The Socratic Method and the Nature of Philosophy

Topic: EducationTeacher
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Last updated: April 18, 2019

Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher. It is a common misconception among students to consider him as the father of philosophy.

The actual father of western philosophy is Thales of Miletus since he was the first person to explain the origin of the world without the use of myths. There are no actual accounts to prove that Socrates actually existed since he never wrote anything. Instead, all the stories about him were written by his followers, most notably Plato, who presented him in most of his works such as The Republic, Apology, etc. Given this, most scholars considered Socrates as a mouthpiece of Plato rather than an actual person. Although this topic may lead to further debate, we shall leave this topic for another discussion.Socrates is known to have used a method of questioning called the Socratic Method as his tool to philosophize. The Socratic Method is a dialogue composed of a set of questions that tackle moral and ethical questions.

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The method works by Socrates asking a question, the person answering it, and then Socrates would ask another question about what the person said. This process would just continue and would delve in various ideas until both of them would come with an agreement. It used as a mean for the person Socrates was talking with to develop new ideas, which gave Socrates the nickname of the “midwife of ideas” since he never did give his students new ideas but simply guided them into giving birth of these ideas with the questions he asked.The use of the Socratic Method is deeply bound with other aspects of his philosophy. The Socratic Method was used to help the student or a person know more and life. Socrates said “an unexamined life is not worth living” this basically means that we often tend to take certain things in our life for granted without even explaining why. The method Socrates provides can show us that the things we usually take for granted are not that simple at all and can also help give us clarifications of these ideas.

Aside from clarifying ideas, the method can also be used as a means to let a person know more about themselves. As the person continues to answer certain questions, certain facts about themselves may soon unfold throughout the dialogue. Finally, another purpose of the Socratic Method was basically to show that we really cannot have a full comprehension of the world. Socrates used the method to challenge people who would claim certain universal truths to show them that these proclamations do not fully describe the world. Socrates was also famous for the phrase “I know that I know nothing” which implies that as you continue to learn more about the world you would simply wind up with more questions about it rather that having a clearer understanding.Let us now move to two certain examples wherein the Socratic Method was used.First was in the book Apology. The book discusses Socrates trail for corrupting the minds of the youth.

The book ends with Socrates being charged with the crime and sentenced to death by drinking a cup of poison.In the book, Socrates cross-examines Meletus who was the only accuser whom Socrates had a dialogue with. Socrates begins by asking if he did have a negative influence on the youth, then what is it that makes people good? Meletus responded by saying that it is the law that makes people good. Socrates then urges Meletus to clarify this claim. Meletus expounds his idea by saying that people who know about the law such as the Councilors and members of the Assembly have a good influence on the youth. However, the assembly is open to all male citizens of Athens which implies that each and every male in Athens, except Socrates, has a good influence over the youth. Socrates then moves his discussion to horses and the influence that horse-trainers have on them.

According to Socrates, only those with such expertise can actually influence the behavior of the horse. Here Socrates is implying that if only professional horse-trainers can actually influence horses, then it would be improbable for a common citizen to actually have a great influence over anyone.Next, Socrates discussion leads Meletus into saying how wicked people hurt society intentionally. Socrates states that he cannot be wicked since he would also be hurting himself if he were to hurt the entire society which he is a part of. This leads Socrates to showing Meletus that those who unintentionally hurting the society should be guided and not punished.Finally, Socrates talks about Meletus accusation that Socrates does not believe in any of the gods. Socrates was able to prove that he does believe in the gods since he teaches the youth to believe in supernatural matters.

And it would illogical to Socrates for him to teach the youth into believing in supernatural matters without even believing in supernatural beings.Another book that presented how the Socratic Method worked was in the book “The Republic” in Socrates dialogue with Cephalus regarding justice. According to Cephalus the nature of justice is basically telling the truth and paying your debts. Socrates reply to this was simple. Socrates showed Cephalus that if one were to borrow a friend’s knife or sword and this friend would suddenly become crazy and ask for a repayment of this debt, then would you tell your friend the truth that he has gone mad and repay the debt? The answer is obviously no. It was here that Socrates was able to show Cephalus that justice does not necessarily mean that you should tell the truth and repay your debts.Given these examples, I would have to say that the Socratic Method is very effective.

This allows you to present the people the errors of their reasoning without even using other anti-theses for a rebuttal. The Socratic Method also allows you to have an extensive look at the arguments of a person and show them that what they thought were very solid facts are not as reliable as they thought. Since the method is able to show the errors of reasoning and the shaky premises of a person they are able to re-evaluate their ideas, develop them further, and arrive with more stable foundations for their philosophy.

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