Six Types of Socratic Questioning

– Expanding content from R.W. Paul and various other sources


Lest you are accused of corrupting the youth and is sentenced to death, Socratic questioning is usually a very effective tool in this age of Truth™.


1. Questions for clarification

Get them to think more about what exactly they are asking or thinking about. Prove the concepts behind their argument. Use basic ‘tell me more’ questions that get them to go deeper. Let them explain their position and understand it.

Examples:

  • Why do you say that?
  • What do you mean by ____ ?
  • How does this relate to our discussion?
  • Can you rephrase that, please?

2. Questions that probe assumptions

Probing their assumptions makes them think about the presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs on which they are founding their argument. This is shaking the bedrock and should get them really going!

Examples:

  • What could we assume instead?
  • How can we verify or disprove that?
  • On what basis should we think that way?
  • Do you agree or disagree with ____ ?
  • What would happen if ____ ?

3. Questions that probe rationale, reasons and evidence

When they give a rationale for their arguments, dig into that reasoning rather than assuming it is a given. People often use un-thought-through or weakly-understood supports for their arguments.

Examples:

  • What would be an example of ____?
  • What is ____ analogous to?
  • What do you think causes ____ to happen? Why?
  • Are these reasons good enough?
  • Why? (keep asking it — you’ll never get past a few times)
  • How might it be refuted?
  • Why? (keep asking it — you’ll never get past a few times)

4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives

Most arguments are given from a particular position. So attack the position but also understand it. Show that there are other equally valid, if not even more valid, viewpoints.

Examples:

  • Would you explain why it is necessary or beneficial?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of ____?
  • Is there another way to look at it?
  • What would be an alternative?
  • How are ____ and ____ similar?
  • What is a counterargument for ____?
  • Who benefits from these?
  • What can you say about it?

5. Questions that probe implications and consequences

The argument that they give may have logical implications that can be forecast. Do these make sense? Are they desirable?

Examples:

  • What are the consequences of ____?
  • If ____ happened, wouldn’t it result in ____?
  • What generalizations can you make?
  • What are the implications?
  • How does ____ tie in with what we’ve learned before?
  • How does ____ affect ____?

6. Questions about the question

You can also get reflexive about the whole thing, turning the question in on itself. Use their attack against themselves. Bounce the ball back into their court, etc.

Examples:

  • What was the point of the question?
  • Why do you think did I ask this question?
  • What does ____ mean?
  • Am I making sense? If no, why not?

Remember that the overall purpose is to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that acts to move people towards their ultimate goal: Understanding how and why it works (or not works).

But sadly, seldom do people give a damn about getting to the bottom of things and understanding why people think what they think. Then they wonder why there is a divide that only grows all the more bigger. How quaint.

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