Please note the
questions at the
bottom of this page
Law School professors frequently claim that
they teach their students using "the socratic method." What
they mean by this, however, is only that their method of instruction
involves the teacher asking the questions and the poor law students
having to come up with legal answers to the questions.
It seems to me, however, that Socrates'
method consisted of more than just asking questions, though that was
clearly part of it.
I see Socrates' method as having four main
- His effort is focused on one
single learner, not on a group.
- He asks lots of questions.
He is usually seen asking more than telling.
- His questioning is often ironic, with hints
of sarcasm. Irony
is so much a part of Socrates' communication that virtually all readers
of the Dialogues pick up on it. We would guess that most of the
participants in those conversations with Socrates also picked up on it.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist philosopher, wrote his doctoral
dissertation on this theme, later publishing it under the title The
Concept of Irony.
- As Kierkegaard also points out, Socrates'
communication is characterised more by indirect
communication than by direct communication. Direct communication comes
out and speaks directly what the speaker wishes to communicate, but when
dealing with "these things" (viz., things religious, spiritual,
personal, intimate, transcendent, etc) people are sometimes not ready
to listen to direct communication. So one must use indirect
When using indirect communication one
begins by giving the impression that s/he accepts everything the other
person is saying. Socrates begins, for example, by giving the impression
that he accepts Euthyphro as being a very wise and holy ("hosion")
person, because only then would Euthyphro consent to even continue the
See the attached small
story about Dad and George that illustrates how indirect communication
Then see the following passage [click
here] in which Soren Kierkegaard explains the concept of indirect
communication. Kierkegaard's analysis is based on the assumption that
Socrates is, in a sense, deceiving Euthyphro.
- In your opinion, would you say that Socrates
is deceiving Euthyphro in their conversation, or not?
- Would you say, if Socrates were deceiving
Euthyphro, that is right for him to do so? Or wrong?