Rethinking Business Ethics in an Age of Crisis
Studies in TransAtlantic Business Ethics series
Edited by Knut J. Ims and Lars J.T. Pedersen
Chapter 12: Socratic dialogue – designed in the Nelson–Heckmann tradition: a tool for reducing the theory–practice divide in business ethics
The present chapter is about Socratic dialogue as a specific small group conversation process design suggested by the German philosophers Leonard Nelson and Gustav Heckmann (inspired by Plato’s classical dialogues with Socrates as the ever-questioning main person, or communication “midwife”). This specific design is presented first, more or less as a short guided tour through some recommended literature. Then, three dialogue examples are presented and discussed. The chapter suggests that the business ethics community with its discourse ethics and stakeholder-dialogue tradition should consider and try out this design for how to walk the talk, offering the dialogue participants a learning by doing experience of what an ideal moral conversation could look like. Socratic dialogue (subsequently: SD) refers to a specific small group discussion process, following the design suggested by the German philosophers Leonard Nelson and Gustav Heckmann (inspired by Plato’s classical dialogues with Socrates as the ever-questioning main person, or communication “midwife”). On one of more and more Socratic dialogue “facilitator” websites, this design is presented as follows: Socratic Dialogue is practiced in small groups with the help of a facilitator, so that self-confidence in one's own thinking is enhanced and the search for truth in answer to a particular question is undertaken in common. No prior philosophical training is needed, provided participants are motivated to try the method, are willing to contribute their honest thoughts and to listen to those of others.
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