Friday, 10 June 2016 20:00

9. Thought and words in the Philosophical Café

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For last Saturday participants had voted for the issue: Communism.  We found some quotes from philosophers on the issue to start the reflection. Nevertheless, we were afraid that this would end up in a visceral attack on the former socialist countries by some participants and the unconditional defense of these by the others.

In order to avoid that such an attitude could overshadow the whole session, participants were asked to do a little exercise before their first intervention. Everybody had to imagine a communist society, in the sense described by the quoted philosophers or something similar and give two examples: The first one about why I would like to live in such a society and the second about why I think others would not like it, or the first one about why I would not like to live in such a society and the second one about why I think that others would like to do so.  

This was meant to be a little exercise to focus the discussion and observe from which perspective and with which yearnings the participant is addressing the issue and, equally important, it would reveal a lot about how he imagined that such a society could work and look like.

It turned out to be an extremely difficult exercise for almost all participants and became the center of that evenings session. Some had a hard time relating the issue to themselves and their individual yearnings and even more had a hard time putting themselves into the shoes of those who felt different than themselves – to the point that two participants refused to accept that the opposite position was even possible.

What was interesting in this café from the perspective of philosophical practice is, that one could clearly observe two parallel lines of thought. The one outspoken, trying to give two examples of opposed feelings towards one situation and the other unspoken. This last line of thoughts happened at the level of images, feelings, imagined experiences which were somehow transmitted through the examples. This inner line of thoughts gave sense and life to the rational outspoken examples. Still most of it remained hidden in each one of us. Only a spark of this rich inner world could be shared through the shared examples – due to the limitation of language.

The richness of a successful philosophical café might be the inspiration and insights we get from strengthening this unspoken inner line of thoughts. In this sense words turn out to be mainly tools which make it possible to expand our thought.

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Carmen Zavala

I am  a philosophical practitioner with a PhD in Philosophy by the National University of San Marcos . Since 1998 I co-organize a philosophical café in Lima every Saturday evening. I also organize philosophical workshops, retreats, and individual counseling sessions. Together with Ran Lahav I adminstrate the Agora Webpage  since 2014. My personal website is