The Essential Questions with Christopher Phillips, Ph.D.

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Who can I become? How can I live? What is justice? Is excellence still possible? Remarkably, these questions are as critical now as they were when Socrates posed them thousands of years ago in ancient Athens. They speak to the choices we face every day in a world where a personal sense of meaning can be elusive, and patriotism is defined as blind submission. More importantly, according to Christopher Phillips, asking the questions and having dialogues with our neighbors brings us closer to one another, and allows us to create our lives and our society based on the values we care about, rather than the momentum imposed on us by presidential decree. In fact, he believes "the habits of discourse that we cultivate will determine and inform the type of society that we're ultimately heading towards." In 2001 Phillips released the book Socrates' CafÈ and started a movement that shares its title, spawning gatherings where, like the sages of old, modern-day thinkers - citizens like you and me - gather in dialogue to make sense of the choices we make as individuals and as a society. Now, he shares the insights he's gleaned from participating in such gatherings all across the continent, and reminds us of the critical role they play in the evolution of our democracy. (hosted by Michael Toms)


Christopher Phillips, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the nonprofit Society for Philosophical Inquiry.

He is the author of:

  • Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy (Norton 2001), Six Questions of Socrates A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery Through World Philosophy (Norton 2004)
  • Constitution Cafe: Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution (Norton 2011)

To learn more about the work of Chris Phillips go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How this age-old form of questioning can affect the way you converse with friends and family every day
  • What are the dangers and wonders of teaching young people to question values and choices
  • How the educational system misses the opportunity to teach children what it means to be a good human being
  • Why some indigenous cultures have no need for words like "justice" and "rights"
  • How journalists today have traded their skeptical lens for one that promotes the governmental agenda, whatever that may be
  • Why dialogue is so essential to preserve our democracy
Host: Michael Toms      Interview Date: 2/19/2004      Program Number: 3039