Socratic Oath

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When I was a teenager, one of the things I most wanted to do was paw through the Playboy magazines that my father kept under lock and key in his study. Dad said he had the magazines for the articles. I was interested in the pictures.

Dad made me a deal. He would give me free run of his Playboys on one condition. I had to read a book of Plato’s Dialogues and discuss what I read with him.

I don’t recall a single picture from those magazines. But the Dialogues had a powerful effect on me.

I learned that most discussions start with unexamined assumptions. Discovering what those are is the powerful first step to critical thinking.

I learned that questions are powerful tools for understanding and teaching. Learning to ask good questions can help you do both.

And I learned that there is value in probing for underlying reasons, assumptions, and prejudices. When Socrates, in the Phaedo, wants to compliment Cebes he says this: “Here is a man who is always inquiring and is not so easily convinced by the first thing which he hears.”

Physicians have their Hippocratic Oath. I think that those of us who analyze issues and situations and make decisions should have a Socratic Oath. Here’s how I would word it.

“I promise, first of all, to seek out and analyze the unspoken assumptions. I promise to use questions to aid my thinking and analysis and to guide me in the way of truth. I promise to have evidence inform my decisions and make those decisions. with virtue in mind.”


Asking questions of yourself and others is a key to informed analysis and decision-making. Here are some resources to help you ask more and better questions.

Leading with Questions: How Leaders Discover Powerful Answers by Knowing How and What to Ask by Michael J. Marquardt and Bob Tiede

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier

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