What is the Socratic Method?
The Socratic Method is a technique used to debate or question someone’s statements or arguments.
It’s named after Socrates, of course. He was a Greek philosopher who lived from 489 BC – 399 BC.
What’s the Point of the Socratic Method?
The goal of the Socratic Method is to question someone continuously until they come to realize that what they think they know is not as justified as they might assume. It’s a dialogue-based approach.
The main technique in the method is called elenchus, which means “to logically refute”.
Socrates used this technique because he felt that, when people make bad choices, it’s not usually because they’re evil. Rather, they’re just ignorant.
So, he wanted to educate people. He felt that people learn best when they use logic, critical thinking, and sound reasoning.
Who Uses It Today?
Actually, the Socratic Method is used quite frequently today.
It is used in law schools, college classrooms, debate clubs, and in several types of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Reality Therapy.
And of course, those who understand the effectiveness of the technique use it in their daily lives with their friends, family members, and colleagues.
How Does It Work?
There are 5 steps involved:
- Someone makes a statement.
- You find an exception to that statement.
- You point it out, and the person must reject the statement since an exception was found.
- The person reformulates his statement to account for the exception.
- You both keep repeating the process until you get to a point where the statement cannot be overturned.
A Real-Life Example
If you want to practice using the Socratic Method in your daily life, here’s a very simple example to show you how it might play out:
- Your friend, George, makes a statement.George: “Good people give to others”.
- Assume their statement is false. You find an exception that would make his statement flawed in some way, and point it out.You: “If someone gives a bottle of poison to another to help them kill a child, does that make them good?”
- If they say “No”, go on to step 4.But if they say, “Yes”, ask more questions and provide evidence to try to show that there are flaws in his statement. You might continue the questioning with something like, “If a person intentionally gives a virus like AIDS or Ebola to another, is he good?”. And so on.
- Once you’ve both agreed that there is an exception, get your friend to re-state the original assertion to include the exception.George: “Good people give to others unless they are giving something that harms the recipient”.
- Now you repeat the process, but now you try to attack the new statement by asking a question that posits a new exception.You: “Good people give to others unless they are giving something harmful. But what if a murderer gives a million dollars to an orphanage? Does that make him good?”
- You can go on and on like this indefinitely, making new questions and re-formulating the original statement. Once you get to a point where all the exceptions have been accounted for and the statement has been modified, you’re finished.
Practice using this method when you want to question someone’s assertions or beliefs. Telling them, “You’re Wrong!” isn’t going to work. Helping them discover why they’re wrong through repeated questioning, though, is much more effective.
To learn more, check out the book “Socrates’ Way“:
For another people-skill hack, check out What is the Benjamin Franklin Effect?