Socrates’ method of engaging conversations with his fellow citizens has come to be known in history as the Socratic Dialectic or the Socratic Method, and its method of pursuing a given truth is still adopted by many university and public school teachers to the present day. It is the method that Plato adopted for the Republic and for all of his Dialogues.
Socrates’ (and Plato’s) method of opening a dialogue is in almost every instance to pose a question of meaning (to ask for a definition of a term or terms for the sake of forming up a logical argument). For example, Socrates might ask at the outset of a dialogue: “If you claim to be an honest man, how would you define honesty?” Or he might ask a person who claimed to be virtuous for a definition of virtue, or a person who claimed to be courageous for a definition of courage. And then Socrates might ask for examples of courageous, or virtuous, or honest behavior; or he might ask for analogues to those things. Thus Socrates conversed with the young men of Athens, young men who were apparently disenchanted with their teachers whom their parents had hired and who apparently did not know as much as Socrates knew.
But Socrates, who some claimed to be the wisest man, claimed to know nothing except that every person should carefully determine what he thinks he knows. He said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He taught that men claimed to come to wisdom through poetry and argument and music, when it was plain that they did not even know what they were doing. He also taught that politicians claimed to serve justice and to sit in judgment on their fellow citizens when at the same time those same politicians and “leaders” of the state could not even define justice and might, in fact, be said to be culpable of certain injustices perpetrated against their fellow citizens. How, Socrates asked, can any man claim to serve justice when that same man cannot even define justice? The question is still relevant in the twenty-first century. More →
Socrates (470-399 BC) was a Greek philosopher who, despite being considered one of the greatest and most important philosophers who ever lived, left no writings at all. Most of what we know about his life and work comes from the writings of his disciples, Xenophon and Plato. He lived during a period of transition in the Greek empire, and after the Peloponnesian War, he was tried, convicted, and executed for corrupting the young.
Socrates engaged in questioning of his students in an unending search for truth. He sought to get to the foundations of his students’ and colleagues’ views by asking continual questions until a contradiction was exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption. This became known as the Socratic Method, and may be Socrates’ most enduring contribution to philosophy. More →