WHAT IS THE SOCRATIC METHOD?
The Socratic method is a way to seek truths by your own lights.
It is a system, a spirit, a method, a type of philosophical inquiry an
intellectual technique, all rolled into one.
Socrates himself never spelled out a "method." However, the Socratic method
is named after him because Socrates, more than any other before or since,
models for us
- philosophy as deed, as way of living, as
something that any of us can do. It is an
of philosophical inquiry
that allows one to interrogate from many vantage points.
Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar and professor of philosophy at Princeton,
described Socrates’ method of inquiry as "among the greatest achievements
of humanity." Why? Because, he says, it makes philosophical inquiry "a
common human enterprise, open to every man." Instead of requiring
allegiance to a specific philosophical viewpoint or analytic technique or
specialized vocabulary, the Socratic method "calls for common sense and
common speech." And this, he says, "is as it should be, for how man should
live is every man’s business."
I think, however, that the Socratic method goes beyond Vlastos’ description.
It does not merely call for common sense but examines what common sense
. The Socratic method asks: Does the common sense of our day offer us the
greatest potential for self-understanding and human excellence? Or is the
prevailing common sense in fact a roadblock to realizing this potential?
Vlastos goes on to say that Socratic inquiry is by no means simple, and "calls
not only for the highest degree of mental alertness of which anyone is
capable" but also for "moral qualities of a high order: sincerity, humility,
courage." Such qualities "protect against the possibility" that Socratic
dialogue, no matter how rigorous, "would merely grind out . . . wild
conclusions with irresponsible premises." I agree, though I would replace the
quality of sincerity with honesty, since one can hold a conviction sincerely