Socratic Method


Elenctic Method
Method of Elenchus


Interrogating and honing claims to truth through social encounters

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … range of established/enacted beliefs
  • Knowing is … awareness of beliefs
  • Learner is … an interlocutor
  • Learning is … analyzing bases of and honing beliefs
  • Teaching is … maieutics (i.e., midwifery, named for the emphasis on drawing out deep-seated assumptions)


400s BCE


The Socratic Method is a form of dialogue/argument in which one participant asks strategic questions in an attempt to draw out the other’s assumptions and ideas – hoping to reveal inconsistencies, gaps, and/or contradictions in support of more critical understandings. Some describe the Socratic Method as a strategy to eliminate hypotheses through systematic analysis and logical refutation of untenable beliefs. For the most part, the method was originally applied to abstract concepts, such as morals and virtues. The Socratic Method is often associated with:
  • Aporia – a Greek word having to do with puzzlement, being perplexed, at an impasse, or raising doubts, in the context of teaching, Aporia typically refers to modes of engagement that prompt the learner to question assumptions and conclusions
  • Psychagogy – Greek for “soul guidance,” the original meaning of Psychagogy had to do with influencing one’s soul by using rhetoric to help draw new realities from within. Currently, the broad meaning of Psychagogy has to do with influencing one’s imagined horizon of possibilities by helping to explore desirable life goals.
The Socratic Method is associated with demonstrable results:
  • Socratic Effect (William McGuire, 1970s) – the phenomenon by which explicit articulation of personal beliefs tends to prompt enhanced coherence among one’s broad system of beliefs


The Socratic Method is suited to a very limited range of topics and settings, requiring time and teaching resources that make it ill-fitted as a principal classroom emphasis. As well, some assert that the Socratic Method was originally based on a widely-rejected assumption of Nativism, and so the approach was intended to help on draw out knowledge that was assumed to be already present in one’s being.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Socrates; Plato

Status as a Theory of Learning

The Socratic Method is often discussed as though it were a theory of learning – and, in some ways, that’s appropriate. The perspective explicitly asserts some principles of learning, most obviously the belief that higher-order, abstract learning and thinking involve critical analyses of underlying assumptions and common sense.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

The Socratic Method is a theory of teaching, and one that many educators have worked to adapt to large-group settings. Many variations currently exist, including “fishbowl” (in which the majority of students are arranged in an outer circle observing a dialogue unfold in an inner circle) and strategies based on small-group formats.

Status as a Scientific Theory

The Socratic Method has been empirically researched, and there are claims that it both supports critical thinking, creativity, and more robust understandings of complex issues. However, its conflicted theoretical grounding means it does not meet all of our criteria.


  • Aporia
  • Psychagogy
  • Socratic Effect

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Socratic Method” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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