Critical thinking is driven by questions, not answers.
Everyone has heard of Socrates, one of the greatest educators in history who led his students to knowledge and wisdom by asking questions. Socratic questioning is useful in strategic thinking because it allows us to challenge everything from the accuracy of a statement to the paradigm that supports it, thus encouraging a more in-depth exploration of ideas, concepts, and expected conclusions. Socratic questioning leads to systems thinking, strengthens observation and assessment skills, and helps us focus on the truth or rationality of ideas or issues.
Socrates used six types of questions with his students.
Questions that clarify concepts
These are questions that help us prove the concepts behind a particular argument or stance. They take the form of “tell me more” questions.
188.8.131.52.1. What do you mean?
184.108.40.206.2. Why are you saying that?
220.127.116.11.3. What is your main point?
18.104.22.168.4. How does [a] relate to [b]?
22.214.171.124.5. Could you put that another way?
126.96.36.199.6. What do you think is the main issue here?
188.8.131.52.7. Let me see if I understand you. Do you mean _____ or _____?
184.108.40.206.8. Could you summarize that?
220.127.116.11.9. Could you give me an example?
18.104.22.168.10. Would this be an example: ____?
22.214.171.124.11. Please explain that further.
126.96.36.199.12. Could you expand on that?
Questions that probe assumptions
These questions encourage us to think about the presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs on which we have founded our argument.
188.8.131.52. What are you assuming?
184.108.40.206. What is he or she assuming?
220.127.116.11. What could we assume instead?
18.104.22.168. You seem to be assuming ____. Do I understand you correctly?
22.214.171.124. All of your reasoning depends on the idea that ____. Why have you based your reasoning on ____ rather than ____?
126.96.36.199. How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
188.8.131.52. You seem to be assuming ____. How would you justify taking this for granted?
184.108.40.206. Is it always the case? Why do you think the assumption holds here?
220.127.116.11. Why would someone make this assumption?
18.104.22.168. What would happen if … ?
Probing rationale, reasons, and evidence
When people rationalize arguments, this type of question digs into their reasoning rather than accepting that the assumptions they’re basing them on are given. We often use under-considered or weakly-understood supports for arguments.
22.214.171.124.1. Show me what you mean—got an example?
126.96.36.199.2. How do you know?
188.8.131.52.3. Why do you think that’s true?
184.108.40.206.4. Do you have any evidence for that?
220.127.116.11.5. What difference does that make?
18.104.22.168.6. What are your reasons for saying that? Might they be refuted?
22.214.171.124.7. What other information do we need?
126.96.36.199.8. Could you explain your reasons to us?
188.8.131.52.9. Are these reasons adequate?
184.108.40.206.10. Can you explain how you logically got from [a] to [b]?
220.127.116.11.11. Do you see any difficulties with their reasoning here?
18.104.22.168.12. Why did you say that?
22.214.171.124.13. What led you to that belief?
126.96.36.199.14. How does that apply to this case?
188.8.131.52.15. What would change your mind?
184.108.40.206.16. But is that good evidence to believe that?
220.127.116.11.17. Is there reason to doubt that evidence?
18.104.22.168.18. Who is in a position to know if that is so?
22.214.171.124.19. What would you say to someone who said ____?
126.96.36.199.20. Can someone else give evidence to support that response?
188.8.131.52.21. By what reasoning did you come to that conclusion?
184.108.40.206.22. On what authority are you basing your arguments?
220.127.116.11.23. How could we find out whether that is true?
Questions that explore viewpoints and perspectives
These questions point to the idea that most arguments are based on a set position, but that there are other, equally valid viewpoints.
F. You seem to be approaching this issue from ____ perspective. Why have you chosen this rather than ______ perspective?
G. How would other groups/types of people respond? Why? What would influence them?
H. How could you answer the objection that ____ would make?
I. What might someone who believed ____ think?
J. Can/did anyone see this in another way?
K. What would someone who disagrees say?
L. What is an alternative?
M. What is the difference between _______ and _______?
N. Another way of looking at this is ______. Does this seem reasonable?
O. Why is ________ necessary?
P. Who benefits from this perspective and its implications?
Q. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your argument?
