Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught? Or is it not teachable but the result of practice, or is it neither of these, but men possess it by nature or in some other way?
Socrates: I am so far from knowing whether virtue can be taught or not that I do not even have any knowledge of what virtue itself is. I blame myself for my complete ignorance about virtue. If I do not know what something is, how could I know what qualities it possesses?
Meno: I do not; but, Socrates, do you really not know what virtue is?
Socrates: I have never yet met anyone else who did know. But tell me yourself, what is virtue?
Meno: If you want a virtue of a man, it is easy to say that a man's virtue consists of being able to manage public affairs and in doing so to benefit his friends and harm his enemies and to be careful that no harm comes to himself. If you want the virtue of a woman, it is not difficult to describe: she must manage the home well, preserve its possessions, and be submissive to her husband.
Socrates: You think that there is a virtue for man and a virtue for woman. Do you think that there is one health for man and one health for woman? No, all human beings are good in the same way, for they become good by acquiring the same qualities.
The Socratic method of teaching is based on Socrates' theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to merely fill their heads with "right" answers.
Therefore, he regularly engaged his pupils in dialogues by responding to their questions with questions, instead of answers. This process encourages divergent thinking rather than convergent.
Open-ended questions allow students to think critically, analyze multiple meanings in text, and express ideas with clarity and confidence.
Dialogue is exploratory and involves the suspension of biases and prejudices.
Participants in a Socratic Debate respond to one another with respect by carefully listening instead of interrupting. Students are encouraged to "paraphrase" essential elements of another's ideas before responding, either in support of or in disagreement.
What is the difference between dialogue and debate?
- Dialogue is collaborative: multiple sides work toward shared understanding.
Debate is oppositional: two opposing sides try to prove each other wrong.
- In dialogue, one listens to understand, to make meaning, and to find common ground.
In debate, one listens to find flaws, to spot differences, and to counter arguments.
- Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant's point of view.
Debate defends assumptions as truth.
- Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
Debate creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
- In dialogue, one submits one's best thinking, expecting that other people's reflections will help improve it rather than threaten it.
In debate, one submits one's best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
- Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one's beliefs.
Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one's beliefs.
- In dialogue, one searches for strengths in all positions.
In debate, one searches for weaknesses in the other position.
- Dialogue respects all the other participants and seeks not to alienate or offend.
Debate rebuts contrary positions and may belittle or deprecate other participants.
- Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of answers and that cooperation can lead to a greater understanding.
Debate assumes a single right answer that somebody already has.
- Dialogue remains open-ended.
Debate demands a conclusion.
Dialogue is characterized by:
- suspending judgment
- examining our own work without defensiveness
- exposing our reasoning and looking for limits to it
- communicating our underlying assumptions
- exploring viewpoints more broadly and deeply
- being open to disconfirming data
- approaching someone who sees a problem differently not as an adversary, but as a colleague in common pursuit of better solution.