we would like to allow for global realtime participation, like a call-in talk show. We are not sure how that would work yet - maybe with some sort of Internet Phone technology. We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy this sample audio from our Thinking Out Loud TV show, episode 1, "What is Love?".

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Responding to kfloyd (10/21/06)

Very true. Disbelief is not proof of non-existence, any more than belief is proof of existence. So one could also say "God does not need you to not believe in him to not exist." How then are we to find truth, or at least progress in the direction of truth? That is where philosophy and the skills of clear thinking and sound reasoning come in. Let's put these skills to work. To get you started, let me ask everyone a question. Can you tell me if "something" exists if you do not know what is meant by "something"? Can we argue about the existence of "God" if we don't know what we mean by "God"? What do we mean by "God"?

Thanks for your comments.



God does not need you to believe in him to exist.


yes nature is really important


Responding to Amaan (05/23/06)

What a delightful post. In the true spirit of Socrates, your investigation has lend you to more questions, and as we know, insightful questions are the prerequisite to understanding. Here are some things to consider in exploring your questions. What is the meaning of the word "create" and how is it different from or similar to the following terms: invent, discover, imagine, and perceive? How might these words describe or define the relationship between God and man? For instance, how do you feel about the proposition that "man perceives God in his own image."?

On the question of emotions, consider what you know first hand from your interactions with dogs and cats. Do they sometimes express delight, or sadness, or fear, or anger? If so, what useful purpose does this serve? What are emotions for? Is there a difference between expressing emotions and feeling emotions?

Thanks for your comments.



I have read a book ages ago by Karen Armstrong called A History of God. It talks about the evolution of God in the mono-faiths Islam, Christianity and Judiasm. And the first line in the books blew me away. Paraphrasing "In the begining there was man and then he created God"....Could it be the we created God for our own purpose as a scapegoat? And in the pervious response, according to many beliefs and faiths, Man is created in the image of God, So are you saying the Humans are the only ones subject to emotions. What are emotions?


Responding to Claudette (05/12/06)

Your points are well taken and you raise a number of interesting and perplexing questions. Here is another one for you to ponder. You mention the possibility of God creating for "his own pleasure". Do you suppose God is subject to the same human emotions that we are, such as pleasure and displeasure? Much of what we do is influenced, if not driven, by our desire for that which pleases and our avoidance of that which displeases. How can a supreme and sovereign being be subject to something as whimsical as emotions, which, as we know from experience, manifest spontaneously and not by deliberate choice?

Thanks for your comments.



This is a comment to the "kosmosity" of God. I think that all that is created by God, whether inside or outside the universe is created for his own pleasure in seeing it come to fruition according to his will, down to the smallest, simplest existing matter. In man, however, free will may not allow that to happen (a deep subject because of God's predestination for us versus our free will).

Now, if something created God, who created God's creator and before Him, that creator's creator? Is it possible that God always was? Something or someone always was, there is no end to going backward to a beginning. What began the beginning? And, how did it all shape up into a balanced finished product? Oh well, i'm just starting this chat room, & have so many issues I'd like to explore. I hope someone carries on.


why are animals important?


What does self-actualization mean?


I enjoyed reading "Socrates Cafe" and I'm reading "Six Questions of Socrates". I've attended one Socrates Cafe in Stuart, Virginia. Is this site intended to be an online Socrates Cafe? Are there any other online sites supporting online discussions of the Socrates Cafe type? I know that philosophy is like chess in that it can be enjoyed at many different levels. I stay in the shallow end of both pools. I appreciate your site and especially your list of questions.
-Dennis Asbury


Responding to Mike (05/24/05)

You have hit upon a logical conundrum. If there is something outside of "The Universe", what do you call that which contains both "The Universe" and that which is outside of it. If, by "The Universe" one means the physical universe, then we need a term for that which contains both the physical universe and the non-physical universe (including such metaphysical entities as human consciousness, mathematics, music, love, logic, and God, if He exists). Ken Wilber suggests we use the term Kosmos for this greater "Universe", that is that which contains all that is, physical and metaphysical.

Now we still have this problem of whether God is part of the Kosmos or did God create the Kosmos from the outside. Well God cannot be outside the Kosmos, because we said the Kosmos includes everything. Therefore the Kosmos was either created from the inside, or it was not created at all, but rather, is eternal and has no beginning.

