The Socratic method as an ideal dialogue

2 min read


Socratic questioning (or Socratic maieutics) was named after Socrates. He used a pedagogical method that focused on finding answers by asking his students questions. According to Plato, Socrates believed that "the disciplined practice of attentive questioning enables the scholar/student to investigate ideas and determine the validity of those ideas." Plato described this rigorous method of teaching as the teacher adopting an ignorant mindset in order to force the student to adopt the highest level of knowledge. In this way, the student is able to acknowledge contradictions, reinvent inaccurate or unfinished ideas, and critically determine necessary thoughts.

A particularly good example of this methodology is Plato's dialogue "Meno", in which Socrates discusses human virtue, attempting to show by means of his methodology that all knowledge is a memory. The idea is that humans have innate knowledge (perhaps acquired before birth) and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge from within.

Socratic questioning is based on the foundation that thought has a structured logic and allows us to question the underlying thoughts. It is a method of hypothesis elimination, finding better hypotheses by progressively identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. In principle, then, the scientific principle of falsification or approximation to the best possible description of a phenomenon, which is still in use today, is already set out here.

The meme reveals a general reproach as a joke: if Plato has recorded the dialogues of Socrates, then the result of the investigation is already known to him and he can arrange all steps in such a way that the overall picture is coherent - and Socrates' method succeeds. One could call this a kind of authorial framing. The dialogues are themselves idealized, so considered as examples of the Socratic method they also have an almost ideal value. It should be noted that by "dialogue" is not at all meant the conversation between two people, but the recognition through the logos - in this case the meaning through the spoken word. It is unimportant how many participants the conversation has.

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