August 17, 2008

Death of the Socratic Method

This was first published November 6th, 2004:

For all those who don't know what the Socratic method of debate is, it's answering questions only with leading questions to allow your opponent to come to the exact same conclusion you did logically.

Will this method work today? Unfortunately very rarely. It is the best method of debate, ever, for it is based on two concepts: logic and working with the person's vanity. If they arrive to the conclusion themselves, then they have to admit its right. Very powerful style. But it requires that greatest amount of patience on both sides. To use the method, you have to have fully thought out your side, and ask the correct questions based upon your adversary's original question. Second, they have to be willing to endure you asking all the questions and them giving all the answers, which usually requires you to be an authority. Third, it takes a long time, which is unacceptable in today's culture.

The method can only be used if someone asks you your opinion, and you use the method to present it. It is pleading the case without the other person having a rebuttal. Plus, since it takes forever, most people will just want you to get to the point.

I have developed my own style which isn't as good, but seems more appropriate for our culture. I call it, the endurance method. The subject is presented, and when the other person becomes emotional, which they always do, let them rant. Listen carefully to the rant and find a single chink in the armor, just one. If one is not found, inspire a second rant.

Once one is found, plead their case. This is the most important part of the method, and requires for you to have a full understanding of the argument. List, in detail, the points that you fully agree with to the point where it seems that you must agree with them completely. This will cause them to drop their guard. This is like the Socratic method where it feasts upon the other person's vanity. They become comfortable in hearing how right they are. Then present that single chink in a devastating way. The point is not to win, the point is to create a sense of doubt. After this, walk away, and let the wound fester. They will return asking for your full opinion and then you give it.

I like my method, but it only works if the other person gets emotional. It can work other times too, but it basically requires you to pay attention not to their points, but to the underlying reason why they believe what they believe. You are attacking the foundation, but first you must find it. That takes patience on your part, but none from them.

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