The Socratic Method is a particular way of teaching and learning, which originated in the V century BC in Athens. The method entails engaging in a structured debate to uncover more accurate meanings to concepts. In the debate, the teacher does not provide the students with undeniable factual knowledge but argues with the students about the knowledge they provide (Delić and Bećirović 512). Some past experiences and thinking are assumed on the part of the student.
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The teacher also steers the conversation, setting up boundaries and taking care so that the debate does not go off-topic. The first step of the process is to pose broad questions about certain concepts or things. After that, students draw their definitions based on what they already know, creating a hypothesis. Then, the teacher argues with the student by providing counterexamples and cross-examines the student’s arguments to see if the hypothesis stands up to scrutiny. The continued debate in that manner refines the hypothesis and allows the student to come up to a more accurate and concise definition or reject their hypothesis outright.
This method would be useful in training people to think for themselves, argue and reconfigure their point, and admit being wrong. It can help students come up with some explanations for abstract things for which a clear definition does not exist. Psychotherapy, for example, could benefit from using the Socratic Method, as it deals with deeply personal and abstract meanings, which the patients often need help refining. In a strictly learning environment, the method can illustrate the thinking process that goes into scientific inquiry, as the students debate knowledgeable academics in their field.
However, in the case of factual and concrete information, the method should not stand on its own. It can only refine the students’ existing ideas so much, which is excellent for such broad and philosophical concepts as, for example, pride. The meanings that can be intuited and are, to some extent, present in everyone mesh very well with the Socratic Method. The more accurate and narrow information, such as the operation of an internal combustion engine, should be supplemented with undeniable facts. That said, speculation and debate can help students develop intellectually, which should not be underestimated.
The first post provides a good example of precisely the type of knowledge that should not be refined through the Socratic Method exclusively. It is acceptable to debate whether eggs give people high cholesterol with one’s peers and mentors. However, at some point, the truth can only be found through clinical trials and laboratory analysis. However, within the context of the eggs, an example of a Socratic debate would be a class of fledgling nutritional scientists that have to come up with an answer using the already-existing data. Debating whether or not eggs cause cholesterol problems can teach students to argue their points and find supporting evidence to refine their hypotheses. However, there is factual truth, to which they will all have to arrive in the end.
The second post contains excellent examples of applying the Socratic Method well. However, I cannot entirely agree with the author’s point that the goal of the method is to make the opponent adopt one’s point of view. In my opinion, a more important target is to refine both opinions and create stronger arguments. In some cases, it is more important to stimulate each other’s intelligence and share knowledge.
That is especially true in psychotherapy, where a discussion is never aimed at persuasion, but a more profound understanding. That said, there are notable exceptions, such as lawyers, which the author also mentioned. Lawyers must debate with their opponents by presenting their case well and pointing out crucial details in the shared knowledge base, with the ultimate goal of making the judge and the jury accept their position. I would argue, however, that it is an exception rather than the rule.
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Delić, Haris, and Senad Bećirović. “Socratic Method as an Approach to Teaching.” European Researcher, vol. 111, no. 10, 2016, pp. 511-517.