Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Socratic Method

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 elements:

  1. His effort is focused on one single learner, not on a group.

  2. He asks lots of questions. He is usually seen asking more than telling.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 communication.

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 conversation.

See the attached small story about Dad and George that illustrates how indirect communication works.

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.


  1. In your opinion, would you say that Socrates is deceiving Euthyphro in their conversation, or not?

  2. Would you say, if Socrates were deceiving Euthyphro, that is right for him to do so? Or wrong?