A café is a venture where the door is opened and anyone can come in. In 1998, Simon Fraser University began a series of Philosophers’ Cafés, or informal discussions, in libraries, cafés, and restaurants throughout Metro Vancouver.
The original philosophers’ café began in Paris, in 1992, with philosopher Marc Sautet, who decided that the public needed a chance to talk about serious matters in an open space with their peers, and founded the cafe to that end. Like those in Paris, the SFU Cafés were met with instant popularity; first with only university students, but it soon expanded to include all walks of life. In a Philosophers’ Café today, preteens, seniors, and everyone in between can be seen investing in the topic at hand.
The beauty of the Philosophers’ Café lies in its ability to bring together strangers and to break down social convention to facilitate meaningful discussions. Still more, it is in the nature of the Café that encourages thought to exist in its most raw form. It is not about showing off what you have read, but what you think.
“Everyone can be philosophical,” says Roman Onufrijchuk, a moderator for the Cafés and an SFU educator. We all live the human condition and are therefore capable of having something to say about it. The Philosophers’ Café provides a supportive and non-critical environment for individuals to voice their opinions, and likewise a gentle learning ground.
Moderators for the Cafés are chosen provided that they are well-educated and have a vibrant personality. While they select topics for discussion, the main purpose of the moderator, is to act as “conductor of an orchestra” by keeping the rhythm of conversation flowing. On Monday, October 6th, Dr. Lara Aknin, assistant professor of social psychology at SFU and scholar at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, moderated a Café at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. The Café hosted about forty people, with roughly an equal ratio of men to women and ages ranging from preteen to senior.
The discussion: what are the antecedents and consequences of happiness and subjective well being?
To start, Dr. Aknin established the Café as a free space to express one’s opinions without judgment. People carried the discussion around the room and engaged the majority of attendees. Participants built off of each other’s comments and questions, while Dr. Aknin played a backseat role, encouraging the discussion when necessary or requested. The focus of the Cafés is to share ideas. The intended product of such discussions is the takeaway of a new perspective. The product of the October 6th Philosophers’ Café was best captured by the words of its youngest attendee, a preteen girl from France. Happiness is a chosen mindset and we must choose to recognize the good in our lives in order to feel it.
The Philosophers’ Café takes place every couple of days. Its schedule can be accessed on the SFU website. Admission is free to all Cafés. Any questions can be answered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.