Socrates Cafe leaves Ashtabula Campus with questions

Rebekah Mosora

“What is life?”

“What is excellence?”

“What is compassion?”

These are some of the questions participants grappled with last week when Kent State’s Ashtabula Campus kicked off its Socrates Cafe series with a sequence of discussions lead by Christopher Phillips, the creator of the original Socrates Cafe.

The Socrates Cafe series was organized by Laurie Bentley, a lecturer in communication studies, and Joseph Zingaro, a lecturer in English.

“The idea is to get people involved in very democratic discussions and get people to see various points of view,” Bentley said. “It’s really just to get people thinking and to get people curious about other people’s perspectives.”

Bentley said she got the idea for the lecture series after reading Phillips’ book, The Six Questions of Socrates. She said the book is based on some of the original dialogues of Socrates including topics such as”What is justice?” and “What is wisdom?”

“I thought those questions were very relevant to us today and they might make a good discussion series,” Bentley said.

Phillips came to the Ashtabula campus to lead last week’s set of discussions. One of the discussions he led was with medical professionals focusing on “What is life?”

Zingaro said that the students talked about what it means to be an excellent student and how to achieve excellence at the university.

The final session of the day centered on “What is compassion?”

“He leads sessions in what he considers a very traditional Socratic method,” Bentley said. “He gets to know people a little bit before he starts, and then he starts trying to probe with questions.

“He puts out one question and lets us answer, and then that question leads to another question. The idea is that you may not get answers by the end of the dialogues. You may, in fact, have more questions than you started out with.”

Zingaro describes the discussions as relaxed and informal. He compares them to a group of people meeting at Starbucks to discuss a specific topic.

“The more you discuss, the more you find out, not only about the topic, but the more you find out about yourself,” Zingaro said. “The rules are for a friendly discussion. We listen to each other talk rather than waiting until someone finishes so we can spring our own minds.”

The Socrates Cafe at the Ashtabula campus is an addition to the more than 300 Socrates Cafe discussion gatherings around the world, Bentley said.

The lecture series will continue throughout the year. All discussions are free and open to the public.

Each of the upcoming discussions will be lead by a member of the Ashtabula campus faculty and will focus on a specific philosophical question.

The next discussion will be held on Oct. 20 in the Ashtabula campus Auditorium. It will be lead by Carol Murray, an assistant professor of human services technology at the Ashtabula campus. The topic for discussion will be “What is gender?”

Other topics that will be discussed throughout the series include “What is good?”, “What is normal?” and “What is beauty?”

To learn more about Socrates Cafe or about forming a Socrates Cafe discussion group, visit

Contact regional campus reporter Rebekah Mosora at [email protected].