Questions about an idea’s implications and consequences
These questions help thinkers explore the logical implications and consequences of their ideas and conceptions to make sure they are both sensible and desired.
R. What are you implying by that?
S. When you say ____, are you implying ____?
T. But if that happened, what would happen as a result? Why?
U. What effect would that have?
V. What is the best _____? Why?
W. Would that necessarily happen or only probably happen?
X. What is the probability of this result?
Y. What is an alternative?
Z. If this and this are the case, then what else must also be true?
AA. If we say that [a] is unethical, how about [b]?
BB. How could _____ be used to ______?
Questions about the question
Sometimes it helps the creative process to ask reflexive questions – questions that turn a discussion back on itself so that its very framing can be examined.
18.104.22.168.1. What does this question assume?
22.214.171.124.2. Would ____ put the question differently?
126.96.36.199.3. How could someone settle this question?
188.8.131.52.4. Can we break this question down at all?
184.108.40.206.5. Is the question clear? Do we understand it?
220.127.116.11.6. Is this question easy or hard to answer? Why?
18.104.22.168.7. Does this question ask us to evaluate something?
22.214.171.124.8. Do we all agree that this is the question?
126.96.36.199.9. To answer this question, what questions would we have to answer first?
188.8.131.52.10. I’m not sure I understand how you are interpreting the main question at issue.
184.108.40.206.11. Is this the same issue as ____?
220.127.116.11.12. Why is this question important?
18.104.22.168.13. Does this question lead to other questions or issues?
22.214.171.124.14. Are we making sense?
126.96.36.199.15. What else should we be asking?
Point of origin questions
Where did the idea come from in the first place? Is it a worthwhile source?
188.8.131.52.16. Where did you get this idea?
184.108.40.206.17. Do others feel the same way?
220.127.116.11.18. Have you been influenced by the media [or some other source]?
18.104.22.168.19. Have you always felt this way?
22.214.171.124.20. What caused you to feel this way?
126.96.36.199.21. Is this your idea, or did you get it from someone else?
Preparing for a dialogue using Socratic questioning
Best to pre-think the main question to be discussed and consider the set of questions the main question presupposes. If the main question relates to assessing the spiritual health of the temples in your area of responsibility, you need to first have a definition for “spiritual health” and even for “temples.” [This can be explored in your dialogue.] If you want to examine the culture of your temple or zone, you would first need to define “culture.” The answer to that presupposes other questions. Construct a list of presupposed questions, always guided by your main topic. Your list will help you probe the logic of the main question as you facilitate the discussion.
Facilitating the dialogue
CC. Choose a question or issue of interest and create a “central statement” in response to this question or issue.
DD. Clarify the statement and its relationship to the question or issue.
EE. Explore and examine the support, reasons, evidence, and assumptions related to the central statement.
FF. Where did the statement originate? Examine the value of that source.
GG. Discuss and critically examine the implications and consequences of the statement.
HH. Fairly evaluate conflicting or alternative points of view.
Further notes on facilitation of Socratic dialogue
II. Respond to answers with further questions.
JJ. Listen carefully. Try to understand clearly what is being said so that both its base assumptions and implications can be explored through further questioning.
KK. Treat all assertions as a connecting point to further thoughts. Try not to let the dialogue dead-end. Through questioning, stimulate those coming forward with thoughts to develop the connections themselves.
LL. Treat all thoughts, regardless of their source, as in need of further development. This is a democratic process.
MM. Be open to participants bringing up presupposed questions you didn’t consider.
NN. Recognize that all ideas reflect some sort of agenda. What is the speaker trying to accomplish by what he or she is saying?
OO. All ideas are based on a body of information known specifically to the speaker. Consider asking questions that brings that information base to light for the rest of the participants.
PP. Recognize that all thoughts are based on a body of assumptions you and/or the other participants may or may not share or even be aware of. Try to bring these out through questioning.
QQ. Everyone’s thoughts are based on personal experience – whether that experience be concrete or vicarious, it has created a set of assumptions and a body of knowledge. Using the six types of questions, try to discover the implications of what the speaker is saying as the speaker sees them.