Dr. Stephanie M. Scott
March 24, 2023
Week 2 Essay
How does Socrates, as portrayed by Plato, demonstrate the use of dialogue rather than monologue as a problem-solving device, and in what way(s) is this related to the concept of pluralism? What leadership lessons can we learn from Socrates’ and Plato’s understanding of pluralism? Word count: 450-600.
Socrates uses dialogue as a problem-solving tool by asking questions to clarify his understanding and cleverly identifying any fallacious statements. It is no surprise that the Socratic method is still prevalent in classrooms. Plato’s portrayal of Socrates shows us his beliefs were rooted in pluralism, as he challenges his peers with differing views to reach an understanding through these conversations. Socrates empathized with his peers and their values despite their convictions towards him. Even though he disagreed with their ruling, rather than alter his value system to reject them, he accepted their decision and his ultimate execution even when he had the opportunity to escape (Clemens & Mayer, p53-63).
In Plato’s The Trial and Death of Socrates, the dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates on what is pious and impious demonstrates how verbal exchange can challenge the parties to articulate their viewpoints clearly and prove them with logic. Euthyphro explains to Socrates that something is impious if the Gods disapprove of it, and Socrates challenges this notion by questioning how we can know if all Gods would disapprove. Proving the point that Euthyphro only described a quality of it: “that the pious has the quality of being loved by all gods” (Plato, p13). However, Euthyphro still needs to clearly explain his view of what is pious and impious.
Socrates’s dialogue with Euthyphro also highlights how Socrates was able to identify early examples of Berlin’s assertion on pluralism that ‘the world that we encounter…we are faced with a choice between ends equally ultimate, and claims equally absolute’ (Cherniss & Hardy, 2022), For example, when Socrates points out how pious and god-love are not the same (Plato, p18). The dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro demonstrates how Socrates rejected monism and the extremism thinking it breeds. Socrates’s genuine curiosity about the differing values of his peers is rooted in the bedrock belief of pluralism of empathetic understanding of each culture on its terms.
Those who wish to lead effectively can learn much from Socrates’s conception of pluralism. Socrates, and later Berlin, understood “that there is a plurality of ideals, as there is a plurality of temperaments and cultures” and “respect between (even widely divergent, multiple, and competing) systems of values…is possible (Scott, 2023). Taking actions that show a desire to understand conflicting points of view is a fundamental component of the Socratic method. Influential leaders have been adopting this management style for decades. For example, Jack Welch, the renowned former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., would conduct town-hall-style meetings where open dialogue and discussion were encouraged and used to foster ideas and critical thinking (Clemens & Mayer, p69-70).
Plato’s perspective of pluralism on leadership also offers insight into the necessary balancing act of pleasing the multitude while retaining accountability. Leaders can only sometimes manage by the committee and remain effective. Many occasions call for swift action and discipline, requiring the leader to work more as a benevolent tyrant (Clemens & Mayer, p60).
As a final point of the power of management by questions, we look to Alfred P. Sloan, the man responsible for saving General Motors from bankruptcy in the 1920s. He shocked colleagues by ceasing to progress on any decision if there had not been some disagreement and dialogue leading to that consensus. Sloan saw the power of a plurality of opinions and the subtle power of the Socratic method (Clemens & Mayer, p70-71).
Cherniss, Joshua and Henry Hardy, “Isaiah Berlin,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2022/entries/berlin/>.
Clemens, J. K., & Mayer, D. F. (1999). The Classic Touch: Lessons in Leadership from Homer to Hemingway. Contemporary Books.
Plato. (2000). The Trial and Death of Socrates. (G. M. A. Grube, Trans., J. M. Cooper, Ed.). Hackett Publishing Company.
Scott, S. M. (2023, January 3). INTRODUCTORY COURSE LECTURE. canvas.upenn.edu. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://canvas.upenn.edu/courses/1692512/pages/introductory-course-lecture?module_item_id=26293303