“There is a basic assumption behind the practice of Socratic Dialogue, namely that it is worth our while to talk about the most important things, about how we ought to live.”

(Fernando Leal, in Rene Saran and Barbara Neisser, 2004, “Enquiring Minds” (p. 123), Published by Trentham Books.

Socratic Method

The Socratic Method encourages participants to reflect and think independently and critically.The Socratic Dialogue 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, mathematics and psychology, 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.

“Four indispensable features of Socratic Dialogue”

  1. Starting with the concrete and remaining in contact with concrete experience: Insight is gained only when in all phases of a Socratic Dialogue the link between any statement made and personal experience is explicit. This means that a Socratic Dialogue is a process which concerns the whole person.
  2. Full understanding between participants: This involves much more than verbal agreement. Everyone has to be clear about the meaning of what has just been said by testing it against her or his own concrete experience. The limitations of individual personal experience which stand in the way of full understanding should be made conscious and thereby transcended.
  3. Adherence to a subsidiary question until it is answered: in order to achieve this the group is required to bring great commitment to their work and to gain self-confidence in the power of reason. This means on the one hand, not giving up when the work is difficult, but on the other, to be calm enough to accept, for a time, a different course in the dialogue in order then to return to the subsidiary question.
  4. Striving for consensus: This requires an honest examination of the thoughts of others and being honest in ones own statements. When such honesty and openness towards ones own and other participants´ feelings and thinking are present, then the striving for consensus will emerge, not necessarily the consensus itself.

“The firm establishment of these four indispensible features of Socratic Dialogue tells us much about the tasks and behaviour of those who participate in such dialogues. The most important point in all this is the autonomy in thinking: only those who engage in the process of knowing in their own mind gain philosophical insights. External influences should do no more than stimulate independent thinking.” (Source: Dieter Krohn, Theory and Practice of Socratic Dialogue, in: Saran, R., Neisser, B. (eds.) “Enquiring Minds”, London: 2004, Trentham Books, pp. 23-24)

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