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Socratic method

Socratic method

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The Socratic method named after the classical Greek
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 philosopher
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking
Critical thinking
Critical thinking is the process or method of thinking that questions assumptions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, false, or sometimes true and sometimes false, or partly true and partly false. The origins of critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic...

 and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

al method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, strengthening the inquirer's own point.

The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of question
Question
A question may be either a linguistic expression used to make a request for information, or else the request itself made by such an expression. This information may be provided with an answer....

s formulated as tests of logic
Logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

 and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances. The extent to which this method is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, is called the method of maieutics
Maieutics
Maieutics is a pedagogical method based on the idea that the truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason but has to be "given birth" by answering intelligently proposed questions . The word is derived from the Greek "μαιευτικός", pertaining to midwifery.- Possible origin...

. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 attributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

.

Socrates began to engage in such discussions with his fellow Athenians
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 after his friend from youth, Chaerephon
Chaerephon
Chaerephon , of the Athenian deme Sphettus, was a loyal friend and follower of Socrates. He is known only through brief descriptions by classical writers and was "an unusual man by all accounts", though a man of loyal democratic values.-Life:...

, visited the Oracle of Delphi
Pythia
The Pythia , commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BC...

, which confirmed that no man in Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 was wiser than Socrates. Socrates saw this as a paradox
Paradox
Similar to Circular reasoning, A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition...

, and began using the Socratic method to answer his conundrum. Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

, however, wrote that Protagoras
Protagoras
Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue...

 invented the “Socratic” method.

Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 famously formalized the Socratic elenctic style in prose—presenting Socrates as the curious questioner of some prominent Athenian interlocutor—in some of his early dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

s, such as Euthyphro
Euthyphro
Euthyphro is one of Plato's early dialogues, dated to after 399 BC. Taking place during the weeks leading up to Socrates' trial, the dialogue features Socrates and Euthyphro, a man known for claiming to be a religious expert. They attempt to pinpoint a definition for piety.-Background:The dialogue...

and Ion
Ion (dialogue)
In Plato's Ion Socrates discusses with Ion, a professional rhapsode who also lectures on Homer, the question of whether the rhapsode, a performer of poetry, gives his performance on account of his skill and knowledge or by virtue of divine possession...

, and the method is most commonly found within the so-called "Socratic dialogue
Socratic dialogue
Socratic dialogue is a genre of prose literary works developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon - either dramatic or narrative - in which characters discuss moral and philosophical problems, illustrating a...

s", which generally portray Socrates engaging in the method and questioning his fellow citizens about moral and epistemological issues.

The term Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know...

is used to describe a kind of questioning in which an original question is responded to as though it were an answer. This in turn forces the first questioner to reformulate a new question in light of the progress of the discourse.

Method


Elenchus is the central technique of the Socratic method. The Latin form elenchus (plural elenchi ) is used in English as the technical philosophical term.

In Plato's early dialogues, the elenchus is the technique Socrates uses to investigate, for example, the nature or definition of ethical concepts such as justice or virtue. According to one general characterization, it has the following steps:
  1. Socrates' interlocutor
    Interlocutor
    Interlocutor may refer to:* Interlocutor , the master of ceremonies of a minstrel show* Interlocutor , someone who informally explains the views of a government and also can relay messages back to a government...

     asserts a thesis, for example "Courage is endurance of the soul", which Socrates considers false and targets for refutation.
  2. Socrates secures his interlocutor's agreement to further premises, for example "Courage is a fine thing" and "Ignorant endurance is not a fine thing".
  3. Socrates then argues, and the interlocutor agrees, that these further premises imply the contrary of the original thesis, in this case it leads to: "courage is not endurance of the soul".
  4. Socrates then claims that he has shown that his interlocutor's thesis is false and that its negation is true.


One elenctic examination can lead to a new, more refined, examination of the concept being considered, in this case it invites an examination of the claim: "Courage is wise endurance of the soul". Most Socratic inquiries consist of a series of elenchi and typically end in aporia
Aporia
Aporia denotes, in philosophy, a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement, and, in rhetoric, a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.-Definitions:...

.

Frede insists that step #4 above makes nonsense of the aporetic nature of the early dialogues. If any claim has been shown to be true then it cannot be the case that the interlocutors are in aporia, a state where they no longer know what to say about the subject under discussion.

The exact nature of the elenchus is subject to a great deal of debate, in particular concerning whether it is a positive method, leading to knowledge, or a negative method used solely to refute false claims to knowledge.

According to W. K. C. Guthrie
W. K. C. Guthrie
William Keith Chambers Guthrie was a Scottish classical scholar, best known for his History of Greek Philosophy, published in six volumes between 1962 and his death.-Early life and education:...

