Socrates and the Socratic Method

Socrates by Leonidas Drosis, AthensAcademy of Athens
Image: DIMSFIKAS at Greek Wikipedia

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He remains an enigmatic figure in philosophy, because he did not leave as a single line of text. He is known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon. Nevertheless, you might consider his importance in the fact that all Greek philosophers are categorized in philosophers before (Pre-Socratic) and after Socrates.

Socrates is known for his unique style of conversations, including his own denial of knowledge. In his conversations, Socrates became the student and made those he questioned the teacher rejecting all attempts to pass off another person’s ideas or the beliefs of the majority as truth. Socrates wanted to entirely focus on the respondents own thinking and in the Socratic method, the philosopher focused on a person’s original and critical thinking in the context of life’s important questions and the importance of the human moral development. [1]


Explaining the Socratic Method is not easy, because there is no single and consistent definition due to the diversity with which ‘the method’ has been used in history. Even in delivered writings by Plato, there is not just one Socratic Method. According to Plato, the elenchus is the technique Socrates used to investigate ethical concepts such as justice or virtue. Elenchus is widely defined as an ‘argument of disproof or refutation, cross-examining, testing, scrutiny especially for purposes of refutation. It is believed that four steps have been used to do so. First, Socrates‘ interlocutor asserts a thesis which Socrates considers false and targets for refutation. He then secures his interlocutor’s agreement to further premises and argues that these further premises imply the contrary of the original thesis. In the last step, Socrates then claims that he has shown that his interlocutor’s thesis is false and that its negation is true. However, these steps are widely debated. It has especially been concerned whether this method leads to knowledge or whether it is used to refute false claims to knowledge. Other historians like W. K. C. Guthrie believe that the Socratic method actually aims to demonstrate one’s ignorance and that the recognition of a person’s ignorance may lead to knowledge. [2]It is believed, that Socrates applied his methods mainly to concepts that lacked a specific definition, including the virtues of piety, wisdom, courage, justice, and so on. In his investigations, Socrates challenged the implicit moral beliefs of the interlocutors, bringing out inadequacies and inconsistencies in their beliefs. Through investigating the inadequacies, Socrates also revealed his ignorance and it is believed that he thought his own awareness of his personal ignorance made him wiser than those who, though ignorant, still claimed knowledge. Apparently, the philosopher used his method to investigate a person’s moral believes. He claimed that ”


At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on ‘Life of Reason? Socrates vs. Alcibiades‘ by Lanier Anderson at Stanford University.

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