Socratic Dialogue

Socratic Dialogue Training Cambridge

Sixth Colloquium on Dialogical Practice and Dialogical Philosophising, St Catharine´s College, Cambridge, 6-10 August 2018

A basic background

Following the dialogical procedures recorded by Plato in early dialogues of Socrates, Socratic Dialogue enables ordinary people to philosophise
with the aim of enriching and informing civic life. Non specialised way of philosophising that has been furthered through the neo-Kantian philosophical practice of Nelson and Heckmann.

Leonard Nelson – Sought unity between theory and practice. In 1922 he established a boarding school for children and an academy for adult education (PPA, Philosophical Political Accademy). Both bombed by Nazi’s. Many teachers worked in underground. After the war in 1949 PPA reestablished.

Heckmann – was a student of Nelson, and developed these ideas further introducing the Socratic Method. The method evolved into a teaching learning dialogue in post war Germany

Dieter Krohn, the leader of our colloquium was a student of Heckmann

Socratic Dialogue encourages ordinary human reflection in a dialogue setting.
Strength is engagement in a co-operative thinking activity.

To seek answers to philosophical questions by seeking out the truth about the nature of concepts like tolerance, freedom, justice endeavouring to find consensus
Exploration of concrete experiences, volunteered by participants, one of which is usually chosen by the group for detailed analysis. In this way we are all engaged in the process
To engage in active listening, and deepen individual insights and understandings using the dialogue process
To gain greater clarity about thoughtful and reasonable conduct thus enhancing self confidence in our ability to reason and shaping our approach to life.

WORKSHOP with Sara Pokorna (Czechoslovakia)
How can playful activities support dialogue?

Sara opens by asking us not to speak, which is noticably challenging for Socratic Dialoguers. She asks us to silently choose a card from a couple of packs of illustrated cards like Tarot cards. Finally we are allowed to talk.
We all describe why we have chosen one of these cards
(I chose a maze, and my reason – I had no idea why I had chosen it)

Sara then asked us to each to give our name and our occupation. Some of us, including me, had a problem with defining occupation. I said what I was up to now, forming a Forest School. The name, naturally, was not so difficult.

Then and still now I can not remember most peoples name but I recall the card they took. Here’s the difference between giving our name and taking a card to give an identity.

Name/occupation Card
Past definition Present
Boxing Revealing
Defended Open
Defensive Trust

Open up the spaces
No competition/Judgement/pigeonholing. Metaphor. No right or wrong.

Socratic Dialogue Cambridge The Last of England Ford MadoxFitzwilliam for Lunch

I found the room of Dutch flower paintings. Strippy tulips. Insects on petals. Water drops. Dark, constrained. Blackberry. Snail.

AC Greyling
‘It is very much easier to be intolerant, angry, jealous and resentful than it is to be generous, patient, kind and considerate. Without question it takes far more thought, and far more work to treat others from the stand point of these virtues than from that of those vices which is why the those vices are so prevalent.’ A. C. Greyling, The Guardian 9th March 2002

Our Gifts

We are all invited to bring an object and describe it in relation to our theme of Boundaries.
I present my transection through a Sequoia tree. It’s not a native, I explain, but an intruder, or visitor, bought over by Victorian plant hunters as an exotic tree, now huge and magnificent. It has a boundary of bark but that does not stop it expanding, which it does every year, measured through its rings. Each ring is historic evidence of that year, so we can tell through rings, the boundaries, which years were lean years with much water and which were drought years with little growth.

Gislia shows her image, of the Berlin Wall. Before and After. It altered and shaped her life, and later I hear more of her story here, for she was born and raised in Eastern Germany

We are invited to chose one of three choices
Non participation
Non Boundary
Are there good limits

I chose Non-participation with Eva, because I had not met her before and she was a woman.


Found the Backs and Pembroke my fathers college – or was it? Now it is all mythology for no one is alive who knows the truth any longer. Cows on the path making it feel timeless. A runner passes me and I am note I am not running.

Dieter is playful as ever in the morning administration.
‘There is a secret group amongst us. You do not know who you are! But you will find out at 7 this evening, when we will meet up.’ So it was I found out I was one of 7 learning to become a Socratic Dialogue facilitator

Socratic Dialogue Cambridge-15Dialogue 1 – Non Participation

Almost immediately it is defined as being restricted to Dialogue examples, so I feel excluded and hurt. However, I come back into the circle with Ora, who I partner to find our question:
Ora and I had the best question (naturally)
Why does the ambiguity of non participation disturb us?

We chose Gore’s example, and it turns out this is the first time her experience has been chosen. ‘Usually I do not like to be in the centre of the room of questions’, she explained.

Her experience was teaching class for for 10 weeks of disruptive teenagers. They began to settle, but one of them never removed his hood, never partook of the class, but appeared to turn the pages of the book.

Someone has to have Antonio in the group and she is in ours. Naturally she chose to star in the staring role. Ironically that role was silent.

