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He Has a Few Questions for You

Modern philosopher turns to Socrates to revive nearly lost art of public discourse

June 06, 2002|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Blake Gardner, a young man with a brown bandanna around his head, who plans to set up his own Socrates Cafe, proposes the group discuss when is it just to go to war. The others agree, and the conversation is off and running for the next hour and 20 minutes.

Phillips plays the role of conductor, stepping in when he senses a line of thought has petered out and frequently asking speakers to define their terms or flesh out their ideas. Cecilia, furiously scribbling away on a notepad, keeps track of the dialogue's ebbs and flows and jumps in once or twice with a comment.

As the evening breaks up, Eric Vollmer, an arts and grant consultant, says he was "surprised and sort of delighted with the level of conversation. The skill that [Phillips] has is quite remarkable."

And what will Phillips take away from the evening? Most likely, the same thing he always does. "The one great lesson I've learned is that people can change," he says. "Most people never do. And it starts with somebody taking the time to talk to 'em."

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