Socratic Dialogue

In the woods

The Socratic Method encourages us to reflect and think independently and critically. It is practiced in small groups with the help of a facilitator, so that self-confidence in one’s own thinking is enhanced and the search for truth in answer to a particular question is undertaken in common. No prior philosophical training is needed, provided participants are motivated to try the method, are willing to contribute their honest thoughts and to listen to those of others. The questions, drawn mainly from ethics, politics, epistemology and mathematics, are of a general and fundamental nature. The endeavour of the group is to reach consensus, not as an aim in itself, but as a means to deepen the investigation.

This information is taken from the web pages of SFCP – the UK branch of Socratic Dialogue.

I trained as a Socratic Dialogue facilitator in 2018, with Dr Dieter Krohn and Dr Julie-Marie ffrench Devitt , and now work with the SFCP as their Administrator. In 2019 I began Socratic Dialogue weekends in the woods.

A night away works well allowing the chatter and dust to settle, after the first day (Saturday) working from 10am to 4pm. Sunday we meet just for the morning from 10 to 12.30, then share some lunch before leaving at roughly 2pm.

There is a cabin to find shelter within should the weather turn, however, these autumns have been kind to us, and we have mostly been outside. My advice is well with layers.

The natural element of nature informs us, body and mind. The trees around us (mainly oaks and hornbeam) were there long before us and will exist long after, so give us a time perspective, humbling and inspiring. Bird song, earth, water, fire, prevail as we engage in our mind yoga, balancing out, the yoke between the ox and the cart.

2023 Future Socratic Dialogues

August 12/13 What are the limits of my responsibility for others?

(Saturday October 14th 2023 from Dialogue facilitated by Dieter Krohn / Subject: What is my responsibility for the future? / Lancaster Hall Hotel, London)

2022 Socratic Dialogues

28th May – Why is it so difficult to talk about death and dying (at the Pear Tree)

2019 Socratic Dialogue in the woods

2019 What are the limits of Friendship

2019 When it is right to disagree

A bit about Socratic Dialogue

Socratic Dialogue was born in opposition to dogmatism in ancient Athens, and more recently in Nazi Germany. It has relevance to today. It invites open investigation and tolerance, through the invitation to listen, to other people and oneself, and explore where our ideas come from. The Socratic Dialogue is an attempt to come to a common answer through systematic deliberation about a fundamental question. A question which derives from concrete experiences, accessible to all participants. Living philosophy if you like.

It takes its name and form from Socrates, Plato’s teacher. Socrates tried to bring people to a deeper understanding by asking questions, by inquiring about examples and analysing experiences. His idea behind this was that one does not gain understanding by getting it ‘dished up’, but only by thinking for oneself.

In the early twentieth century, the German philosopher, pedagogue and politician Leonard Nelson (1882 – 1927) developed the Socratic method theoretically and practically. Crucial to Nelson’s approach is the idea of ‘regressive abstraction’. This means that, starting from a concrete example, one traces back (regresses) to the presuppositions that lie at the foundation of the example. By inquiring into these presuppositions, which are of course necessary so as to come to the specific judgements in the example, one goes back to the foundations upon which these judgements are based. It is in this way that we develop a general understanding (abstraction).

The Socratic Form

A Socratic dialogue can last for many hours, or days, even in a small group. First one explores the theme and formulates the fundamental question. Then one collects different examples from the experiences of the participants. Next one selects one example and analyses this one so meticulously that one gains an understanding of the underlying presuppositions. These are 4 phases of a Socratic Dialogue:

  • Explanation of the Socratic Dialogue and question and search for suitable examples
  • Choice of one example, which is written up.
  • Investigation and interrogation of the specific example
  • Regressive Abstraction – from the concrete example, finding a general answer / definition for the question

Choosing the Example

Critical to independent and critical thinking in Socratic Dialogue practice is to draw on our own concrete experience. To take part in this exploration, you are invited to provide a concrete example, an example from your own life which illustrates the question. Here are some simple guidelines for finding an example:
Lived – an experience lived by you.
Simple – the simpler the example the better, the fewer the avenues the example goes down the more focused the central avenue is.
Interesting / Fruitful – an interesting example, challenging, fruitful for us to explore.
Relevant and Closed – relevant to the question, and the issues that it raised should be closed, so as not to be emotionally disturbing or distracting.