#9 – What’s in a Question? The Art of Asking Good Questions

Socratic dialogue, that is, the art of seeking the truth through questions and discussion — famously demonstrated by Socrates — lies at the heart of the Online Great Books community. Yet what made Socrates’ approach work was his knack for asking good, probing, thought-provoking questions. So what isa good question anyway?


Scott and fellow reader Jim Furr discuss their ideas on what makes a good question. They both agree that, foremost, a good question is open-ended. It does not presuppose an answer or lead the conversant toward a particular idea. Asking an honest question is more difficult than it sounds! A good interlocutor — the moderator of the small groups at Online Great Books — asks good, honest questions and holds his group to the same standard, withoutattempting to teach or profess. As Scott says, the interlocutor is merely the first among equals in the discussion group.


Scott and Jim offer some good questions to ask yourself when approaching a piece of literature:

  1. Why do people continue to read this book? There are lots of books from all periods of human history, but what makes thisbook so important? For instance, why is the Iliadand the Odysseyso seminal in Greek literature, instead of Prometheus Bound?
  2. Why was this book written?
  3. What can we learn about human nature from reading this book?
  4. Has human nature changed since this book was written? Are people the same now as they were at the time of writing?
  5. How did this book change the course of thought in history?


These are just a few important questions to ponder whether you’re picking up the Iliadfor the first time, or you’re several books deep in to the Great Books progression.


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