Write a short, objective summary about” What is the Socrative Method?” by

Write a short, objective summary about” What is the Socrative Method?” by Christopher Phillips of 250-500 words which summarizes the main ideas being put forward by the author in this selection.


Reading Summaries should be a minimum of one page and a maximum of two pages long (250-500 words).

Reading Summaries require that you read the entire assignment, then write a short summary that identifies the thesis and outlines the main argument. Reading summaries are not about your opinion or perspective – they are expository essays that explain the content of the reading. (You will share your view when writing the Essay Discussion posts.)

When writing Reading Summaries, you may not quote the author without proper citations. In other words, if you use the exact words of the original author (copy-paste) you MUST do a proper citation. Similarly, if you use any other website (such as Wikipedia, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, etc.) you must cite the source. Failure to cite sources properly is in violation of the Zero Tolerance for Plagiarism Policy.


excerpted from Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips

The Socratic method is a way to seek truths by your own lights. It is a system, a spirit, a method, a type of

philosophical inquiry an intellectual technique, all rolled into one. Socrates himself never spelled out a

“Method.” However, the Socratic method is named after him because Socrates, more than any other before

or since, models for us philosophy practiced – philosophy as deed, as way of living, as something that any

of us can do. It is an open system of philosophical inquiry that allows one to interrogate from many vantage


Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar, and professor of philosophy at Princeton, described Socrates’ method

of inquiry as “among the greatest achievements of humanity.” Why? Because, he says, it makes

philosophical inquiry “a common human enterprise, open to every man.” Instead of requiring allegiance to

a specific philosophical viewpoint or analytic technique or specialized vocabulary, the Socratic method

“Calls for common sense and common speech.” And this, he says, “is as it should be, for how man should

live is every man’s business.”

I think, however, that the Socratic method goes beyond Vlastos’ description. It does not merely call for

common sense but examines what common sense is. The Socratic method asks: Does the common sense of

our day offer us the greatest potential for self-understanding and human excellence? Or is the prevailing

common sense in fact a roadblock to realizing this potential?

Vlastos goes on to say that Socratic inquiry is by no means simple, and “calls not only for the highest

degree of mental alertness of which anyone is capable” but also for “moral qualities of a high order:

sincerity, humility, courage.” Such qualities “protect against the possibility” that Socratic dialogue, no

matter how rigorous, “would merely grind out . . . wild conclusions with irresponsible premises.” I agree,

though I would replace the quality of sincerity with honesty, since one can hold a conviction sincerely

without examining it, while honesty would require that one subject one’s convictions to frequent scrutiny.

A Socratic dialogue reveals how different our outlooks can be on concepts we use every day. It reveals how

different our philosophies are, and often how tenable – or untenable, as the case may be – a range of

philosophies can be. Moreover, even the most universally recognized and used concept, when subjected to

Socratic scrutiny, might reveal not only that there is not universal agreement, after all, on the meaning of

any given concept, but that every single person has a somewhat different take on each and every concept

under the sun.

What’s more, there seems to be no such thing as a concept so abstract, or a question so off base, that it can’t

be fruitfully explored at Socrates Cafe. In the course of Socratizing, it often turns out to be the case that

some of the most so-called abstract concepts are intimately related to the most profoundly relevant human

experiences. In fact, it’s been my experience that virtually any question can be plumbed Socratically.

Sometimes you don’t know what question the most lasting and significant impact will have until you take a

risk and delve into it for a while.

What distinguishes the Socratic method from mere nonsystematic inquiry is the sustained attempt to

explore the ramifications of certain opinions and then offer compelling objections and alternatives. This

scrupulous and exhaustive form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But unlike

Socratic inquiry, scientific inquiry would often lead us to believe that whatever is not measurable cannot be

investigated. This “belief fails to address such paramount human concerns as sorrow and joy and suffering

and love.

Instead of focusing on the outer cosmos, Socrates focused primarily on human beings and their cosmos

within, utilizing his method to open up new realms of self-knowledge while at the same time exposing a

great deal of error, superstition, and dogmatic nonsense. The Spanish-born American philosopher and poet

George Santayana said that Socrates knew that “the foreground of human life is necessarily moral and

practical” and that “it is so even so for artists” – and even for scientists, try as some might to divorce their

work from these dimensions of human existence.

Scholars call Socrates’ method the elenchus, which is Hellenistic Greek for inquiry or cross-examination.

