Socratic conversation: an introduction

Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived in Athens. He was mainly concerned with studying human thinking. Unfortunately, no works by Socrates himself have survived, but his student Plato wrote much about him. As a result, we still benefit from the wisdom of Socrates. Who exactly was Socrates and what is a Socratic dialogue? How can we give our daily conversations extra depth by applying Socratic dialogue?

  • Who is Socrates?
  • What is a Socratic conversation?
  • Have the conversation
  • Application of Socratic conversation in everyday life


Who is Socrates?

Socrates was the first true philosopher of ancient Greece. He lived in Athens from 469 BC to 399 BC and studied ,thought,, especially in the field of ethics. This is in contrast to the natural philosophers of that time, who were mainly concerned with studying the material world. Socrates gained his knowledge from the dialogue with his interlocutor. During a conversation he wanted to search for the truth with his conversation partner. Everything his interlocutor said was viewed critically by Socrates; the theme was illuminated from all sides by continuously asking questions. In this way he wanted to make it clear that the opposite could also be true and that there is no real truth. Socrates wanted to create a philosophical attitude to life with his dialogue, he was not satisfied with simple, short statements. This questioning, critical attitude did not endear Socrates to everyone. He was accused in 399 BC of corrupting the youth. After this he was sentenced to drink from the poisoned cup. He did not object to this. His last words were; “Rito, we owe a cock to Asclepius, pay him, don’t forget.” According to French philosopher Foucault, these words are an expression of gratitude to philosophy, Socrates looked forward to the liberation of the doxa (the sensory world, which is changeable and deceptive) and sacrificed himself for the sake of truth. One of his famous quotes is; “an unreflected life is not worth living.”

What is a Socratic conversation?

A Socratic conversation is a way of having conversations where the aim is to understand the other person better and thus arrive at a deeper wisdom together. It is important to put your own knowledge – or what you think you know – aside and listen to the other person with an open attitude. It is essential to ask the right questions.

Conducting a Socratic conversation ensures that the conversation partners arrive at new thinking and better insights. We should put aside any judgments we have, instead of making judgments we should ask critical questions. This requires willpower and energy; letting go of ingrained thought patterns is quite a job. This can be achieved with the help of a number of tools regarding the Socratic conversation. In this way we can provide our conversations with more depth, we can deepen our knowledge and we continue to look at the world with an open attitude. Nice is not it?

Have the conversation

If you are going to have a conversation in the Socratic way, it is first of all important that you want to learn something from each other. During a conversation, insights may arise that both conversation partners have never thought about. There are so-called ,Socratic rules,, which help to develop a Socratic attitude to life. What rules are those?

You serve society

If you decide to conduct the conversation in a Socratic way, you put aside your self-interest and are willing to really investigate the truth. You want to help your conversation partner, yourself and ultimately society.

You switch off your compassion for a moment

The idea is to turn off your compassion as best you can. Emotions that arise from compassion can result in a situation being interpreted differently. It is important to inspect emotions more closely ; This way, the true emotion comes to the surface and you avoid misinterpreting emotions.

You formulate a clear question

Example; you are having a conversation about your and your conversation partner’s group of friends. If your conversation partner notes that he thinks your group of friends is falling apart, the final question may be, for example; ,To what extent is it necessary for our group of friends to stay together?,. It makes more sense to talk about this further instead of discussing whether or not the group of friends is falling apart.

You are specific and give a clear example

Looking at the aforementioned example, one question might be; ,What shows that our group of friends is falling apart?,. A concrete answer must therefore be given to this, such as; ,four times in a row, three friends did not go to a festival that we always went to together.,

You switch off your own thoughts completely for a moment

This is a difficult task. During the conversation you will have to get rid of the thinking frameworks that you have always had. It is important that you ask questions to your conversation partner to find out what he means. For example, if your conversation partner says; ,I can never do well in other people’s eyes,, you can say; ,Hey, I’m not that insecure, I was once insecure too, but you just have to put that aside., That is your truth, but does not have to be the truth of your conversation partner. And this response probably won’t help either of you. A Socratic response to his comment could be; ,what does ,good, mean in your eyes?, or ,who do you mean by ,the others,?,. This brings you closer to the thoughts of your conversation partner and ultimately closer to wisdom.

You make room for other people’s wisdom

If you listen carefully to the other person, you give him the feeling that you have just as much wisdom as you have. Good listening also means; ask good questions. By asking good questions you can understand the other person better and the other person will feel better understood. This may also cause the other person to change their mind.

You always look for a hot spot

The heat point in the conversation is the moment when something grates; interlocutors feel that they will clash here. This is an important point during the conversation; this is where the wisdom necessary to answer the formulated question emerges. Self-reflection is an important part of this. In the example about the group of friends, it may now emerge that one conversation partner sees staying together as a group of friends as an important part of his life, while the other conversation partner believes that family life is becoming increasingly important. This is partly due to the situations of both conversation partners; one conversation partner is single, the other has a family. Now a good answer can be given to the question to what extent it makes sense for a group of friends to remain intact.

You use the cardinal virtues

Make sure you act on the 4 cardinal virtues during the conversation; justice, wisdom, courage and temperance. So make sure you are open to the other person’s opinion, let the other person feel that his opinion matters, make sure you learn something from the conversation, dare to admit your own mistakes and control your emotions.

You argue

Support what you say with observations. The point is that you can indicate how you acquired certain knowledge. Please give an example here.

You invite the other person to think

By asking the right questions, you ensure that your conversation partner starts thinking. Most likely not only during the conversation, but also afterward.

You base your statement

Statements you make are based on facts, on concrete examples that ,prove, your statement. When you make a statement, you give a concrete example.

You gain wisdom

When the conversation comes to an end, you as conversation partners have listened to each other’s wisdom, criticized it and reformulated it into a new wisdom that you can both agree with. If this succeeds, the purpose of the Socratic conversation has been achieved.

(Van Paridon, 2017)

Application of Socratic conversation in everyday life

Maybe someone you know keeps running into the same problem and you want to help him? Then formulate a question together, a theme that you want to investigate. From here you continue; you will describe your own experiences in concrete terms; with facts. After this, you will empathize with each other’s experience and make a statement about it. After this ,move, you will answer the question you have formulated together. The answer to this question must be properly argued. You confront each other if you notice that there are contradictions in your statements. Finally, you try to reach a consensus; you try to reach an agreement. (Van Paridon, 2017).

It seems quite an adjustment in your daily way of communicating , that Socratic conversation. However, after thorough practice, it becomes easier and more fun to have conversations in this way. Take your time and carefully choose the conversations you would like to have in the Socratic way. And, as Socrates himself said; the only thing you know for sure is that you know nothing. So, stay eager to learn and be open to new wisdom. Good luck! news highlighted

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