Dialogue, Dialectic, and Maieutic: Plato's Dialogues As Educational Models
ABSTRACT: Plato’s Socrates exemplies the progress of the dialectical method of inquiry. Such a method is capable of actualizing an interlocutor’s latent potential for philosophizing dialectically. The dianoetic practice of Plato’s Socrates is a mixture of dialectical assertions and questions arising out of his ethical concern for the interlocutor. The Dialogues act as educational models exhibiting how one inquires and learns as well as how one must teach in order that others learn to be participants in (or practitioners of) the dialectic. This is the maieutic art of Plato’s Socrates with which he draws his interlocutors into stating and reflecting upon the implications of their uncritically held opinions. We could say that the real subject-matter of many of the Dialogues is at least as much education in the dialectical process while still respecting the literary form of the Dialogues as exhibitive construction. The lack of philosophical closure that often characterizes many of the Dialogues lends additional credence to this position. The subject-matter of many of the dialogues is, therefore, reflexive: it is about itself in the sense that the tacit lesson (practicing the dialectic) will be remembered after its ostensible subject (some philosophical problem) has ceased to be debated. Dialectic is, then, renewable and replicable as an educational method, using "psychagogy"—an instrument of maieutic—to determine first each student’s individual needs for guiding him toward understanding.
The Dialogues As Educational Models
Plato's Dialogues are intellectual, noetic experiences; as dramatizations of communicative interactions, they bring into exhibition claims and arguments in active confrontation with each other. The dramatized encounters hold in suspension the question of the validity or invalidity of the counter-claims and arguments, while yet allowing the reader-auditor to feel their force. As such the Dialogues instruct us, the reader, and the perceptive interlocutors of Plato's Socrates that philosophy, for Plato and his Socrates, is not necessarily just a body of true or false doctrines, of sound or unsound arguments. Nor does philosophy appear as only the power, rhetorical or logical, to win arguments (logomachy) or to make the weaker case appear the stronger (philonikia), which it was for the Sophists Zeno and Protagoras. Neither is assertion or dogma the proper concern of philosophy, if what Plato is doing in the Dialogues is to be termed philosophy. For Plato's Socrates, dialectic is hypothetical.(1) And it is arguable that Plato uses his Socrates to exemplify the progress of the dialectical method of inquiry, a method capable at given turns of becoming maieutic, of actualizing an interlocutor's latent potential for philosophizing dialectically.
The intellectual—or, better—dianoetic practice of Plato's Socrates is a mixture of dialectical assertions and...