Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tweaking Socrates

I found an interesting critique of the Socratic Method here: link  The author gives a brief summary of the method and enough links to start an earnest discussion, which the commenters took up.

One visual image which struck me was provided by commenter Jay in that link:
Assisting them in coming to that conclusion by providing with some questions for them to answer in their own words just facilitates that, and is a much more efficient way to prevail your point than simply telling them what it is and insisting on it’s superiority.
I say "visual image" because Linus Pauling's notion of catalysis sprang immediately to my mind: the lowering of barriers to change.  I illustrated this back here:

A deployer* of the Socratic Method lowers the tipping point of going from position A to position B. This is consonant with what the commenter Jay said. But suppose that the change from A to B is uphill because that change is difficult? Or suppose that that change is flat out wrong?  Suppose that the deployer of the Socratic Method is wrong in his or her conclusions, i.e., about the desirability of new position B?  In other words, suppose that someone deploying the Socratic Method successfully lowers the barrier to changing a deployee's* mind, but that the subsequent state of the deployee is unstable or even wrong? The deployee will easily fall back to position A with little or no effort (note that the backwards B -->A barrier is much, much lower than the forward barrier).

One way to avoid such a Sisyphean struggle is for the deployers of the Socratic method to themselves be subjected to Socratic methods to test the stability of the points they are trying to encourage.  In theory, this should work. But suppose that deployers of Socratic methods themselves avoid or dodge Socratic encounters?

In nature, there are enzymes which work on enzymes and not just on lowly substrates.

Who mocks the mockers?
*I'm using deployer/deployee nomenclature to mean that the person deploying the Socratic Method is the teacher and that the person being worked on is the deployee (student).

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