Socrates and the Socratic Method


by Burt Dubin on October 25, 2011

Socrates and the Socratic Method

“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing”

Socrates  (c. 470 B.C.—399 B.C.)    Then recognized as the wisest man of his time, now recognized as one of the most brilliant men in history.   He took no part in politics because it would compromise his principles.

1. His early life:

As a young man he served with distinction as a soldier in the Peloponnesian war.  After the war he worked as a stonemason, raised his 3 children with his wife, Xanthippe.  After that he devoted himself to speaking, mostly asking questions, with small groups.

He went about barefoot  and unwashed.  He didn’t change his clothes, rather he wore in the daytime what he covered himself with at night.  He was impervious to the effects of alcohol and cold.

2. His speaking:

He never wrote a word.  He was the teacher of Plato who was, in turn, the teacher of Aristotle.  He did not claim to be wise, only to understand the path a seeker must take in pursuing wisdom.

He spoke mostly to groups of students and friends.  He had “a keen sense of humor,” loved to laugh and was “the soul of merriment” at parties.  (Quoted phrases are from Encyclopedia Britannica.)

3. His speaking strategy:

His method of speaking was to ask questions.  Question after question, the outcome of which was to reveal truth.   The Socratic Method is that of revealing truth by means of relentless questioning of a hypothesis.

He addressed timeless, universal, fundamental questions with insight and intelligence.

4. His principles:

He was convinced that “the great business of life is the care of the soul.”

He considered himself a lover of knowledge, a seeker, not a fountain, of wisdom.   He preferred questions that are deep, personal, consequential, question about how to live life.

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”

5. Actions you can take now:

What does this brief disquisition mean to you as a speaker?   How can you use these findings as you stand before your audiences?

This:  Pepper your programs with questions, with questions that cause listeners to think, to reflect on their choices and the outcomes of these choices.

6. The gift you can give your listeners:

You then leave them with a priceless gift, a mirror.  A mirror they can hold up to the life they live and the choices they make as they look at the path before them.

7. What this does for you:

You know you have been an instrument of awakening, at least for some of your listeners.  You have planted seeds, some of which will take root.  You have made yourself memorable.  And you have left a lasting legacy.










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