The Socratic Method

The Socratic Method is a style used to gain knowledge. It can be used either to learn or to teach. It is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. His student Plato reported that Socrates used this technique to learn new things or to reveal the hidden inconsistencies in the logic of others. It is said that Socrates believed that all human beings were born possessing innate knowledge from the world of forms and his goal was to retrieve it from within them. Whether you agree with Socrates that man naturally possesses knowledge, you may still find that the Socratic method is a useful philosophical tool.

Reject logical fallacies

Socrates believed that all truth could be grounded in rational inquiry. Thus we must reject logical fallacies such as saying a claim is true merely because it is tradition or because the majority says so or holding a point to be true just because a person in authority does.

Instead use reason and inquiry

The Socratic method uses reason and inquiry to get at the truth. This works by asking a person a question about the subject matter at hand and the claims he or she is making.

Next the technique has one follow up on that answer with an additional question, then another and another.

All questions should be asked in the spirit of better understanding the original claim. Therefore, one requests clarification on the motivation behind the original claim or attempts to follow the line of logical reasoning to see where it leads.

The Goals

The goal of the Socratic method is one of two things: either both parties will achieve a common ground or the logical and rational inconsistencies of the original claim will become exposed. Debunking a claim eliminates it from a set of answers about a particular subject, thus getting both parties closer to the truth of the matter.


The Socratic method is, in some ways, a leveling tool for philosophy. It aids one in figuring out what one already knows, but it also helps people to wipe away the inconsistent or illogical ideas that they possess in an attempt to bring them closer to the truth. Using the Socratic method can be uncomfortable at times, as you may not appreciate the answers you reach (or don't reach), so try to keep an open mind. It can also be difficult at times because it requires great patience, persistence and an unrelenting commitment to critical analysis and self examination.