For those proposing the theory of Intelligent Design, there is a related paradox. If one argues that the universe is so functional and seemingly designed for a purpose, then there must be an intelligent designer that created the universe, could we not say the same about the metaphysical universe? Could we not say, by the same argument, that the whole Kosmos (both the physical and metaphysical universes) displays such beauty, sophistication, and apparent purpose, that there must be an intelligent designer for the whole Kosmos. But the Kosmos includes everything. Where do we put the designer. If an intelligent designer is required to create the Kosmos, then aren't we in effect saying, God could only exist if there were a pre-existing God to create Him. The only two ways out of this paradox that I see, is to either reject the need for an intelligent designer, or to say that the "intelligent designer" and the Kosmos are one and the same. That is to say, the intelligent designer is not outside of us and everything in the Kosmos, but rather inside of us and everything else in the Kosmos. The name given to this idea that God is (and is in) everything is "pantheism".

Thanks for your comments.



If god exists out of time and space,what was his purpose outside of time and space? Did god have no purpose to exist before time? without purpose would there be a need? Is gods purpose to create time and space? Do God need us as much as we need him?


Does that mean that a minority of long-term thinkers can steer the course of long-term change, despite the sea of short-term thinkers?


Responding to Bert (04/09/05)

What you see is what you get. We don't have as yet any real-time bulletin board type online discussion system. I simply post and respond to feedback as I have time. Sorry about the long delay, sometimes. On the other hand, it is kind of interesting to watch a kind of "slow motion" discussion taking shape. We'll see what happens.

Thanks for your comments.



Do you still have online philosophical discussions?


I think god does not exist


Responding to Joe (01/27/05)

Glad to be of service. Good luck with your group.

Thanks for your comments.



I am taking over as a leader for our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's Cafe Socrates discussion group. I am really appreciative of all the extensive energy and work you put into making sense of how to go about doing it. I have copied all of your information and now I'm going to sit down and read it. Then I'll leave it in the Felloships' archives for those who come after me. Many, many, thanks.


This is a belated response to your response to my comments on culture. You asked "where does culture come from?" It seems to me that culture comes from a variety of sources: family, social class, friends, the larger society in its material forms, our churches and schools, etc. Most importantly the one thing all of these have in common is language. It is amazing how powerful language is and how it can shape our behavior. Pavlov understood this, Orwell understood it and many other thinkers and writers have addressed the power of language from many perspectives. The Catholic Church understood the power of language, as did the Soviet Communist Party, and as does the PR industry in the U.S. It seems to me that we have become prisoners of language and we don't seem to know how to free ourselves from its chains. I believe that Socrates understood the importance of posing specific questions that challenged conventional wisdom, and suffered the consequences when he frightened and angered both aristocrats and democrats. I believe that Socrates focused on just a few key questions, most importantly, what is Justice? It was his insistence on pushing this question into the lives of the youth that led to his trial. According to his opponents justice was what the authorties said it was; according to Socrates, we must constantly explore thenature of justice if we truly value it. Is this issue currently being discussed on line? I'd very much like to pursue the issue.


why is authority legitimate?


I just saw the trail end of your show on evil, which I really enjoyed by the way. You danced around it the whole time! I don't claim to be able to wholely define evil. But I know where I see its nature most clearly of all. That is in the context of REVENGE. Revenge is ALWAYS evil, and always is not a word I would ever use lightly. Examining that premise is a very interesting vantage point from which to explore the nature of evil. This encompasses intent and emotion. It can, but certainly does not have to result in any adverse physical outcomes. The emotional mindset for revenge alone is intrinsically evil. Revenge is selfish. The response to insult and hate, if void of revenge, is the absense of evil. Indeed it is one of the greater forms of love. Revenge against a murderer, country, religous sect, "evil-doer" of any shade is oil for the fire.
Thanks for your very stimulating show.
Perhapse somewhat paraphrased: "No white man can ever bring me so low as to make me hate him" - George Washington Carver


What does one need to getthere?


If God wasn't here, how did life start? Not just humans, but animals ie: fish, insects, mammals. How did something just begin to walk or swim without God placing the creatures here on earth?


I believe it is to late for this government to turn a new leaf. Most Americans our still in the dark but many see what is happening but the others are simply stuck in neutral because they are blinded by the bias information being presented to them. By the time enough american citizens become "self conciouse" it will be to late. I do wish I knew what to do because knowing what I know only hurts me, not many people around my area see what is happening because they themselves our sucked into the delusional world that the media and the government have created for them. If someone would like to discuss these matters with me I would greatly appreciate it.


