Socrates was on trial, one of the founding fathers of Western intellectual thought.
Many Athenians considered him a dangerous state foe, accusing him of corrupting the youth and refusing to acknowledge their gods.
Socrates, on the other hand, was hated not for pretending to know all the answers, but for asking so many.
Though he despised formal lectures, the philosopher enjoyed long discussions about morality and culture with friends and strangers.
These were not debates, and Socrates did not offer clear advice.
In reality, the philosopher always claimed to know nothing and only asked more questions in response to his partner’s answers. Socrates, on the other hand, probed their reasoning, exposing its inconsistencies and assisting both sides in reaching a more solid understanding.
Socrates’ followers adored him because of his informative questions. Plato and Xenophon, two of his pupils, were so inspired that they imitated their mentor’s method in fictional dialogues.
These made-up exchanges are perfect examples of the Socratic Method, as it came to be called.
Socrates is conversing with a young man called Euthydemus in one of these fabricated dialogues, who is assured that he knows the essence of justice and injustice.
Socrates tests the student’s morals by asking him to categorise acts like deception and stealing as just or unjust.
Euthydemus categorises them as injustices, but this only raises another question: is it acceptable for a general to deceive or pillage an enemy army?
Euthydemus reconsiders his argument. He argues that these acts are fair when they are carried out against enemies, but unfair when they are carried out against friends. But Socrates’ work isn’t done yet.
He asks the young man to imagine a commander deceiving his soldiers in order to raise morale. Euthydemus becomes despondent quickly. Every response seems to create more issues, and it’s possible that he doesn’t know what constitutes justice after all.
Socrates characterised himself as a midwife who helps others give birth to their ideas by using this question-oriented approach. His method of questioning elicits an individual’s unquestioned perceptions, which he then questions.
Although the approach does not always offer conclusive answers, it does aid in the clarification of questions and the elimination of conflicting or circular reasoning.
Both the question asker and the answerer will end up in unexpected ways by following a line of inquiry where it logically leads. This approach isn’t constrained by the content of the interaction, making it extremely useful in a variety of fields.
The technique was used to teach clinical medicine during the Renaissance. Although a doctor challenged their conclusions and moderated debate, students suggested their reasoning for various diagnoses.
The system may also yield definitive results in this model. Other disciplines, such as astronomy, botany, and mathematics, adopted the same approach.
It was modified to deal with abstract questions of faith during the Protestant Reformation. The system became an important part of American legal education in the nineteenth century.
Professors tested their students’ interpretation of judicial logic by putting them in a variety of hypothetical scenarios.
The Supreme Court also uses this method to imagine the unintended consequences of enacting legislation.
The Socratic Method can be used to teach almost any subject that requires critical thinking, but its effectiveness is dependent on the instructor who uses it. A good Socratic teacher should be well-versed in their subject. Instead of abusing their students or flaunting their superior intelligence, they should be humble, sincerely curious, and appreciative of each contribution.
Socrates himself may not have been the most subtle Socratic instructor in this regard. Historians say he was a harsh opponent of Athens’ brand of democracy, and that he was known to pass on his concerns to his followers.
These subversive views were distorted in public forums, and two of his students were accused of plotting treason.
Socrates was most likely prosecuted and sentenced to death as a result of his beliefs. Artists portray a serene philosopher, ever curious to explore the greatest issue, even on his deathbed.