The Socratic Society is the oldest student organization of The University of West Florida, founded by Robert Armstrong, one of the first ten "Charter" faculty of the university, in 1973. It remains among the most active ones of those with a strictly academic mission. According to the preamble of its Constitution, the Socratic Society is "dedicated to the discussion of philosophical, social, and moral ideals…in their relation to the vital issues of contemporary society." To this ends, it maintains an active speaker series, organizes conferences, discussion groups, debates, travels to conferences, as well as holding the occasional mixer.
Over the years some of the biggest names in Philosophy have spoken at UWF, including internationally renowned thinkers Angela Davis, R.M. Hare, and Peter Bertocci. It draws philosophers from the region on a regular basis: Alan Soble, Research Professor of the University of New Orleans spoke in the Fall of 2003 on St. Augustine's sexual ethics; Herschel Elliott, Emeritus Professor of UF, this Spring on environmental ethics. Other speakers of late include professors form local community colleges (Mark Cobb and Ray Dupree, philosophy faculty of Pensacola Junior College have addressed the group on Herbert Marcuse's philosophy and Existentialism, respectively, as has Judith Golding of Okaloosa-Walton Community College). UWF's own professors Jim Marsh (Physics) Terry Prewitt (Anthropology), Bill Mikulas (Psychology), and Sally Ferguson (Philosophy) among many others, have shared their research with the group.
The campus community and public are always invited to these functions, sometimes with remarkable results: 250 people attended a debate on Creation Science it organized in 2001, and 50 people attended a forum and panel discussion on the War in Afghanistan (which included faculty from Religious Studies, Government, and other constituencies). In the Spring of 2004, members of the Socratic Society and members of the Philosophy faculty read aloud Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra on the campus greens. On the retirement of faculty member Daniel J. Herman in 1997, it organized a daylong ethics conference which attracted submissions from all over Florida. John Whelan of Lycoming College, Pennsylvania gave its keynote address, with approximately 75 people in attendance.
It regularly organizes trips to local conferences also, and in 2004 the club’s Vice President, Dave Monroe, won the "Outstanding Undergraduate Paper Award" of the Florida Philosophical Association, and read his paper at Eckerd College in St, Petersburg, at its 49th annual meeting, a first for UWF Philosophy! Four of its leaders and members attended the American Philosophical Association's annual meeting in Atlanta a few years back, and several more tagged along with their professor, Nick Power former Department Chair, as he presented a paper in New Orleans at the Southern Society of Philosophy and Psychology Annual Conference. This is what gratifies Power the most: "In Atlanta, it was the sesquicentennial celebration of Rene Descartes' death, and the APA organized a day-long session devoted to his thought and influence. To see my students exposed to the best Descartes scholarship in the world, having lectured on these topics myself, was tremendous. They left the conference feeling part of a vibrant and important research program, and philosophy students need to feel this sometimes." Its reading groups have met off campus, in a local café, as well as on campus, are led by faculty, and open to the public. The first such group-the Pensacola Squares-grappled with John Rawls' masterwork, A Theory of Justice. Such works do not get this sort of in-depth attention in our program's curriculum, and are a fruitful sort of town-and-gown partnership. The department has plans to engage a major bookstore in solidifying this sort of community service.
The club's current President is AshleeAnne Palmer, Vice-President is Stefan Georgi, and Secretary-Treasurer, Justin Beck. Former leading members of the club include graduate students seeking graduate degrees in Philosophy at the University of Memphis, University of Western Michigan, Theology at Yale Divinity School, Florida State University, Michigan State. Several past members are teaching at UWF, FSU and Tampa. Several have gone on to law school, and one past President, Jason R, Mosley is a prominent lawyer working in the area. Shelley Davis-Smith, another former president, has served on the faculty of the University of New Orleans. Past president Bobby Johnson has also returned to UWF as a faculty member and past president Brittany Miller works as a lead at a prominent advertising firm in the area. Others work in business and health care. The Socratic Society enhances the education of UWF's students, and furthers the professional development of its over 99 Philosophy majors and minors. It also adds depth and richness to the intellectual atmosphere of UWF, and is a tried and tested means of serving the community of Northwest Florida.