The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 19

Of Philosophy and Method

I will not seek to define "the" Socratic method, nor attempt to articulate "the" correct Socratic philosophy. Instead, I will seek to articulate the fundamental principles that must underlie any implementation of the Socratic method of conversation. This will leave open a broad range of possibilities for the innovations of others.

If we take our cue from Plato, we should have limited attachment to the historical Socrates. Plato ditches Socrates in latter writings where the Socrates of the earlier dialogues, and the associated methodological focus, are gone. This freedom to go our own way also needs to apply to the preferences of Plato in presenting Socrates to us. The dialogues of Plato should be used as a springboard for our own explorations, not as an infallible bible that defines our limits of thought and creativity.

Regarding the historical Socrates, my main impression about Socrates vs. Plato is that he was much more content with being agnostic (this is an epistemological not a religious reference) than was Plato. Socrates was also very focused on the importance of improving the character of citizens. Good living through good character is the paradigm of operations for the focus of Socrates' lifestyle that has become known as the examined life. I believe that Plato's selective presentation of Socrates artificially enhances the perception of Socrates as having a "method". This is not to say that Socrates worked in the absence of methodological considerations. However, this essay will focus on the character developing potential of all possible constructions of the Socratic method. These principles will be valid regardless of the methodological variance of the individual Socratic facilitator.

Prior to methodological considerations, it is important to consider the philosophical foundations of all possible constructions of methods that merit the name Socratic. Much of the rich benefit of the Socratic method of conversation can be realized through a philosophical grounding concerning the nature of human dialogue. The attitude and character of people in dialogue make a great difference to the quality of the results. The Socratic method of conversation offers powerful benefits as a philosophy of human interaction prior to any methodological considerations.