Socratic conversation

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The (Neo-) Socratic conversation is an originally philosophical teaching method that encourages independent thinking , reflection and self-reflection. Socratic discussions go back to the philosophers and teachers Leonard Nelson (1882–1927) and Gustav Heckmann (1898–1996) and differ from the Socratic method, among other things, in that they do not take place in dialogue , but as moderated group discussions , with the moderator abstains from any expression of opinion on the subject of the conversation and does not ask manipulatively. As a discussion method, they are now also offered in the training and further education of specialists and executives in seminars and workshops . B. To examine what the principles of leadership and management are.

Based on the concrete experiences of the discussion participants, a definition of the term, the solution to a question or a decision is sought in clearly defined abstraction steps, which is made by everyone's consensus.

Hartmut Spiegel sums up Nelson's approach to the Socratic conversation of a small group in the following simple rules - with a view to math lessons and math teacher training:

  • Speak clearly and briefly and try to make yourself understandable to all participants!
  • Stick to the question just discussed and don't digress!
  • Take every utterance of every other participant equally seriously!
  • Check the statements of other participants to see whether you have fully understood them and can relate them to the course of the argument!
  • Speak up questions and doubts, but don't play the diaboli advocate !
  • Work towards a consensus!

The leader should ensure that

  • the participants obey the rules,
  • they really understand each other,
  • they hold on to the question just discussed,
  • fruitful approaches are not lost.

It is especially important that the leader direct participants to their own judgment by not expressing their own opinion on the matter being discussed.

On this last point, Nelson goes very far beyond Socrates: the leader should not ask questions that contain judgment or give his own point of view, as doing so would anticipate the participants' own judgment by offering a prejudice.

The Socratic conversation is the predominantly practiced form of teaching at the law schools , the law faculties of the US universities.

The Socratic dialogue is to be distinguished from the Socratic dialogue as a questioning technique which psychotherapists , life coaches and pastors use when it comes to clarifying terms and making decisions in the therapeutic-advisory conversation . Plato's Socrates described this dialogue as a process of critical questioning of arguments and also calls it maeutics , i.e. midwifery: the leader of Socratic dialogues helps his dialogue partners to “give birth” to their ideas and thoughts. In this way, structures and behavioral patterns should become visible, one's own thoughts and actions understandable and thus also changeable.


  • Dieter Birnbacher , Dieter Krohn (ed.): The Socratic conversation. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-15-018230-1 .
  • Gustav Heckmann : The Socratic Conversation - Experiences in Philosophical University Seminars. Schroedel, Hannover 1981, ISBN 3-507-39014-0 .
  • Detlef Horster : The Socratic Conversation in Theory and Practice. Leske and Budrich, Opladen 1994, ISBN 3-8100-1152-5 . (Horsterer's view of the Socratic conversation (conceptual analysis) differs fundamentally from the Socratic conversation in the tradition of Leonard Nelson / Gustav Heckmann (method of regessive abstraction)).
  • Dieter Krohn, Barbara Neißer, Nora Walter (eds.): The Socratic Conversation in Class. dipa-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-7638-0528-1 . (= Socratic Philosophizing, Volume VII)
  • Dieter Krohn, Barbara Neißer, Nora Walter (eds.): The Socratic Conversation - Possibilities in philosophical and pedagogical practice. dipa-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-7638-0420-5 . (= Socratic Philosophy, Volume VI)
  • Leonard Nelson: The Socratic Method. Lecture given on December 11, 1922 at the Pedagogical Society in Göttingen. In: Treatises of the Fries School. New episode. Edited by Otto Meyerhof , Franz Oppenheimer , Minna Specht . 5. Volume, H. 1. Public Life, Göttingen 1929, pp. 21-78.
  • Gisela Raupach-Strey: Socratic didactics: the didactic meaning of the Socratic method in the tradition of Leonard Nelson and Gustav Heckmann. Lit, Münster / Hamburg / London 2002. ISBN 3-8258-6322-0 . (= Socratic Philosophy Volume 10)
  • Rainer Loska: Teaching without instruction. Leonard Nelson's neosocratic method of conducting conversations. Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 1995, ISBN 3-7815-0790-4 .
  • Harlich H. Stavemann: Socratic conversation in therapy and counseling. Beltz, PVU, Weinheim / Basel 2007, ISBN 978-3-621-27598-9 .
  • Roger Wisniewski, Michael Niehaus: Management by Sokrates. What the philosophy of business has to offer. Cornelsen, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-589-23676-3 .

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