Socratic Dialogue – Springe – 100th anniversary of PPA and SFCP

This international gathering was to celebrate of 100 years of PPA and SFCP, begun in January 1922 by Leonard Nelson when he established the Philosophisch-Politische Akademie (Philosophical-Political Academy or PPA).

The conference was made up of Lectures (mainly in German) about the life and work of Nelson and followers such as Grete Hermann and Minna Spechts, as well as workshops – two of which were in English. Dieter had organised and designed a magnificent display of the history and development, some in English.

Below is a summary of both the German Workshops and the English Workshop along with some notes on the Lectures given in English.

1. Report on the workshop and panel discussions given in German provided by Katrin Blödorn ( and Christian Bertuleit (

The Current Significance of Nelson ́s Ideas in Philosophy, Polics and Society – A Panel Discussion (D)Prof. Dr. Dieter Birnbacher, Dr. Klaus Draken, Prof. Dr. Kay Herrmann, Prof. Dr. Remi Maier-Rigaud, Dr. Andreas Netzler – Modera’on: Prof. Dr. Klaus Blesenkemper (Weshälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster)

Workshop Modern Elements in Socratic Dialogue
Led by Professor Klaus Blesenkemper

Workshop Politics and Ethics – Grete Hermann
Led by Professor Dr Kay Herrmann and Dr Andrea Reichenberger

Workshop Opportunities for Socratic Dialogue in schools
Led by Dr Klaus Draken

Workshop Schule anders denken – Anregungen in der Padogogik Minna Spechts (Thinking differently in schools – Pedagogue suggestions from Minna Spechts)

Appropriate for the 100th anniversary of the foundation, these workshops and panel discussions focused on the topics of either Leonard Nelson’s ideas in politics today or the political applications of the Socratic method for schools or other educational purposes.

Dr Netzler’s lecture we learned that Nelson’s social ideas of how to build a just society are hardly observed by our current governments under which the gap between rich and poor has become wider and wider.
In the workshops we learned how to integrate socratic elements in our school work, as complete socratic dialogues cannot be easily adapted to the strict time-tables and the huge number of students we have to cope with in German schools.

The most exciting events were the panel discussions in which opposing views on basic principles appeared and engaged panel members and audience into a vibrant discussion.

We experienced a weekend of inspiring thoughts, intense exchanges of ideas with several people from different academic backgrounds. Most of all we enjoyed being together with like minded human beings that provided an atmosphere full of warmth, interest and appreciation.

2. Notes from Rationality in Politics and Society
Prof. Dr. Dieter Birnbacher (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf)

Inconsistencies in politics are the price to be paid for democratic representation.
Judgement and actions must be defensible from the perspective of all beings affected by them’ Leonard Nelson, all beings included animals, who were integrated into Nelsonian ethics as if full blown people.

3. Workshop Socratic Dialogue in the Forest Tradition

There were two workshops in English: Turning point in International Policy – the war of aggression against the Ukraine led by Dr Maryna Chulaievska, Yuliia Proskura, Prof Dr Holger Franke with the support of Dr Mykola Bunyk. As we were giving the other workshop concurently we could not attend this fascinating discussion.

Dialogue in a woodland setting discussing the question: What is our responsibility for Nature led by Dr Julie-Marie ffrench Devitt and Rachel Kellett with support from Prof. Dr Sarah Banks.

We chose a perfect space: close enough to the centre for ease of access and with a canopy of trees to protect us from August sun and later rain, as well as act as a good prop for our washing line – essential for hanging our dialogue conversation on. Near by we found a room from which ‘borrow’ chairs and a writing board from, although most people chose to settle on the ground.

Julie Marie welcomed and introduced the structure of the 90 minutes. We had the youngest SD attendant ever, with George, aged 10 months, attentive from his push chair.
Rachel began with rooting us in the space, here on the earth, in Springe, August 2022, eyes closed, aware of the sounds passing as visitors through our senses. Using the talking stick all were invited to introduce themselves name, place, and connection to Socratic Dialogue. In both workshops we found with us a wide range of those who had being doing SD for 20 years or more and those the first time with us.

In the Chi Gong tradition we learned and loosened up with 3 of the 8 pieces of Brocade, moving the neck, hands and head, holding up the sky, separating sky and earth and the archer. (The Eight pieces of Brocade are beautifully demonstrated here, and described in context here)

Body rooted and loosened, we turned to our mind, and began immediately with unpicking the words – NATURE and RESPONSIBILITY and OUR

RESPONSIBILITY – call and response, so necessitates another. Ability – our ability.
The more subtle understanding of responsibility – not top down, but integrated. Not I know, I’m in control, but lets work together.

NATURE – immediately the question of if human beings were part of this word. Both groups agreed humans were nature, as well as all living and non living (not dead- as dead infers something had been alive) like rocks things of our earth around us. Was what we created also nature? Was a chair or a motor car or a Nuclear Power Station nature? The jury was out on this one. May be nature was a system rather than a collection of things, an eco system.

We were invited to work in pairs or threes, to find an example of our responsibility for nature in our lives. Of the pair, one was chosen as the most suitable example, and one was shared with the group. The group finally selected which was the best of the lot

Here is a summary of the examples chosen from the first and second group:

Cleaning the public lawn of litter – M’s example. Outside her flat was a public space, a lawn, which she’d noticed was littered with cigarette butts and rubbish. She’d considered cleaning the area before but it was not until she had George, that she experienced the problem of litter, which he would pick up and put in his mouth. The theory of responsibility was there before, but the act of being responsible occurred only when George arrived, and a vested interest materialised.
Refugees view of Nature – A&M. Working with refugees, who had such a struggle with their basic existence, she found that climate change and environment were not in their orbit. Asked can nature survive without human beings? The answer of the refugee was no!
Personal feeling of discomfort – H personally felt the augmentation of heat, and suffered with it. She deliberately separated her rubbish being something she could do living on her own.

The Wasp in the Chocolate Cream. A wasp landed in the pudding. Rather than killing it and thereby protecting both herself and her child, M got it out of the pudding and thereby saved the life of a wasp

The Bee Keeper and the husbands dilemma ….

The kiddies padling pool – feeling of guilt filling it with water, so using the water to water the garden after its use.

After one was selected, our time was up. Normally where this would be almost the beginning of the dialogue, in this case it was the end.

We invited all to write down what they considered their brief answer to the question would be, and on the other side of the card, to give feed back on the session. How was working outside for them?

‘I am so much in my head it was good to get back into the body before returning to the head for the dialogue’.
‘The best workshop by far’.

Leonard Nelson
Lecture by Christopher Knowles

In his talk, Christopher Knowles provided an outline of the early history of the SFCP, describing how it originated as the British branch of the PPA, founded by the German philosopher Leonard Nelson one hundred years ago in 1922. I’d forgotten that Nelson died as early as 1927.

Evening dialogue at the bar

We all agree, it is the dialogue between friends here that nourishes, easily evident here at the bar. For me it is the remarkable listening that happens in this gathering. There are stalwart followers. Some missing this time – Barbara Neiser, Hoerst – who came late – but those who came are rich, and gratefully expressive after the 2 silent years of COVID.

(This post continues here – the postscript journey after the Dialogue ended)

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