The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 31

The Socratic Method of Conversation
as the Practice of Peace

The improper way to secure the peace for humanity is to wait until all the world is destroyed by war, then sit down to speak of making peace. Waiting until the brink of war to secure the peace is not much better. The best way to secure the peace for humanity is to educate people so they know how to embrace the habit of meeting challenges with peaceful composure. This begins with the principle articulated in Part I - The Art of Living, which is " Hospitality to the Stranger Within". When people who grow up knowing how to make peace with their own inner diversity, they learn to make peace with one another. As their own inner peacemaking progresses as a matter of the course of their daily living, they are much better prepared to work for peace in the world in the face of extraordinary events. Peacemaking is not the specialty of diplomats or only for those of exceptional gifts. Peacemaking is a vital function of each and every human being for each and every day of our lives. Peacemaking is not to be saved for the time when we are so sick of war that we simply cannot take it anymore.

The creation of peace is a part of the daily life of every citizen who seeks to improve themselves and their society. It is the daily truth of everyone who learns how to open themselves up with hospitality to the other within themselves. It is only when most citizens of the world are in the daily habit of working for peace within themselves that we have any chance at all of making lasting peace for the world. Peacemaking will only rise to sporadic and unreliable successes if it is merely a special occasion reserved only for the preventing or ending of wars. It is when the masses learn to be daily peacemakers through knowing how to work together in creating new understandings and solving problems that the power of the human capacity for peacemaking will rise to new and beautiful heights.

The Socratic method of conversation is not a strategy for peace. It is not a tactic to be used in a controlling manner. The effect is more organic. In the Socratic method of conversation, we walk through the doors of new discovery together. We learn to face challenges as valued members of the same team, not just in spite of our differences but because of our differences. We learn to greet one another in conversation and acknowledge our own power to say yes or no. We offer to put our deepest commitments at risk before those who join us in conversation by welcoming the right of the other to acknowledge their own power to say yes or no. The open and courteous mutuality of our embrace of this power creates a common human ground, and manifests the fertile and foundational shared space we need to work together in peace.

In Socratic conversation, we have the power to agree or to disagree in peace. This is not a peace that is merely the absence of overt conflict. It is a peace that is a creation of the same welcoming hospitality we must learn to give to ourselves. In extending hospitality to the stranger within us, we learn to give it to the neighbor who joins us in conversation. It is a peace born of the habit of responsible answerability. We can agree or disagree with one another in the knowledge that we will continue to be welcomed. As we continue to offer welcoming hospitality to the other in dialogue, we give one another the permission to offer our yes and our no to each other in peace. In doing so, we offer a fundamental yes to the other, which gives life affirming nurture to all of our yes saying and to all of our no saying. When this peaceful welcoming becomes a long term habit, it is transformed from a willfully chosen circumstance into naturally lived human character. This is how the Socratic method of conversation helps us to become the peace we want to see in the world.

We must build the foundation of peace with daily habit. Through the habit of Socratic conversation, the ability to meet challenges and work productively with one another in hospitable peace becomes the character of a person rather than just something in which we choose to participate. Practicing peace with the stranger within us[21] empowers us to engage in conversation with a human virtue of character that makes peace with the strangers who are our neighbors. Human nature dictates that when we behave in the same way again and again, we become our habits. A human being who embraces the habit of loving to challenge themselves in the context of peaceful dialogue can meet the challenges of the world with greater power to create peaceful dialogue in any setting.

The Socratic Method of conversation is fundamentally related to Socrates' imperative to improve ourselves. A human being, who is persistent in seeking her own self improvement in the context of highly challenging conversations, will develop character traits and human virtues that will help her resist the impulse to react with baser responses when the world's challenges would have her grovel in fear. The function of the Socratic method of conversation is not to facilitate the teaching of specific facts. Its function is to facilitate a process that helps people commit themselves to a life of seeking knowledge, wisdom, and the cultivation of human virtue in a peaceful and productive manner. The benefits of Socratic conversation are best realized when it becomes a habit that persists. One who persists in the Socratic way of communicating is on her way to affecting her character in positive ways.

The Socratic method of conversation is an important part of the character developing foundation of all education. Therefore, a properly educated human being is also a person who has the character of a peacemaker. I do not see a conflict in this between the needs of peace and the needs of war. Sometimes, when an external agency is sweeping over everything we know and love with hideous death and destruction, life demands that we stand up and stop it at all costs. The same practice of Socratic conversation that empowers people to be more virtuous in peaceful human relations, also empowers us to stand up with valor in war. The practice of Socratic conversation gives us strength to give our life energies for the making of peace. It also gives us strength to give up our lives in a time of war for what we believe is right. People who become accustomed to bringing their all to the table and putting if fully at risk in times of peaceful dialogue, shall also excel in risking their all during times of war.

The practice of Socratic conversation empowers peacemaking and also helps make better soldiers. This is because the daily practice of a Socratic philosophy of conversation, which guides the character of our human interactions, helps make better human beings. There is no innate conflict between the character of peacemaking and the needs for national defense. Both the courage to put our commitments at risk in the making of daily peace and the courage to risk our all in a time of war require a common virtue of human character. Socrates believed that we are morally bound to seek to benefit ourselves. In our quest to live well, he believed that being persistent in the quest to improve the justice and virtue of our human character was the heart of his ideal of living an examined life. To become more hospitable to the strangers that live in the diversity of our own minds is to discover and recognize our own value and virtue in the art of our own living. This act of hospitality to the self lays the foundation for building the heart of a peacemaker, who is capable of offering hospitality to the stranger in dialogue.


[21] Interpret "practice of peace with the stranger within us" in light of  Part I starting with the Subtitle "The Immanence of the Other" to the end.