Personal Expression Flourishes at 'Philosophy Cafes'

By Saito, Keiji | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), May 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

Personal Expression Flourishes at 'Philosophy Cafes'


Saito, Keiji, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


A growing number of events called "philosophy cafes" are being held in various parts of the country, with participants experiencing various ways of thinking through discussion with others. What kind of gatherings are these?

"Does the end justify the means?"

A group of 12 men and women of different ages and occupations exchanged opinions on this question at a Kyoto coffee shop one weekend in early April. They were at a philosophy cafe organized by Kazunori Yamamoto, a 28-year-old company employee who studied philosophy at university. Yamamoto also represents the Cafe Philo group, which promotes public awareness of philosophy cafes.

"If the outcome is good, then lying, too, can be justified."

"It seems like you're lying for the benefit of the other person, but it's just for yourself."

These assertions were part of the discussion, which took up the issue of informing patients that they have been diagnosed with cancer.

The discussion lasted two hours but ended all too soon. At the end of the discussion, Yamamoto, acting as MC, wrote a new question on a whiteboard that emerged from the talk: "Can a lie be happily shared with other people?"

A 52-year-old male high school teacher who participated in the event said, "I was able to learn about the opinions and ways of thinking of people I don't normally meet, and it was fun to get reactions to my opinions, too."

Philosophy cafes are held in locations such as coffee shops and community centers, and provide opportunities for people to talk about topics they do not normally ponder, such as the meaning of happiness and family.

The organizers, who also serve as MCs, announce a topic through social networking services or other means, and accept applications from about 10 people for a two- to three-hour discussion. The participation fee is about the same as the price of a drink.

Philosophers in France started philosophy cafes in Paris in the early 1990s. In Japan, the first efforts were made around 2000, mainly by members of the Osaka University clinical philosophy laboratory.

Toshiro Terada, a 53-year-old professor of philosophy at Sophia University's Faculty of Humanities who has organized his own philosophy cafe, said: "A philosophy cafe is not a gathering of philosophy enthusiasts, nor is it a meeting to reach a definitive conclusion. It's a place where people can spend time deepening their views through discussion with others. …

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