Hello, I would like a few opinions on the following topic. If god created the world and gave man free will. Can god interfere in this world(intervene, miracles, etc...) and still leave free will intact? are there any socrates cafes in Baton Rouge, LA?


We began a Forum on Ethics and Logic in August at our local library. We had 24 people at the first meeting. We had 11 for our second meeting (September, second Tuesdays. We becan by looking at the whys of ethics; then moved to the different ethical theories. In October, we will begin discussing Alisdair MacIntyre's history of ethics, starting with Homer, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I will keep you posted as we continue. Someone sent me an artilce on the Seattle group. There is hope for America.
-Bill Peach


Is there a cafe in Hoboken or Norht Bergen New Jersey area?
-Beth Anne


If god really does exist. Why doesn't he answer our prayers?


could you please tell me it there are any "cafes" around the south bend, in area? If none there, possibly chicagoland? thanks much, read about you in newsweek (if i remember correctly)
-Mike Bailey


Thanks for your response re whether our current cultural climate will kill the cafes. It seems to me that Marx was at least partially right when he argued that culture comes from the material base of a society. I think this is similar to Sorokin's view that we are living at the end of a sensate culture (not that I see Marx and Sorokin as synonomous). But enormous material wealth and power does seem to negatively affect our ability to reason and listen to each other. When a strong dose of religious belief such as the American view of its mission as divinely inspired rational, moderate discourse may be one of the first victims. On the other hand, the internet does seem to be opening doors for commnication that did not exist 25 years ago. It is at least possible that a deeper model of truth and scientific reasoning will emerge, is emerging, than the either-or quantitative version that transformed the world between 1500 and 1900. If this is happening I think that Sorokin is right to predict increasing catastrophe and violence before a new paradigm emerges. The Greeks left us rational inquiry and the Romans left us the rule of law based on human justice and equity. The question is, what will Europe and the United States leave to the emerging world?


Just heard Christopher Phillips on TVO Big Ideas and was most impressed. Would love to hear more.
-Phyllis Baldwin


The reality is perceived in infinite permutations and each of us mediates these perceptions for one another. With greater mediation and more numerical personal perceptions a greater reality is revealed.


legitimate authority is less important as a source of power than it used to be & therefore needs to be supplimented by other sources. discuss.
-Sharmin Sultana


I'm 19 and married. My husband works and I stay at home. His idea is that I stay at home. Most of the time he works 12 hours a day. We have another couple staying with us. If it isn't work it's with his friends or the other married couple. He uses his leftover time on me and sleeping.


We are coming out in a few weeks with a book on philosphy do you have any ideas how we can distribute it through the philosphy institusions. We would be very grateful if you could be of any assistance.


Can we compare sactity of life with finance and efficacy of medicine?


what are the christian beliefs on sanctity of life and what referances from the bible support this?


I think god really does exist,I dont think It's just story that we have heard then grow up tp believe it.He has to exist why else would all these weird things happen in our lives?I don't think he exists just because I have seen pictures of him on the cross,I really believe he exists and I believe the devil exists too.I think every time something good happens in your life you can thank god for that.


Responding to Marcia (04/04/04)

I am sorry you feel that no one listens to you or takes the time to understand what you have to say. Our culture is very frustrating in that regard. It is especially painful when those we are close to don't listen. We all have a need to be heard, especially as children. If we don't get our needs met in childhood, we keep trying as adults. The bad news is that we seem to surround ourselves with people with the same unmet childhood needs, and so we all want to talk at the same time. The good news is that you have already survived childhood. As a grown-up you can now become your own "parent" and meet your own needs for being heard. Just listen to yourself. It can be very enlightening. In essence, that is what meditation is - just listening to whatever comes up, without judgement and without attachment. It is amazing what you can learn from just listening. What an under utilized skill that is in our society.
Thanks for your comments.



I personally am getting SOOOOOO tired of overpowering, overbearing, interruptive, non-listening people. If I try to correct something they say that bears correcting, Good Luck getting a word in side-ways. "Blessed are the meek" But, I think the reason(s) people don't listen anymore, is because the the greed factor in this society has got them so full of themselves that once they've got the floor, they wanna keep it, and they think that what THEY have to say is the ONLY important one to say anything -- and the overpopulation of this country has devalued people, we're all "a dime a dozen", so once they get the floor to speak, then run with it. And, so many have lied to the point of being untrustworthy anymore, so the speaker figures they're the only valuable one to speak anymore. I am very very tired of this scenario! Some ol' "friends" I won't phone anymore because they run with the conversation so I can't get a word in sideways. ridiculous!


