The Story of the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy

On Monday 26th September 2016 a private event at the Institute of Education (IoE) in London took place to examine the history of the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy (SfCP). Mike Cook, chair of SfCP, kicked off the afternoon with introductions and then handed over to Dieter Krohn, who walked attendees through the societies 100-year history.

During the introductions, it is evident for all to see that many people connected with the society can trace the thread of their involvement with SfCP back to Rene Saran. Rene has been involved with SfCP longer than any others in the room, with the critical philosophy being passed down from her mother Mary Saran.

Dieter began his presentation by reminding us that a lot can change in a hundred years and so the origins of SfCP are not contemporary characterisations of the society. Nevertheless, they are useful and fascinating to those who are interested in the roots of SfCP today.

For some people, the name of the society presents a difficulty. After all, the 8-word title hardly rolls off the tongue; even for those who have been connected with the society for many years. Dieter revealed that, while researching the history of the society, he found a letter, among other documents, that mentions this point. In 1946, SfCP’s solicitors wrote to the Ministry of Education (MoE) of a desire to change the name of the society to Leonard Nelson Trust. However, the MoE wrote back that, owing to a shortage of staff, a change of name would not be possible for another five years. And so, in true bureaucratic style, that was the last of that. Moreover, the name SfCP is here to stay.

In his presentation, Dieter answered the questions of why, when and by whom SfCP was founded and also a further question about what SfCP has done in recent years. In summary, here are the responses given to the illuminating and essential questions he posed for any Socratic Dialogue enthusiast.

Dieter conceded that the short and simple answer to the question of why the organisation was formed was that children needed help. A group of children, aged 4-14, needed to flee the Nazis from Germany to Denmark, and then to Great Britain. They needed shelter and protection from the Nazi’s and “the foundation of a charity was an important measure to guarantee the help needed,” explained Dieter, “the charity could be the funding organisation of a new school in Britain, supporting the facility, paying teachers, and acting as the representative of the school with the local authorities”. As such, SfCP was founded by Leonard Nelson, a philosophy professor at the Univeristy of Göttingen, out of these difficult beginnings, in 1940. The children were accompanied by their teachers Mina Specht and Gustav Heckmann, who were followers of Nelson and became influential figures in the development of the society.

In recent years, the society has

  • arranged Socratic seminars for students,
  • introduced educationists to the Socratic approach to learning and teaching,
  • sponsored Scholarly research,
  • trained new Socratic facilitators,
  • extended interest in critical philosophy across Europe, and
  • organised international conferences.

In summary, the event was a great opportunity to see some familiar faces and for those who have not been involved with SfCP for long to find out more about the history and upcoming events. A big thank you to those who organised the event and also to the IoE who allowed us to use one of their rooms.

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