The Denver Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Ok, another poll.

Ok, another poll.

Eric B.
Denver, CO
Please vote on the poll for meeting agenda style. Thank you!
A former member
Post #: 1
Eric - Thank you for starting up this group. It should be a lot of fun.

I thought I would throw in my two cents worth about the agenda models of philosophy discussion groups. I participated in the Socrates Cafe philosophy discussion group here in Denver for about two years, and did some moderating of those discussions at the time. Through that experience, I was surprised (ha ha!) to find out that discussion groups are never the way Plato wrote them down as they supposedly happened with Socrates at the lead. Imagine! But seriously: Plato's dialogs always start out with Socrates walking through the marketplace, starting up a little conversation about nothing in particular, which eventually flows toward a philosophical subject, a focal point, a question is found, and the discussion circles around that question looking for some answer, which is never found but certainly elaborated upon through the discussion. And for the most part it is very cordial and polite and focused by the guidance of Socrates. (Although certainly he pissed a lot of people off....pretty badly as it turned out.) The point is, discussions rarely find a focus like they do in a Socratic dialog. Why? First, obviously, Plato's record of Socrates is written, etched in stone, made perfect and permanent through the written art. Discussion is never that way. It is way sloppier and more chaotic, because it is like history in the process of happening. It doesn't (usually) have that crystal vision that the written work has. Usually.

So this is all a little introduction to some comments about discussion groups in general.

First, I am very glad that you post the poll for the agenda style. An excellent idea! Get some determination of the agenda for the discussions at the start.

My feeling is that the first option in the poll, "No agenda, freeform b/s sessions" is just about worthless. It has no focus. It is wandering. For a group of people who basically don't know each other, one of the hardest parts is deciding what everyone wants to talk about in the first place. And without some focus, there is little insight brought by any member of the group. On the other hand, it has a comfort and familiarity among that cannot be found in the other formats. It allows freedom. It allows people to really and truly be genuine and authentic. And when the discussion starts to crystallize, this model is superior to the other models for the energy that it seems to spontaneously gather.

On the other side of the spectrum, the "essay followed by Q&A" is very focused. For some time, depending on the length of the presentation, the entire discussion is focused on that presentation (although the presentation itself may be unfocused or very focused - whatever the style might be.) Really, it is not a discussion - not that the philosophy group has to be a discussion group.... Anyway, this format is really a lecture followed by discussion. It has the advantage of allowing the full presentation of a well-thought out position, after which members may examine it. It starts with focus and expands outward.

In between the two, I think, is the "conch shell" model: everyone comes in with an idea for discussion (or not: no one should be required to think at a philosophy meeting), gets some time to pitch it, everyone votes or something, and the discussion commences, focused on that subject for the duration of the meeting. This is flexible and spontaneous: it allows for a group's discussion to be inspired by the very recent events of its members' lives; someone could have gotten fired and wants to talk about justice and the corporation. It is democratic. It is more of a discussion format (I think that is an advantage. Lectures should be read. If we are going to meet and talk, we should converse, we should discuss. However, another potential format is to have a reading prior to the meeting, perhaps of someone from the group's essay, and then a discussion at the meeting. Or a reading of some old dead white guy's philosophy at home, then a discussion at the group: seminar style. The essay followed by Q&A model, but with more time for discussion at the meetings.)

Another little comment to make: whatever model is used, I think it is important to have a moderator of the group that keeps discussion focused, cordial, keeps people from getting out of hand, keeps the discussion going, etc., whether the discussion is free-form, lecture-style, or "conch shell" style. In my experience, groups die without a moderator that pretty much keeps it going.

So that's my two cents worth.
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