Responding to Pachomius2000 (06/11/04)

Thanks for your multifaceted feedback and observations. There does seem to be a gulf between academic philosophy and the "man on the street". This is nothing new. Socrates himself devoted his life to bringing philosophy to the street and ridiculed the ivory tower academics. Chris Phillips has a similar self-assigned mission (without the ridicule part) to bring philosophy to the people. You should check out his book, Socrates Cafe, available at www.amazon.com. You might also like the book, Plato not Prozac, in which Lou Marinoff applies the wisdom of the great philosophers to deal with the everyday problems of everyday people. Personally, I believe some of the greatest advances in philosophy occur outside of academia. My favorite example is Ken Wilber, a brilliant individual working totally outside of academia. Lastly, I have to recommend the book, Confessions of a Philosopher, by Bryan Magee, who also chose to forego a career in academics to pursue philosophy with greater freedom. His book is a wonderful review of western philosophical thought with great insights into the personalities of some the big names academic philosophy. I think you would really enjoy it.
P.S. I am Steve Donaldson (not Steve Semienick) and my main interest is understanding what makes us "tick". That is, who are we and how do we operate. Besides hosting philosophy meetings and TV shows, I provide guidance as a Personal Growth Consultant, or Life Coach, to individuals who feel stuck and wish to get "growing again". Check out my web site at www.growingagain.com.

Thanks for your feedback.



I was looking for internet texts that will render the writings of philosophers, for example, postmodernists, into a list of propositions and then do a reasonable critique on each.
Also I am interested in studies about the personality or psychology of philosophers, their daily character profile, their routine foibles and vanities and self-serving attachments or sense of self-importance. I guess you get the idea.
And I landed into your website.
What are your areas of interest? You are Steve Donaldson, not Ken and not the other Steve?
Christopher Phillips sounds like a person who might be also curious with my kinds of curiosity.
I posed a query in a forum about the IQ of philosophy writers or philosophers, specially contemporary living ones who can really be studied at close range and in actual life, but the posters there who are into philosophy, none, not one, seem to be helpful or even interested in my curiosity.
What do you think? Are philosophers really bright, or intelligent, or clever, or smart, or possessed of genuine understanding of the world?
I guess I might turn you off as I have done with others who cannot seem to share my curiosity.
Truth be told, I am honestly interested in philosophers hoping that they might have useful messages for man and society and for my own personal concerns, but whenever I read them they don't seem to make any sense or they appear to have a special talent for writing so densely and so impenetrably to the man in the street. And Christopher Phillips is a street philosopher; so he must be my kind of philosopher.
Yes, I would appreciate a personal message from you. Do you have any message board where I might find people with the same kind of curiosities I have?
Glad to know you.



Responding to Janna (03/24/04)

I am not sure if there are any Socrates Cafes meeting in your area. I believe Chris Phillips is maintaining a directory of Socrates Cafes around the country that he knows about. You can contact him through his web page at www.philosopher.org. You may need to pay a fee to join his Society for Philosophical Inquiry in order to access the directory.

Thanks for your feedback.



i live in Littlerock California, Northern L.A. County, near the towns of Palmdale and lancaster. is there a Socrates cafe closer than Los Angeles? That's quite a drive for me.


Responding to Angela (03/12/04)

Monism, as opposed to dualism, refers to the idea that either only the material world or only the mind exist, but not both. One might suppose that if only the mind exists, then everyone else exists only in your mind. You might want to also look into the idea of Pantheism. That is the idea that "everything is God". In other words, God and the world are one and the same. In this way of thinking, you are not separate from everyone else, however, nor are you the center either. Rather, you and everyone else and everything else are part of one great living being. In that sense pantheism is a form of monism not centered on any one individual. Hope that helps.
P.S. If you are interested in researching different schools of philosophical thought, you might want to get a copy of Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion by William L. Reese. It is a good reference guide to most terms, schools of thought, and thinkers from eastern and western traditions.
Thanks for your feedback.



I don't think that I can explain this as well as it was explained when I first read it but, are you familiar with the idea that there is only one single conscious living feeling self? Like, I am the only person that is capable of thinking and feeling and every other person is just like, a robot? I read about that idea somewhere, in some philosophy book or something and I've never forgotten it. Now I'd like to write a highschool thesis paper about it for my philosophy class and I'm having trouble finding ny info about it. Is it Monism?


