See also: Socrates | Philosophy | Education

Usually used to describe a particular form of philosophical debate or educational technique, in which a person makes her/his point by asking questions rather than supplying answers. Refers to the Greek philosopher Socrates.

Socrates taught that all knowledge was contingent and should be relied upon only so long as it could survive the challenge of reason. When debating with people, he would encourage them to put their positions as clearly as possible, and then ask questions aimed at establishing whether the point of view being articulated was internally consistent. In the process of supplying answers, his interlocutors would come to understand the weaknesses of their arguments and, at least in the accounts of these debates left by Socrates’ pupils (especially Plato), change their minds.

A style popular among eccentric teachers, and relied upon at richer universities, this debating style is an effective way to win almost any argument with someone whose cognitive reasoning is slower than your own. That does not mean that someone else couldn’t make Socratic mincemeat out of your views. The fact that a Socratic argument tends to lead to obvious victory for the questioner and frustrated embarrassment for the questionee makes it a style to be used with caution if you wish to win friends. Remember that Socrates was executed.

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