The Conversation Series: Critical Thinking and Socratic Questioning

Cards for Democracy
Published on
November 30, 2018
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The Conversation Series

Miloš Jeremić:

Critical Thinking and Socratic Questioning

Hosted by Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard

Miloš started implementing elements of SQ in his teaching very progressively. He notices that since he’s started SQ sessions, he hears students adopting this kind of thinking by themselves and with others. Another practice he has initiated is philosophical counseling, which he offers to students from his class and to colleagues from the schools he is active in. With philosophical counseling he can help students who are experiencing difficulties writing essays or sometimes help them solve personal issues and dilemmas.

Why is Socratic Questioning and Critical Thinking (CT) a path for democracy? First, they create together the affordance for tackling controversial issues (you know… those hot issues that divide us, that make democratic processes stick and get stuck) and second, through engaging in SQ one learns how to improve dialogues, and even to empathically disagree (a phrase from Marta Vines Jimeno) with those we view as ‘the other’.

What’s the method? We have included a session plan at the end of this blog. For now, just a few major points.

  • All of Miloš’ activities in SC and CT start with a controversial question that is meant to create a storm in the learners’ mind. For example I was in a training session when he asked :

“Would you still be you if you changed gender?”

  • Persistence and humour are Miloš’ powerful tools to navigate the dialogue. His approach can be conducive to retreat into ‘offense’, and this happens, often… but Miloš’ questions are genuine, never for the show, and he doesn’t seem to mind being called impolite or being the object of learners’ anger.
  • By questioning – and interrupting if the interlocutor(s) , “are you messing around” he helps participants explore the question while considering carefully its emotional, logical and ethical aspects.

Imagine if we became  more competent in Socratic thinking, would this be liberating? Could it allow us to dialogue with people who no longer are able to have a conversation across the divide?  Can we be democratic without facing ourselves?

It’s easy to say ‘I’m tolerant’, ‘I’m democratic’ but how can we know if we don’t know ourselves, our arguments, our feelings, our thoughts? In this podcast, Miloš explains the premises of the method by using the method… with lots of examples.

We give you our usual advice:

  • start small and simple;
  • pay attention to how you feel about what you are trying; make it yours!
  • prepare well before you start so you are able to adapt;
  • and always: debrief, debrief, debrief!

Further Resources

The session plan: Obstacles to Critical Thinking

2. Materials from the Institute of Philosophical Practice:

3. Study Plato to prepare yourself for this exercise: follow argumentation in dialogues in “Meno”, “The Republic”, “Protagoras”, “Trial of Socrates”, “Symposium”.

4. Speech Acts and conversation: various kinds of syntactic structures and what they mean we see that people often don’t seem to say what they mean. They use languages differently from its apparent meaning by


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