Socrates was one smart cat and is responsible for much of our modern thinking. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and one of the influences behind the works of his student Plato, he left an impressive legacy and contributed directly to many concepts surrounding morality and ‘the self’.
The mark of a great philosopher I always think though is how relevant their ideas are when they’re no longer around and whether or not their writing and dialogues stand the test of time. It reflects well upon Socrates then that the ‘Socratic method’ is still recommended by many today as a great way to avoid arguments and win debates. Here we will look at just what this method involves, and how you can employ it to your advantage.
What Is the Socratic Method?
The main idea behind the Socratic method is simple – asking lots of questions. This is done with the intention of diluting heated discussions, placating your accusers and ultimately helping to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion.
So let’s say that you come home late from work only for your partner to start shouting at you. Now you might be tempted by saying ‘it’s not that late’ or ‘I can come home whenever I want’, but all this will achieve is to butt heads and cause the anger to escalate.
Instead then, why not employ the Socratic method and start asking questions around the subject to try and cool the situation. Now you might try saying ‘why are you so angry?’, ‘what should I have done differently?’ or ‘what did you think had happened?’ and this would prevent an outright dispute. Instead your partner may reflect on their own anger and come to the conclusion perhaps that they were overreacting, and at the very least it will seem as though you are listening to what they are saying and it will give them an opportunity to vent without being angry as such.
You can use this method in all kinds of debates and even as part of a sales technique. If you have ever been approached by someone selling cable then you’ll notice they never tell you directly: ‘you need better cable’. Instead they’ll try asking questions such as ‘would you like to have more TV channels for a cheaper price?’. This works particularly well because they’re using a leading question in order to bring you to the conclusion they want you to reach. Of course you want more channels for less money – and although that doesn’t mean you can be bothered to change to a whole new provider, once you’ve agreed to that first question you’ll already be right where they want you.
Likewise when trying to evade telling the truth, spies are instructed to avoid ever lying directly and to instead ask questions to sidestep the question. If someone said to you then ‘what are you doing in the building at this time?’, you can avoid answering often by responding ‘what are you doing here?’ or ‘what do you think I might be doing?’. If nothing else, this is a great way to stall for time and avoids having to commit to one explanation.