Essay on The Educational Value of Plato's Early Socratic Dialogues

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The Educational Value of Plato's Early Socratic Dialogues

ABSTRACT: When contemplating the origins of philosophical paideia one is tempted to think of Socrates, perhaps because we feel that Socrates has been a philosophical educator to us all. But it is Plato and his literary genius that we have to thank as his dialogues preserve not just Socratic philosophy, but also the Socratic educational experience. Educators would do well to better understand Plato's pedagogical objectives in the Socratic dialogues so that we may appreciate and utilize them in our own educational endeavors, and so that we may adapt the Socratic experience to new interactive educational technologies. Plato designed his Socratic dialogues to arm students for real
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and the proclivity for censorship expressed in Book II, that definitional Socratic dialogues such as Euthyphro, Ion, and Laches would have been banned from schools in his own ideal state. But what can we learn from these enigmatic riddles? We know from the Laws (811cd) that Plato considered his own collected works to be a model for educational literature. Aristotle's familiarity with the dialogues further suggests their use in Plato's own Academy. Finally, Socrates' conversations with youths ranging from Meno's slave boy, to Lysis, Menexenus, Charmides, and later, Theaetetus, suggest clearly that Plato thought philosophical dialogue was an important part of education. Plato's earliest dialogues may have been excluded from paideia in his ideal Republic, but they had definite educational value in the real world of ancient Athens, and perhaps in our own world today.

Plato designed his early Socratic dialogues to arm students for real challenges and temptations. First, the dialogues, in both form and function, attempt to replicate the Socratic experience for their readers. They demand from their readers what Socrates demanded from his interlocutors: active learning, self-examination, and an appreciation for the complexity and importance of wisdom. Second, the dialogues challenge the conflation of professional and personal excellence, best exemplified by sophists such as

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