Please note the
questions at the
bottom of this page
Law School professors frequently claim that they
teach their students using "the socratic method." What they mean
by this, however, is only that their method of instruction involves the teacher
asking the questions and the poor law students having to come up with legal
answers to the questions.
It seems to me, however, that Socrates' method
consisted of more than just asking questions, though that was clearly part
I see Socrates' method as having four main elements:
1. His effort
is focused on one single learner, not
on a group.
2. He asks
lots of questions.
He is usually seen asking more than telling.
3. His questioning
is often ironic, with hints of sarcasm. Irony
is so much a part of Socrates' communication that virtually all readers of
the Dialogues pick up on it. We would guess that most of the participants
in those conversations with Socrates also picked up on it. Soren Kierkegaard,
the Danish existentialist philosopher, wrote his doctoral dissertation on
this theme, later publishing it under the title The Concept of Irony.
4. As Kierkegaard
also points out, Socrates' communication is characterised more by indirect
communication than by direct communication. Direct communication comes
out and speaks directly what the speaker wishes to communicate, but when dealing
with "these things" (viz., things religious, spiritual, personal,
intimate, transcendent, etc) people are sometimes not ready to listen to direct
communication. So one must use indirect
When using indirect communication one begins
by giving the impression that s/he accepts everything the other person is
saying. Socrates begins, for example, by giving the impression that he accepts
Euthyphro as being a very wise and holy ("hosion") person, because
only then would Euthyphro consent to even continue the conversation.
See the attached small
story about Dad and George that illustrates how indirect communication
Then see the following passage [click
here] in which Soren Kierkegaard explains the concept of indirect communication.
Kierkegaard's analysis is based on the assumption that Socrates is, in a sense,