The Socratic Method is a form of discussion in which philosophical questions are asked as a means of exploring assumptions made. Basically, it is a process in which a central issue is explored through a series of questions and ‘given’ elements of a scenario.
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As a position is defined, it is continually questioned and counter-questioned, eventually bringing the conversation around to a point where the original response is contradicted by the responder while the way in which it is contradicted serves to help prove the point of the questioner. Rather than attempting to define the way society should be, the purpose of the Socratic method was more to point out the way society is, particularly as it becomes clear that there are no hard and fast answers that are applicable to all situations and times. Perhaps the best way to explore this idea is through application.
As an example of a central issue that might be considered through the Socratic method, the question ‘are we independent’ can be asked. The respondent, thinking about life in America and their freedoms in choosing the type of degree program he wishes to follow, may automatically respond ‘yes.’ However, then we must figure out a means of defining what is meant by ‘independent.’ In presenting the question, Socrates might have provided a scenario of givens. For example, to truly be considered independent, one must begin with the assumption that people are born with innate knowledge. This knowledge is then accessible by the individual through the process of education.
To avoid accusations of placing information into a person’s head, the best form of education is through questioning what is known. When a person says something that is wrong, careful questioning will prove to them how they are wrong. When a person argues with us, making wrong statements, questioning will again illustrate how they are wrong. Thus, questioning is the supreme form of education that enables us to retain our independence while assuring we are suitably informed to take our places within the social and political sphere.
However, even within these givens, there are hints that independence is a very relative issue. To begin with, Socrates’ scenario illustrates that the only knowledge of which we are aware is the knowledge that we have been questioned about. Without being asked questions, presumably we have no knowledge directly accessible to ourselves.
Therefore, we depend upon others to learn what is in our own brains. In addition, there is the hint that we could be wrong in our answers because we may need to be questioned further to demonstrate how we are wrong in our answers or our arguments. If innate knowledge is wrong and can only be corrected through interaction with others who are capable of asking the right questions to force us to gain correct knowledge, can we truly argue that we are independent? However, agreeing with any of Socrates’ statements would seem to suggest that we are dependent upon each other in our most basic knowledge and thought.
Thus, through the Socratic method, Socrates is able to prove that while we are capable of thinking and acting in ways that may seem independent, we are actually very dependent on others not only to discover the information we have in our brains, but also to ensure it is correct in relation to our society and our culture.