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. Since 1996, Chris has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for the creation of over 100 Socrates Cafes in various parts of the continent. 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".
In the spring of 2000, Chris Phillips came to Charlottesville for a presentation and book signing at 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. The Socrates Cafe at Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville has been meeting every 2nd and 4th Wednesday ever since.
I started attending the Socrates Cafe at Barnes & Noble in the spring of 2002. Steve and Ken were alternating as moderator and asked if anyone else in the group would like to join them in this capacity. I volunteered and enjoyed moderating so much, I decided to start another group. With the support and encouragement of Ken and Steve, I searched for another location where we could meet on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays. A new teahouse, The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, had just opened on the historic downtown mall and it seem to me to have just the right ambiance. Since "Socrates Cafe" didn't seem like an appropriate name for a group meeting in a teahouse, I decided to call the new group "Tea With Socrates". The first Tea With Socrates gathering was held on October 30, 2002.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to participate in a Socrates Cafe style gathering, please join us at one these two locations. You can always find either Steve Semienick or Ken Thompson moderating on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays at Barnes & Noble, and myself moderating on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays at the Twisted Branch. I think you will find the experience most stimulating.
Update: As of November 2003, the Barnes & Noble venue no longer exists. Instead, we meet at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar every Wednesday at 7:00, except on the last Wednesday of the month, when we meet at the Public Access TV studio to tape our show, "Thinking Out Loud". Join us at either location. No reservation required.
Update 2006: I 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 suffered in my absence and eventually dissolved entirely. In its place, I am working on starting an Internet Philosophy Talk Radio show. In order to get quality sound recording, I need to procure some equipment and a suitable meeting space. The public coffee and tea houses have much too much background noise and through traffic. I am working on converting some office space I have as part of my real job (www.iqimaging.com). Initially, the radio show will be for local participants and then podcast to the world for feedback. Eventually, it would be nice to allow for global realtime participation, a la call-in talk show variety. I am not sure how that would work yet - maybe with some sort of Internet Phone technology. We'll keep you posted.