The Socratic Method


Socrates’s method, also called maieutics, consisted in helping his interlocutors to become aware of their own contradictions, so that they would correct themselves and get closer to truth.

I am taking an example from my book Socrates’s Letter. Aspasia and her son come to visit him in his prison, and Socrates has a short discussion with the son:

“Her son said he had understood my teaching and could resume it as follows: one must be tolerant. Here is the rest of our conversation:

Me: Do you mean that everything should be tolerated?

He: Certainly, Socrates, that’s exactly what one must do.

Me: So then one must tolerate thieves.

He: Oh no, Socrates, certainly not.

I didn’t insist as he seemed embarrassed.”

The embarrassment is at the source of the grasping of consciousness that will bring the son to surmount his current conception.

Note that the same approach to intellectual growth is taken by Piaget. The idea is that cognitive progress is facilitated when the way things are understood is disturbed or contradicted.

Moessinger, P. (1977). Piaget on contradiction.Human Development, 20, 178-184.