The Socratic Method and Philosophical Inquiries

This is the term paper written for PH2222 Greek Philosophy (Socrates and Plato). As usual, I only post the introduction and the conclusion here. Please feel free to contact me via email (refer to the Home page) if you would like to read some of my arguments in detail or offer any critic. 

Introduction

In Platonic dialogues,[1] Socrates often asks a series of questions during interpersonal conversations to stimulate critical thinking and gain philosophical insight. The method is later known as the Socratic method. In ancient Greece, Socrates and sophists often have similar objectives in a conversation. They both want to, just to name a few, educate young people, discuss the ideal form of government and explore the bottom of things such as wisdom, love and courage. Sophists, however, seem to dismiss the Socratic method. Instead of questioning, they often give long informative speeches and recite myths or poems. Socrates also refuses to call himself a sophist, but a philosopher instead. The methodological distinction between philosophy and sophistry is taken very seriously by Plato as Socrates often confronts sophists in many Platonic dialogues (Duke, Section 4).[2] Plato attempts to establish the Socratic method as the standard method for philosophy, a discipline not to be confused with sophistry. There is no denying that, as evident in the Symposium and the Republic, Sophist’s approach can potentially achieve the same objectives as the Socratic method. Yet, Sophist’s approach is often abused and not able to gain philosophical insight effectively. Taking evidence from the Apology, Protagoras, Meno and Pheadrus, this essay argues that Plato prefers the Socratic method in philosophical inquires because it is better at recollecting knowledge, stimulating critical thinking and uncovering the truth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Socratic method is ultimately preferred in philosophical inquiries because it recollects knowledge, stimulates critical thinking and discovers the truth more effectively than Sophists’ method, at least according to Plato. Through his dialogue, Plato is trying to standardise the desirable practices in philosophical inquires. He portrays philosophy as an ongoing activity that involves collaborative inquiries in contrast to sophistry or rhetoric which care more about persuasive results. Plato also stresses on the clarity of communication and flawless logic in philosophical inquires while rhetorical embellishment and persuasion tend to become secondary concerns. Admittedly, this essay only covers a limited number of Platonic dialogues, and the distinction between the Socratic method and sophist’s long speeches can still be much more nuanced and complicated. In addition, the Socratic method is not commonly used by modern philosophers today. Still, modern people should not overlook the wisdom of Plato in setting the central goals of philosophy and desirable practices for it. The key issues he raises up include the appropriate way to uncover the truth, how critical thinking contributes to philosophical inquires and how education should engage the students. These key issues are still relevant to modern philosophical debates and inspiring the students of philosophy as they start learning the subject.

Notes:

[1] Perhaps except for the Apology in which Socrates is mostly giving a defensive speech in front of jurors of Athens. Yet, Socrates still questions Meletus, his accuser, in a short section of Apology (24b-27e).

[2] Examples provided by Duke include Euthydemus, Hippias Minor, Gorgias, Protagoras, the Republic, the Apology, Sophist, Statesman and Theaetetus. Duke even takes a stronger claim that “the search for the sophist and distinction between philosophy and sophistry are central themes in the Platonic dialogues (Duke, Section 4).

Works Cited

Duke, George. Sophists The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/. 2016. Web.

Reeve, C.D.C. A Plato Reader: Eight Essential Dialogues. Hackett Publishing Company, 2012. Print.

Image Credit

strengthsphoenix.com/about/the-strengthsphoenix-philosophy

2 thoughts on “The Socratic Method and Philosophical Inquiries”

    1. Hey! I find the module really enjoyable, with a rather comprehensive survey of Platonic/Socratic dialogues. I like both the philosophical and the literary aspects of the texts. It is not a difficult module, I would say, as long as you understand key concepts in Plato’s philosophy and their underneath connections. Workload wise, it was one dialogue per week (20-30 pages of reading).

      Like

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