's The Greek Philosophers, while sometimes erroneously believed to be a method by which one seeks the answer to a problem, or knowledge, the Socratic method was actually intended to demonstrate one's ignorance. Socrates, unlike the Sophists, did believe that knowledge was possible, but believed that the first step to knowledge was recognition of one's ignorance. Guthrie writes, "[Socrates] was accustomed to say that he did not himself know anything, and that the only way in which he was wiser than other men was that he was conscious of his own ignorance, while they were not. The essence of the Socratic method is to convince the interlocutor that whereas he thought he knew something, in fact he does not.

Application


Socrates generally applied his method of examination to concepts that seem to lack any concrete definition; e.g., the key moral concepts at the time, the virtue
Virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

s of piety
Piety
In spiritual terminology, piety is a virtue that can mean religious devotion, spirituality, or a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions of piety is humility.- Etymology :...

, wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

, temperance
Temperance (virtue)
Temperance has been studied by religious thinkers, philosophers, and more recently, psychologists, particularly in the positive psychology movement. It is considered a virtue, a core value that can be seen consistently across time and cultures...

, courage
Courage
Courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation...

, and justice
Justice
Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics; justice is the act of being just and/or fair.-Concept of justice:...

. Such an examination challenged the implicit moral beliefs of the interlocutors, bringing out inadequacies and inconsistencies in their beliefs, and usually resulting in puzzlement known as aporia
Aporia
Aporia denotes, in philosophy, a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement, and, in rhetoric, a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.-Definitions:...

. In view of such inadequacies, Socrates himself professed his ignorance, but others still claimed to have knowledge. Socrates believed that his awareness of his ignorance made him wiser than those who, though ignorant, still claimed knowledge. While this belief seems paradoxical at first glance, it in fact allowed Socrates to discover his own errors where others might assume they were correct. This claim was known by the anecdote of the Delphic oracular pronouncement that Socrates was the wisest of all men. (Or, rather, that no man was wiser than Socrates.)

Socrates used this claim of wisdom as the basis of his moral exhortation. Accordingly, he claimed that the chief goodness consists in the caring of the soul concerned with moral truth and moral understanding, that "wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state", and that "life without examination [dialogue] is not worth living". It is with this in mind that the Socratic method is employed.

The motive for the modern usage of this method and Socrates' use are not necessarily equivalent. Socrates rarely used the method to actually develop consistent theories, instead using myth
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 to explain them. The Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

shows Parmenides using the Socratic method to point out the flaws in the Platonic theory of the Forms, as presented by Socrates; it is not the only dialogue in which theories normally expounded by Plato/Socrates are broken down through dialectic. Instead of arriving at answers, the method was used to break down the theories we hold, to go "beyond" the axioms and postulates we take for granted. Therefore, myth and the Socratic method are not meant by Plato to be incompatible; they have different purposes, and are often described as the "left hand" and "right hand" paths to the good and wisdom.

Law schools


The Socratic method is widely used in contemporary legal education by most law schools in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. In a typical class setting, the professor asks a question and calls on a student who may or may not have volunteered an answer. The professor either then continues to ask the student questions or moves on to another student.

The employment of the Socratic method has some uniform features but can also be heavily influenced by the temperament of the teacher. The method begins by calling on a student at random, and asking about a central argument put forth by one of the judges (typically on the side of the majority) in an assigned case. The first step is to ask the student to paraphrase the argument to ensure they read and basically understand the case. (Students who have not read the case, for whatever reason, must take the opportunity to "pass," which most professors allow as a matter of course a few times per term.) Assuming the student has read the case and can articulate the court's argument, the professor then asks whether the student agrees with the argument. The professor then typically plays Devil's advocate
Devil's advocate
In common parlance, a devil's advocate is someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, just for the sake of argument. In taking such position, the individual taking on the devil's advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative...

, trying to force the student to defend his or her position by rebutting arguments against it.

These subsequent questions can take several forms. Sometimes they seek to challenge the assumptions upon which the student based the previous answer until it can no longer be defended. Further questions can be designed to move a student toward greater specificity, either in understanding a rule of law or a particular case. The teacher may attempt to propose a hypothetical situation in which the student's assertion would seem to demand an exception. Finally professors can use the Socratic method to allow students to come to legal principles on their own through carefully worded questions that encourage a particular train of thought
Train of thought
The train of thought, stream of thought, trail of thought, or chain of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as the sequence itself, especially in discussion how this sequence leads from one idea to another.When a...

.

One hallmark of Socratic questioning is that typically there is more than one "correct" answer, and more often, no clear answer at all. The primary goal of the Socratic method in the law school setting is not to answer usually unanswerable questions, but to explore the contours of often difficult legal issues and to teach students the critical thinking skills they will need as lawyers. This is often done by altering the facts of a particular case to tease out how the result might be different. This method encourages students to go beyond memorizing the facts of a case and instead to focus on application of legal rules to tangible fact patterns. As the assigned texts are typically case law, the Socratic method, if properly used, can display that judges' decisions are usually conscientiously made but are based on certain premises, beliefs, and conclusions that are the subject of legitimate argument.

