Saint Michael’s students lunch at the Philosophy Table for conversation

March 7, 2024
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

On Wednesday, students filled up the Philosophy Table in Alliot to have lunch together and engage in  an informal philosophical conversation. They encircled a round table staked with a tall sign in the middle that invited students to stay for five minutes or one hour to speak their minds or just listen. The sign had a graphic image of The Thinker sculpture surrounded by the words “anger,” “happiness,” “sadness,” “regret,” and “guilt.” Read a Q & A with Crystal L’Hôte, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy and Ethics, about the Philosophy Table and its history.

What is the history of the Philosophy Table? I heard this has been done in past years.

About 15 years ago, the Department of Philosophy and Ethics launched the Philosophy Table as a way to put philosophy directly to work in everyday life. Since the Table combines two activities at the heart of who we are – philosophizing and eating! Participants come to know and to be known. The Department hosted a Philosophy Table every now and again until COVID-19 hit. That was an opportunity to rethink things. Now, the Table isn’t only for students. It’s by students.

The Philosophy Table (Photo by Cat Cutillo/Saint Michael’s College)

How do you plan to encourage conversation? Will you be asking questions or using any prompts?

The Philosophy Table is no longer hosted by a professor. Instead, students from the Philosophy and Ethics Lab are supported in choosing the topic and developing a list of philosophical questions, quotations, or thought experiments that they use to facilitate the dialogue.

What do you hope students take away from the 1-hour conversation?

Many of them are thinking about this as a small way to effect cultural change on our campus, and as a way to encourage meaningful conversations and relationships across cliques and other differences.

What is the future of the Philosophy Table? Is this something you plan to host monthly, etc.?

The future of the Philosophy Table depends on the future of the Philosophy and Ethics Lab, which is being piloted right now. Ultimately, I hope, students will decide what the Philosophy Table can and will be. If the current students are any indication, it has a promising future.

Why is this important to offer the Philosophy Table?

By supporting dialogue across difference, about the things that matter most, the Table supports democracy. By supporting the exchange of philosophical ideas outside the classroom, the Table naturalizes learning and shared inquiry, and makes it more likely that folks will continue with these practices after they graduate. By being informal and accompanied by a meal, the Table resists technocratic modes of being. By responding to the interests and needs of students, the Table puts ideas to work in our lives. By being led by students, the Table offers leadership and work-readiness opportunities. And that’s just a start.

Anything else you want to share?

Students: if you’re interested in more interesting conversations, join us!

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