Philosophy club hosts existential coffee hour

Illustration by Nicole Nagamatsu

Every week, a group of students meet in J.R. Howard 214 for an hour of relaxed, but impassioned, discussion about any number of subjects. From nihilism, stoicism and ethical choice theory to personal greetings and small talk, anything is on the table. This is Lewis & Clark philosophy club’s weekly coffee hour. 

The meetings often start out slowly, with a trickle of students, and the occasional faculty member, who gather and speak to each other around tables, in chairs arranged in circles or by simply standing. The events really start to heat up when the caffeine begins to flow. And despite the name “Coffee Hour,” all kinds of warm beverages are served. This includes black and green tea, as well as coffee with ample options of creamer and sugar. There is even a package of decaf grounds on the table, although no one seems particularly interested in it. 

Once this diverse collection of drinks is served in a chaotic assortment of logoed mugs and dining hall cups, the small groups gather into larger combinations and conversations as eclectic as the lounge’s drinking vessels ensue. This free-flowing nature of the meetings reflects what Toby Bazeley ’23 hopes the club can be. 

“We want (Philosophy Club) to be a space where people can show up and have the discussion they want,” Bazeley said.

While the club eschews traditional leadership roles in favor of a more relaxed management style, Bazeley and Al Levin ’24 were the ranking members at the day’s coffee hour. When describing her goal for the club this year, Levin described how she “would like to create an environment where people can talk about philosophical ideas without previous philosophical knowledge.” 

This ethos is carried out in how discussions are organized. 

“Philosophy majors especially tend to get off topic very easily,” Levin said. “We’d like to allow people to do that a little more because they can’t really do that in a classroom setting.” 

Sure enough, the day’s conversation explores a number of “off-topics,” from morality and criminal justice to psychoanalysis. As the hour draws to a close, there is even a discussion concerning nature’s ability to communicate with humans, led by Associate Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy Department Chair Joel Martinez. 

Philosophy Club hosts more than the coffee hour. According to Levin and Bazeley, the club is in the process of organizing more structured events for their attendees, including philosophy day hikes, movie nights and even two reading clubs concerning existentialism and queer theory. These two book clubs, led by Rosalee Hayes ’23 and Liam Kruchten ’24, will place an emphasis on literature, personal experience and discussion, and intend to provide a suitable alternative to the more stringent academic nature of the traditional philosophy course.  

When it comes to joining the Philosophy Club, their invitation is inclusive and wide open to students of any major, experience or attitude towards caffeine. 

“Anybody can come to the coffee hours or hikes when they start to happen,”  Levin said. “This is a club for the people.”

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