04 Aug Advice on Socratic Conversation
Many students have not previously had the opportunity to participate in Socratic conversations. In his essay “Notes on Dialogue” Stringfellow Barr offers some great advice on how to participate in a Socratic conversation.
For instance, Barr suggests that listening is just as important as talking in a Socratic conversation, what he refers to as a dialectic conversation:
“In dialectic, ‘participational democracy’ consists in everybody’s listening intently; it does not consist in what commercial television calls equal time. When a good basketball team has the ball, its members do not snatch the ball from each other but support the man who has it, and the man who has it passes it to a teammate whenever a pass is called for by the common purpose of the team. But in dialectic, as opposed to basketball, the ‘opposing team’ is composed only of the difficulties all men face when they try to understand. The point is that, in dialectic, it does not matter whose mouth gets used by the dialectical process, provided all are listening intently and exercise the freedom to interrupt with a question if they do not understand.”
Later, Barr reiterates the importance of listening:
“(We) will need to be close listeners, in the event that we take Socrates’ advice; we shall, indeed, have to be closer listeners than we now are.”
Barr also offers the “first rule” of Socratic conversation:
“Perhaps the first rule of Socratic dialectic was laid down by Socrates: that we should follow the argument wherever it leads. Presumably, this means that some sorts of relevance that a court pleading should exhibit (and, even more the forensic eloquence that pleading encourages) are irrelevant to dialectic. The deliberate manner, and even more the ponderous manner, are mere impediments. The name of the game is not instructing one’s fellows, or even persuading them, but thinking with them and trusting the argument to lead to understanding sometimes to very unexpected understandings.”
Finally, in his essay, Barr suggests the importance of playfulness:
“There is only one, final rule of thumb that I would offer: When free minds seek together for greater understanding, they tend to move, as the mind of Socrates so characteristically moved-with playfulness and a sense of the comic.”
Read the entire essay here.
Chad Redwing, Ph.D, University of Chicago, Humanities
Academic Editor, Confluence Courseware