ORLANDO – They call it Plato’s Cave, but it’s not a place to hide in … although in a sense it could be classified as an ideal location for explorers. In this case, though, the explorations are not made by those treading into unknown territory. Everyone who has gotten into Plato’s Cave has a good sense of where they want to go.
“One of our discussions was on Utopia – what would a Utopia look like,” said Steve Hall. “One of our discussions was on the allegory of the cave – how we do not observe reality in its fundamental state. It’s all interpreted through our perceptions.”
Anyone looking for an example of just how diverse the Deep South has become should look no further than Plato’s Cave: a group of nearly two dozen people who meet on a monthly basis to discuss and debate philosophical questions, to apply logic and reason to issues and concerns that have been argued over for centuries.
“We have a group of amateur philosophers that meet up,” said Hall, the group’s current organizer. “We have about 45 members, but only 20 are able to meet at any one time.”
When they do, it’s on the third Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. at Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park. Old and modern philosophical issues get debated, “everything from Plato and Socrates to (Immanuel) Kant to Ken Wilber,” Hall said. “We look at ancient wisdom to modern intelligence to free will.”
How did the Greater Orlando-based group first come together? Hall said it was founded in 2006 by Jo Bernard, who didn’t get a chance to see Plato’s Cave blossom into a regular club.
“She unfortunately lost her job in Orlando and had to move back to New York, at which point the rest of the members twisted my arm to be the next organizer,” Hall said. “That was two years ago.”
Members keep turning out, he said, because of how enjoyable the discussions are – and how diverse the attendees have been.
“Definitely it’s intellectually stimulating,” Hall said. “We have PhD professors, people who teach philosophy, people who are engineers – we have all sorts.”
One of the regulars is Ben Griffith, who teaches at New Dimensions High School in Poinciana, and enjoys the atmosphere that Plato’s Cave provides.
“It’s definitely one of the most intellectually stimulating discussions around,” he said, noting that a recent meeting focused on the book “The Moral Landscape: Why Science Should Shape Morality,” by Sam Harris.
Harris, an atheist, argues that science has its own moral code and there’s no need for religion.
While debating the book’s theories, Griffith said, Plato’s Cave members focused “a lot on conceptualism and moral census.”
Generally, though, the group doesn’t wade regularly into religion or interpretations of the Bible.
“We haven’t gotten much into religion, though we have gotten into spirituality,” Hall said. “We’re more likely to debate biotechnology – how long should people be able to live.”
“It’s more of a philosophical approach to the issues,” Griffith added. “A philosophical approach would be that you justify your view with a greater level of logic and vigor.”
That means they don’t automatically endorse every scientific theory out there.
“Science is best described by experiments that can be refuted,” Hall said.
Plato’s Cave is also quite different, Hall said, from a group that gets together to debate political issues. For one thing, the arguments are far less acrimonious than what you might expect on talk radio.
“We occasionally venture into politics, but we try to stay out of that,” Hall said. “It’s more likely to have to do with morals, or it might have to do with ethics.”
Griffith added that the debates are cordial, not heated.
“Philosophy has expectations for the rhetoric,” he said. “It’s civil rather than acrimonious.”
And it’s a lot more fun than some people might think, Hall added.
“We have some great discussions,” Hall said. “But people that join our group need to RSVP first – we don’t allow ‘maybes’.”
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