What We Do

What Happens at the Philosophy Café?
Each session begins with a short talk by Alan on one of the central debates in philosophy and will be followed by a lively and fun group discussion on how these ideas relate to contemporary issues. No preparation is required and you don’t need to have studied philosophy. All you need is an openness to new ideas and a readiness to have your mind blown.

 

When Do We Do It?
To begin with, the sessions will take place on Fridays between 2pm and 4pm every other week starting on Friday February 9th. However, if there is sufficient interest, the sessions may become weekly. There may also be evening sessions for those who are not available in the afternoon. For dates and other information, you can email Alan through the ‘Contact’ page of this site or directly at: alan@enfieldphilosophycafe.com.

How Much Does it Cost?
The cost for each session is just £5, which you can pay on the day.

Does the Philosophy Café Have Any Rules?
Just one.
1. Listen respectfully and patiently to what others have to say, even if you strongly disagree with them. Never interrupt or talk over someone else. Engaging in a philosophical debate is not at all like appearing on Question Time. It should not be combative or adversarial. The aim is not to ‘win’ the argument, but to work towards the truth together. There is only one enemy in philosophy and that is error. The only ‘loser’ in a philosophical debate is the one that emerges from it with exactly the same views they had when they entered it.

Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at Café Flore in Paris – the original ‘philosophy café’

Why Study Philosophy?
1. Because it is endlessly fascinating. For the student of philosophy, everything is a source of wonder and intellectual delight. You will never meet a bored philosopher.
2. Because you have no choice. Whenever you are forced to question your assumptions or make a difficult decision, you are already doing philosophy. The only choice you have is whether you do it in an intelligent and informed way, or whether you are carried along by prejudice and irrational beliefs.
3. Philosophy makes you smarter. By showing you how to find the flaws in an argument and how to construct better arguments of your own, philosophy provides you with the critical tools you need to engage intelligently with the complex problems presented by modern life.
4. Philosophy is good for your brain. It offers the kind of mental workout that few other activities provide. Unlike doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, philosophy exercises the whole brain, making use of memory, experience, imagination, reasoning, and language skills. So, if you’re worried that your brain isn’t as good as it used to be, there is no better way to increase your intellectual fitness.
5. Philosophy is a social activity. Getting together with others to discuss ideas is not just good for your brain. It’s a great way to meet people and expand your horizons.
6. It’s a great excuse to come to the Dugdale Centre and have a cake, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or even an ice-cream.

What Exactly is Philosophy?

Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Others Outside Café

Philosophy explores the fundamental problems of existence. The three central questions of philosophy are:
1. What is the nature of this world and our place in it?
2. What can we know and how can we know it?
3. How should we live our lives?
These three questions can be broken down into many more specific questions such as: ‘Was the world created by a supernatural being?’ ‘If so, what can we know of this being?’ ‘If it was not created by a supernatural being who watches and judges us, what meaning can our existence have?’ ‘What is the basis of human knowledge?’ ‘Can we ever have absolutely certain knowledge?’ ‘Are there universal moral principles, or are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ relative to time and place?’

At the philosophy café, we will consider these big, abstract questions and the kinds of answers that philosophers have provided, but we will be mostly interested in how they relate to the personal, social, and political issues we face in everyday life. For example, journalists often say that we are living in a ‘post-truth’ age and that we are drowning in a sea of ‘fake news’ and misinformation. But is there a way for us to reliably distinguish between what is true and what is false? Journalists also frequently denounce violations of human rights. But what are ‘rights’ and where do they come from? And how should we feel about the increasingly central role that science and technology plays in our lives? Should we rely on science to solve all our problems? Does technology always make life better? Doesn’t science and technology just create new ethical dilemmas for us to think about, such as those relating to the environment, artificial intelligence, automation, and genetic engineering?

These and many other problems will all be on the menu at the philosophy café. So, come and join us and give us your perspective on these important and urgent issues.

What Do Philosophers Do?

Socrates, Wittgenstein and Others in a Bar.

Unlike scientists who usually work in laboratories devising experiments or in the field conducting research, philosophers try to solve problems through the use of reason and reflection. This is not to say that scientists and people working in other subject areas don’t also use reason. It is only to say that philosophers tend to use reason alone. This is because the kinds of questions that philosophers deal with can’t usually be resolved by conducting experiments – though they do often have recourse to mind-boggling ‘thought experiments’. Instead, philosophers usually begin by asking about the nature of our beliefs concerning some particular thing and then subject those beliefs to rigorous questioning. From this questioning, various doubts may emerge which enable the philosopher to pose new questions. However, before offering any kind of answer to these questions, the philosopher will try to ensure that the question has been posed as clearly as possible. Only then, will the philosopher propose a solution, using reasoned arguments and evidence to support their view. This view, in turn, will be taken up by others and critiqued by them in the hope that this will gradually bring us closer to the truth or, at the very least, to a better understanding of the problem.

Increasingly, though, there is a lot of overlap between science and philosophy, and specialists from these two fields (and from many other fields, too) often read, and are influenced by, each other’s work. But philosophers, for the most part, are less concerned with accumulating facts and more with the question of what counts as a ‘fact’ and with the basis of the claims made by other disciplines. In this sense, philosophy is not really a subject with its own subject matter. It would be better described as an activity or a practice. Consequently, every field of knowledge becomes philosophical when it starts to interrogate its fundamental beliefs. In a similar way, everyone becomes a philosopher when they question the things they take for granted.