Socratic Method

A method of critical inquiry "elenchos" applied to a belief to determine if it is false by contradiction.

Plato illustrated (but did not describe) his take on the technique in his dialogues. The dialogues are a set of stories in which Plato expounds his philosophical thoughts, usually using Socrates as an AdVerecundiam teacher. The extent to which the dialogues actually represent the views or methods of Socrates is unknown but contradictory evidence from other sources suggest that Plato's representation might not be accurate. To some extent, however, the technique itself transcends the illustrations.

The technique can be practiced in pairs or alone. It can be used in a teacher - student relationship but does not require it in the sense that it doesn't require pre-existing knowledge of an answer from either. (It's a common experience among tutors that the best way to learn a subject is to attempt to teach it.)

If the belief is genuine (but false) the questioning should eventually lead to a state of mind called aporia. Aporia has been described as like a kind of heat inside your head as you attempt to resolve contradictory ideas. If the belief is tentative (but false) the questioning should lead to a contradiction.

In some instances Plato blatantly perverted the technique to coerce the dialogue towards the conclusion he wanted. A strictly literal translation of the technique from the dialogues thus leads some to believe that it is no more than asking leading questions until the student figures out the right answer. However, in practice this leads to confusion and resentment with no real learning taking place.

A common experience among pair programmers is for the pair to come up with a solution that neither had in mind when they started. This usually happens after each has rejected the solutions of the other for various reasons.

See MrSocrates, SocraticDialogue

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