Responding to Peter (03/06/04)

The question is will the culture kill the cafes or will the cafes change the culture? Culture can and does change. Time will tell - it always does.
P.S. I would love to have a discussion on where does culture come from and how does it change

Thanks for your feedback.



I am coming to believe more and more that "You can"t get there from here", i.e. that we have moved beyond discourse in our media dominated society. Whereas Socrates came at the tail end of an incredible proces of linguistic, literary and artistic development, we are living in an age where just the opposite is true; we are living at the end of a period of linguistic, literary and artistic decline. One might easily argue that our socrates cafes have already happened, in the 18th century, and that any attempt to recreate them is doomed to failure because our American culture has already opted for cartoons and 30 second sound bites. We are Romans, not Greeks.


Responding to the other Chris Phillips (02/25/04)

What a funny coincidence - Chris Phillips looking for a book by Chris Phillips. Socrates Cafe, the book, is available at www.amazon.com. You can probably also get any of Chris Phillips' books through his web site at www.philosopher.org.

Thanks for your feedback.



Hi, I'm from Ipswich England and I too am called Chris Phillips and by some coincidence some people call me socrates, it must be due to my philosophical attitude to life. I was listening to the debate what is love and would love to know where I can purchase the book socrates cafe, written by Christopher Phillips
-Chris Phillips


Responding to Anonymous (02/23/04)

I am not sure if there are any Socrates Cafes meeting in your area. I believe Chris Phillips is maintaining a directory of Socrates Cafes around the country that he knows about. You can contact him through his web page at www.philosopher.org. You may need to pay a fee to join his Society for Philosophical Inquiry in order to access the directory.

Thanks for your feedback.



Are there any Socrates Cafes meeting in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Texas.


Responding to Anonymous (01/14/04)

I tried to check out your site on determinism but it seems your link is broken. Has it moved or just shut down? Also, would you like to briefly share with us your understanding of Dr. Gill's definition of love, since we can't get it from the link.

Thanks for your feedback.



Check out www.determinism.com I noticed your site when I was in Virginia. And also ask for Dr. Gill's definition of love when you are on the site.


Hey Adele,

Good suggestion. It would be desirable to know the names of the people you are talking to. If the group is large, as it sometimes is at B & N, perhaps we could simply ask that those who have not been called on by name (because maybe the moderator does not know their name) say their name before speaking their piece. That way, at least you can get to know the names of everyone who speaks. I'll suggest that to Ken and Steve as well for when they moderate. Thanks for your suggestion.


Hi Steve,

The only minor recommendation that would be very helpful to me is we all had a chance to go around and say names in the beginning. Maybe most of you are so familiar with the names that that feels cumbersome. But for me, it would be very helpful. See you in a couple of weeks.


Hello Walkyria,

Yes, of course, you can have these kinds of discussions in Miami. As a first step, I would recommend you go to your local bookstore and buy a copy of Christopher Phillips' book, Socrates Cafe. It is fun reading and in the back there is a chapter on "How to Start Your Own Socrates Cafe". That will tell you everything you need to get started. You are also welcome to add your thoughts to any of the topics we have highlighted on our web page here.

Thanks for your feedback.



How could these discussions be started in Miami? Any suggestions or help?


Hi Steven,

Thanks for your response. I guess what I'm looking for (and perhaps it doesn't exist) is a "chat room" Socrates Cafe type format. Posting/response takes so long and feels a bit arduous to me, since I'm more used to a back and forth "instant" dialog.

But I will check out the Yahoo one you mentioned. Maybe I could get used to the slower version of communicating.

Thanks again!



Hey Marcia,

Glad you found our web site. I believe there is also a Yahoo discussion group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socratescafe/. I have not investigated it yet. If you decide to check it out, I would be interested to hear what you think of it. You can also participate in any of the topics we have highlighted on our site. Perhaps we can get some discussions going here. Just send your comments in and I will post them for others to see and respond to.

Down the road I would like to get an Internet Talk Radio version of Socrates Cafe going, with real time audience participation via email, phone, or instant messenger. Would you be interested in helping something like that get started? As a preliminary step, I am working on a TV version to be broadcast on local Public Access Television. I am still working on the exact format, but plan on rebroadcasting or simulcasting the audio on Internet Radio. What do you think of the idea? You feedback is most appreciated. Thanks.



Is there a Socrates Cafe discussion group on the Internet? If so, what is the site address / time / etc. Currently I am a part of a Socrates Cafe group at the Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka, Minnesota. It is wonderful!