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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 3, 1998

Ancient Philosophy

David Fortunoff
Pages 121-131

Dialogue, Dialectic, and Maieutic
Plato’s Dialogues As Educational Models

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.

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