Difference Between Socratic Seminar and Philosophical Chair

Key Difference – Socratic Seminar vs Philosophical Chair

Socratic seminar and philosophical chair are two dialectical methods that promote students’ critical thinking skills. A Socratic seminar is a structured discussion that involves asking and answering questions whereas a philosophical chair is an activity that uses a debate format to discuss two opposing sides of an issue. The key difference between Socratic seminar and philosophical chair is that Socratic seminar is centered on a text whereas philosophical chair is centered on a controversial topic.

What is Socratic Seminar?

The Socratic seminar is a dialectical method that is based on Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions. It involves asking and answering questions to encourage critical thinking and to protract ideas and underlying presumptions. The main purpose of this method is to arrive at a shared understanding through discussion; it does not involve debate, persuasion, or personal reflection.

Socratics seminars are based on close textual analysis and discussion. An ideal text for discussion should be rich in ideas and values, and fundamentally ambiguous. It should also offer complexity and challenge and be relevant to the participants. It is also important that students study and annotate the text before the discussion so that they have time to think and prepare for the discussion.

The discussion often begins with an open question, usually asked by discussion leader or teacher. A leader in a Socratic seminar is a facilitator who guides other participants to deepen, clarify, different views and keep the discussion focused on the topic. The open question has no right answer, and it generally leads to new questions, deepening the discussion. Questions in a Socratic seminar may ask for clarifications, probe for assumptions, explore reasons and evidence, introduce varied viewpoints and perspectives and investigate implications and consequences. Common questions in a Socratic seminar may include

Why do you say that?

Can you say that in another way?

Where do you find that idea in the text?

How can you prove or disapprove that assumption?

What are the consequences of that assumption?

Difference Between Socratic Seminar and Philosophical Chair

What is Philosophical Chair?

Philosophical chair is another type of discussion, which is somewhat similar to a debate. The classroom is usually divided into two sections, and the students are given a topic, usually a controversial philosophical proposition that they must choose to agree or disagree. Students must choose one side and sit in the opposing rows. The discussion is started by a student in the pro group, giving her reasons for agreement. Then a member of the opposing section should give his reasons for disagreement. Similarly, every student gets a chance to present her viewpoint. If anyone changes their opinion in the course of the discussion, they are free to switch sides. By the end of the discussion, the students should be able to explain their views as well as the opposing views. The students are also encouraged to evaluate the discussion.

This activity helps students to think critically and learn to be open-minded and accept different perspectives. The goal of the exercises is to teach students how to be fair and open minded. Given below are some topics for philosophical chairs.

Students should be able to work without parental consent at age 16.

Men can care for children as well as women.

War is unavoidable.

Legalization of drugs would result in less crime.

Lying is not a sin.

Whom should you vote for president? – Clinton or TrumpKey Difference - Socratic Seminar vs Philosophical Chair

What is the difference between Socratic Seminar and Philosophical Chair?


Socratic Seminar is strictly a discussion.

Philosophical Chair uses a format similar to debate.


Socratic Seminar involves questions and answers.

Philosophical Chair involves two opposing sides.


Socratic Seminar is centered on a text.

Philosophical Chair is centered on a controversial topic.


Socratic Seminar aims to encourage critical thinking and reach a deep, shared understanding of a text.

Philosophical Chair aims to teach students how to be fair and open-minded.

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