Sometimes, the class ends with a discussion of doctrinal foundations (legal rules) to anchor the students in contemporary legal understanding of an issue. At other times the class ends without such discussion leaving students to figure out for themselves the legal rules or principles that were at issue. For this method to work, the students are expected to be prepared for class in advance by reading the assigned materials (case opinions, notes, law review articles, etc.) and by familiarizing themselves with the general outlines of the subject matter.

Several excellent examples of the Socratic Method are portrayed in the 1973 film The Paper Chase, based on a 1970 novel by John J. Osborn, Jr., also titled The Paper Chase. Several scenes involve the interaction of members of Professor Kingsfields's first year Contracts Law course and clearly show how the Socratic method is used as a framework for presenting concepts in contract law to the students.

Psychotherapy


The Socratic method, in the form of Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know...

, has been adapted for psychotherapy, most prominently in Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy
Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy
Classical Adlerian individual psychotherapy, brief therapy, couple therapy, and family therapy follow parallel paths. Clients are encouraged to overcome their feelings of insecurity, develop deeper feelings of connectedness, and to redirect their striving for significance into more socially...

, Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach: a talking therapy. CBT aims to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic procedure in the present...

 and Reality Therapy
Reality Therapy
Reality therapy is an approach to psychotherapy and counseling. It was developed by the psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser in 1965. Reality therapy is considered a cognitive-behavioural approach to treatment ....

. It can be used to clarify meaning, feeling, and consequences, as well as to gradually unfold insight, or explore alternative actions.

Human resource training and development


The method is used by modern management training companies facilitating skills, knowledge and attitudinal change; e.g.
Acta Non Verba, Krauthammer
Krauthammer
Krauthammer is an international professional services company, whose main expertise is consultancy-based coaching and training...

, Gustav Käser Training International, Odyssey Ltd, Dynargie, Wendell Nekoranec.

The principal trainer acts as a facilitator who uses a high percentage of open questions to allow the participants to reflect critically on their own way of thinking, feeling, or behaving in a given context - usually involving a problem or desired outcome - and guiding participants to form the conclusion or an axiom
Axiom
In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

/principle/belief through their own efforts, potentially highlighting dissonance, conflicts of thought and actions with questions for further discussion.

The generalized form may then be elaborated with more specific detail through an example, e.g. a case study
Case study
A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

 led by the trainer.

Lesson plan elements for teachers in classrooms


This is a classical method of teaching that was designed to create autonomous thinkers.

There are some crucial lesson plan
Lesson plan
A lesson plan is a teacher's detailed description of the course of instruction for one class. A daily lesson plan is developed by a teacher to guide class instruction. Details will vary depending on the preference of the teacher, subject being covered, and the need and/or curiosity of children...

 elements to this form of teaching:

Planning methodology

  • Plan and build the main course of thought through the material.
  • Build in potential fallacies (errors) for discovery and discussion.
  • Know common fallacies.
  • It may help to start or check with the conclusion and work backwards.

Methodology in operation

  • The teacher and student agree on the topic of instruction.
  • The student agrees to attempt to answer questions from the teacher.
  • The teacher and student are willing to accept any correctly-reasoned answer. That is, the reasoning process must be considered more important than pre-conceived facts or beliefs.
  • The teacher's questions should expose errors in the students' reasoning
    Fallacy
    In logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an incorrect argumentation in reasoning resulting in a misconception or presumption. By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener or interlocutor , or take advantage of social relationships between people...

     or beliefs, then formulate questions that the students cannot answer except by a correct reasoning process. The teacher has prior knowledge about the classical fallacies (errors) in reasoning.
  • Where the teacher makes an error of logic or fact, it is acceptable for a student to draw attention to the error.


An informal discussion or similar vehicle of communication may not strictly be a (Socratic) dialogue. Therefore it is only suitable as a medium for the Socratic method where the principles are known by teachers and likely to be known by students. Additionally, the teacher is knowledgeable and proficient enough to spontaneously ask questions in order to draw conclusions and principles etc. from the students.

Within such a discussion it is preferable pedagogically, because the method encourages students to reason critically rather than appeal to authority
Authority
The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

 or use other fallacies.

See also

  • Institutional memory
    Institutional memory
    Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group...

  • Marva Collins
    Marva Collins
    Marva Collins is an American educator who in 1975 started Westside Preparatory School in Garfield Park, an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. She ran the school for more than 30 years until it closed in 2008 due to lack of sufficient enrollment and funding...

  • Rote learning
    Rote learning
    Rote learning is a learning technique which focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition by which students commit information to memory in a highly structured way. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the...

  • Sophistry
  • W. Clement Stone
    W. Clement Stone
    William Clement Stone was a businessman, philanthropist and New Thought self-help book author.-Early life and work:...


External links