Cesar Franck Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major

Lunch time concert. God we are so lucky. Two highly professional women, both oriental. The standing violin player is particularly graceful, strong, stimulating and stunning. I try and fail to hum the theme afterwards – how short the memory. (I listen to it now as I type up these notes, and remember her lithe movements)

Walk to Granchester led by Sara

We are in the footsteps of luminaries such as Witgenstein, Russell, Forster, Wolfe. As I contemplate their life, and dip my toe in it’s potential, I feel the luxury and freedom of being fed and watered and sheltered. Those necessities taken care of, I can indulge in the higher echelons of thought.
We eat a cream tea under the apple trees of this famous tea house where the great and good debated relativity and ethics. Walking back with G, I ask her about Kant.
‘I’d like to know more about his work’, I say.
‘People are judgemental and dismissive of the fact he never travelled, but many came to him’, she said. I enjoy her gentle company.
Yes, the influence of the wall.
Yes, I was married but my husband went off with another’
‘Ah, I’m sorry’, I say assuming this to be recent
‘That was 40 years ago!’ she said with a laugh

Secret society

At 7 the Secret Society of Socratic apprentices met at the Eagle. Far too busy inside we drank cider outside. Our objective is to present a Socratic Dialogue in a years time. Deiter announces the Tamsyn Imison’s £1,000 prize for winning essay a potential for all of us. At the same time I read a text from Michael who reacting to a photograph I posted of bicycles against railings in the market place reads: Imagine my delight coming down one day finding a rose on my locked up bicycle. From Tamsyn of course’.


Ghost Walk

Billed as the Ghost walk organised by Julia, it is a wonderful excuse to walk around the city centre of Cambridge. Our story teller is cool and good. Stephen Hawkins college. The gruesome story of Oliver Cromwell’s head.

Oliver Cromwell grew up in Huntingdon near Cambridge, and attended Sidney Sussex College. He around Cambridge for the next twenty years before joining the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. MP for Huntingdon. When the King Charles 1st was using his power unwisely, challenged and refused changes, civil war broke out, with the two sides, Royalists and Parliamentarians.

Importantly, Cromwell signed the order for the execution of Charles I, leading to the first time in history where England was left without a monarch for 10 years, known as the ‘Interregnum’. After four years of disagreement over how the different forms of parliament would rule the country, Cromwell was declared the head of state, known as Lord Protector. Pressed to become King, he refused, keeping his role of Lord Protector until his death in 1658, when given a state funeral.

In 1661, the year after Charles II restored the monarchy, avenging his fathers death he ordered Cromwell to be dug up, put on trial and hung from the famous gallows at Tyburn, then had his head chopped off! To send a message of the King’s power, Cromwell’s head was placed on a pike on the roof of Westminster Hall where it stayed for thirty years. Legend recalls how soldier kept it, secret for generations, until it rocked up in Cambridge, where exact whereabouts still secret.


Evilena leads us ‘Boy hidden under the hood’. Guru’s story from 8 years ago.
Intended or not intended.
We get lost for a while in the boys psychology
The boy appeared to participate – turning the books pages.
Rather than non participation, the boy chose not to CONTRIBUTE to the invitation to dialogue. He did not share his opinions.

Participate is communicate. He did communicate, negatively.
Like a radio he received but did not transmit audibly.
Guru’s own uncomfortablness.
Validity of intervention to participate. Could the opportunity be found by the facilitator for an opening? Guru feels her own failure.
Participation is not just communication but contributing to dialogue.
Non participation does not mean no communication. The boy communicated a desire to not participate for whatever reason.
Meta discussion Good facilitation. Not try and force agreement. Gentle.
Ford Madox Brown The Last of England

Suggestions – more of philosophers background like Kant. / Tai Chi / Yoga / / Role of Emotions

Lasting images Cambridge
A clock wherever you look. Chimes

The Punt after the rain

We are punted by an eccentric, self taught, Englishman, Julia, Anna, Sarah and I with a bottle of white wine, some gin and crisps. Of lasting memory of all the facts he presented to us was the wealth of Trinity College.Trinity is the richest Oxbridge college, with a landholding alone worth £800 million. Trinity is sometimes suggested to be the second, third or fourth wealthiest landowner in the UK (or in England) – after the Crown Estate, the National Trust and the Church of England. Included in the portfolio is part of Wall Street, New York. Bridge of Lies. Eleanor of Aquitaine

Sara and Christian

Hugged by a Fin
Like naughty school children we smoke our cigarettes in doorways sheltering from the rain. I invite them to retrace the footsetps of our ghost walk . Is this the hangmans photographic shop.
And now I want to talk to you of X
You responded well to her, Sara said. I was relieved.
Because after that I lost interest in the conversation.
She is right, but not because of what she said. The problem was you could not longer talk. On emotional level.
I realised I was so stuck on that rational path.

Negative capability, used by John Keats in 1817
‘I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’

Sara, so intense, with such a surprising smile.
I see from these few days that I must learn to express myself more slowly and clearly.

We know when the last hanging took place in Cambridge.

Sara says, I want to come to England to your forest school.


Still with white wine in my system, I walk to Kettles Yard and look through the window, but it is too early. Walk back along the punting route.
They are filming and ITV film called The Cheat.

Breakfast with Antonia who runs philosophical classes of 15 to 20 people so enabling her to continue studying philosophy. She studied philosophy for 9 years!
‘I do it for myself, so I don’t forget’.
Wise woman.

Last gifts

Unethi Maria Angelo She reads Mario Angelo, holding her hands to her chest.
Lim give us an unexpected poetic eloquent description of her home land from space. NASA. Like a whale. Taiwan.
German woman with beautiful smile who I never spoke to, bought an original newspaper of the 1st man in space to look down on the earth
Ora gave us a story
And I in my head elaborated on my piece of wood

What is the role and influence of emotions was my question
For the first time I work with Viet, who I met on the first day.
I gave Sara the piece of Sequoia wood.
‘Come to my wood’, I invite.


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