The Socratic Method
Learn how to think like Socrates
Dear Classical Wisdom Kids,
This week we will explore the wonderful world of the Greek philosopher Socrates and his Socratic Method. Socrates was famous indeed for his remarkable approach to finding the truth... and by studying his tactics we can improve our way of thinking, our methods for learning as well as improve our ability to have constructive conversations.
Learn all about the Socratic method and start your kids on a wonderful philosophical journey, below!
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The Socratic Method
Purpose: To learn a way to approach and solve a problem by asking questions, how to have a productive conversation to learn something, as well as the concept of gradual change.
By Sean Kelly
There were lots of famous philosophers in ancient Greece and Rome, but none were more important than Socrates. Even the Oracle at Delphi once said “Of all living men, Socrates is the most wise.”
Even though he was very smart, Socrates didn’t tell people what to think, even if he thought they were wrong. Instead of getting annoyed at them, he would calmly ask them questions instead. This is one of the things that Socrates is most famous for, and it is called the Socratic method.
Lots of people use this technique today. This is sometimes called the “Question and Answers” method. This was a way of asking people questions to work out the truth about things.
The Socratic method doesn’t involve telling people they’re wrong. It isn’t about being mean or trying to argue with people. It’s more about understanding people and ideas as clearly as possible. Socrates was famous for being very patient with people and he always stayed calm when doing this. He didn’t want to annoy the other person because he was more interested in the truth.
So, how did he do this? First of all, Socrates thought it was very important to make sure that people understood exactly what they meant when they used certain words. This sounds very easy, but it’s much harder than you think! When it comes to big ideas like “courage” or “love” people can understand words in very different ways.
Someone might be talking about courage about something big, like being in a battle. Someone else might be talking about a different type of courage, like telling someone bad news. Socrates tried to make sure that both he and the people were talking about exactly the same thing, and that they really understood the words they used. He did this by asking them what the words they were using meant exactly.
He tried to do the same thing with ideas as he did with words. People would tell him what they believed or thought about things. By asking people gentle questions, he got them to think more deeply about what their ideas really meant, and if they really believed them. When he did this, people would often end up changing their minds about things. He would sometimes pretend to be forgetful to get people to repeat themselves. When they did this, people sometimes realised how much their mind had changed from earlier in the conversation.
Other people would sometimes get very angry at him, however Socrates was always calm and patient with people. One time a person got so mad that they kicked him! But Socrates didn’t mind. He said there would be no more point in getting annoyed at the person who kicked him than it would be at getting annoyed at a donkey that kicked him.
The Socratic method is a bit like water dripping. It might seem small, but drip by drip it makes a difference, slowly but surely. Over time, a small drip of water falling over and over can carve out canyons. It might not seem like it, but just like that water dripping, this type of argument can make a big difference.
It’s also important to remember that the Socratic method is more than something you do with other people. It’s a way of thinking you can do all by yourself. You can use the Socratic method on yourself! It can help you think more clearly about things. As Socrates himself once said, “Thinking is like a conversation the mind has with itself.”
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