Monday, March 23, 2009

The Socratic Method

Communities Resolving Our Problems, Western Carolina University

The Socratic Method is a chain of questions that seek the truth of some topic. Although the methodology may include summarizing ideas, in its purest form, the Socratic Method only includes questions. The questions allow users to utilize their critical thinking skills to find false paths and dead ends in the reasoning process. As a result, the Socratic methodology is a problem solving methodology.

To help develop the proper questions for a Socratic analysis, the discussion group should consider playing the game 20 Questions. This game allows players to see the value of some underlying analytical strategy.

The Socratic Method does not have a concrete methodology for generating the chain of questions. One person in the discussion group should serve as the lead questioner, engaged in analysis and in breaking things down into logical parts. Typically, the initial question must get at what the group already knows about the topic at hand. After this phase, there is the option of pausing to summarize the conclusions found once the group reaches a certain level of complexity. The lead questioner should formulate questions that will move the group into the next area of the topic that the group needs to know. Once the group becomes familiar with the process, all members can be free to pose questions and direct the process’s path.

Law schools often utilize this process to reveal contradictions to invalidate initial assumptions (a handy skill in legal cases). As a cautionary note, thinkers caught in their own illogical concepts may become irritated or even angered by such an approach. As a result, it is very important to develop an egalitarian attitude among all members of the group so that everyone feels comfortable with this process.

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