But it is not just any type of inquiry or examination. It is a type that reveals people to themselves, that

makes them see what their opinions really amount to. C. D. C. Reeve, professor of philosophy at Reed

College, gives the standard explanation of an elenchus in saying that its aim “is not simply to reach

adequate definitions” of such things as virtues; rather, it also has a “moral reformatory purpose, for Socrates

believes that regular elenctic philosophizing makes people happier and more virtuous than anything else. . . .

Indeed philosophizing is so important for human welfare, on his view, that he is willing to accept execution

rather than give it up.”

Socrates’ method of examination can indeed be a vital part of existence, but I would not go so far as to say

that \tshould be. And I do not think that Socrates felt that habitual use of this method “makes people

happier.” The fulfillment that comes from Socratizing comes only at a price – it could well make

us unhappier, more uncertain, more troubled, as well as more fulfilled. It can leave us with a sense that

we don ‘t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing the answers than we’d ever

realized before engaging in Socratic discourse. And this is fulfilling – and exhilarating and humbling and

perplexing. We may leave a Socrates Cafe – in all likelihood we w;7/leave a Socrates Cafe – with a heady

sense that there are many more ways and truths and lights by which to examine any given concept than we

had ever before imagined.

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in all he did,

said – and did not say.” Nietzsche was a distinguished nineteenth-century classical philologist before he

abandoned the academic fold and became known for championing a type of heroic individual who would

create a life – affirming “will to power” ethic. In the spirit of his writings on such individuals, whom he

described as “supermen,’, Nietzsche lauded Socrates as a “genius of the heart. . . whose voice knows how

to descend into the depths of every soul . . . who teaches one to listen, who smoothes rough souls and lets

them taste a new yearning . . . who divines the hidden and forgotten treasure, the drop of goodness . . . from

whose touch everyone goes away richer, not having found grace nor amazed, not as blessed and oppressed

by the good of another, but richer in himself, opened . . . less sure perhaps… but full of hopes that as yet

have no name.” I only differ with Nietzsche when he characterizes Socrates as someone who descended

into the depths of others’ souls. To the contrary Socrates enabled those with whom he engaged in dialogues

to descend into the depths of their own souls and create their own life – affirming ethic.

Santayana said that he would never hold views in philosophy which he did not believe in daily life, and that

he would deem it dishonest and even spineless to advance or entertain views in discourse which were not

those under which he habitually lived. But there is no neat divide between one’s views of philosophy and of

life. They are overlapping and kindred views. It is virtually impossible in many instances to know what we

believe in daily life until we engage others in dialogue. Likewise, to discover our philosophical views, we

must engage with ourselves, with the lives we already lead. Our views form, change, evolve, as we

participate in this dialogue. It is the only way truly to discover what philosophical colors we sail under.

Everyone at some point preaches to himself and others what he does not yet practice; everyone acts in or on

the world in ways that are in some way contradictory or inconsistent with the views he or she confesses or

professes to hold. For instance, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the influential founder of

existentialism, put Socratic principles to use in writing his dissertation on the concept of irony in Socrates,

often using pseudonyms so he could argue his own positions with himself. In addition, the sixteenth-

century essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was called “the French Socrates” and was known as the father

of skepticism in modern Europe, would write and add conflicting and even contradictory passages in the

same work. And like Socrates, he believed the search for truth was worth dying for.

The Socratic method forces people “to confront their own dogmatism,” according to Leonard Nelson, a

German philosopher who wrote on such subjects as ethics and theory of knowledge until he was forced by

the rise of Nazism to quit. By doing so, participants in Socratic dialogue are, in effect,’ ‘forcing themselves

to be free,” Nelson maintains. But they’re not just confronted with their own dogmatism. In the course of a

Socrates Cafe, they may be confronted with an array of hypotheses, convictions, conjectures and theories

offered by the other participants, and themselves – all of which subscribe to some sort of dogma. The

Socratic method requires that – honestly and openly, rationally and imaginatively – they confront the dogma

by asking such questions as: What does this mean? What speaks for and against it? Are there alternative

ways of considering it that are even more plausible and tenable?

At certain junctures of a Socratic dialogue, the “forcing” that this confrontation entails – the insistence that

each participant carefully articulate her singular philosophical perspective – can be upsetting. But that is all

to the good. If it never touches any nerves, if it doesn’t upset, if it doesn’t mentally and spiritually challenge

and perplex, in a wonderful and exhilarating way, it is not Socratic dialogue. This “forcing” opens us up to

the varieties of experiences of others – whether through direct dialogue, or through other means, like drama

or books, or through a work of art or a dance. It compels us to explore alternative perspectives, asking what

might be said for or against each.

Keep this ethos in mind if you ever, for instance, feel tempted to ask a question like this one once posed at

a Socrates Cafe: How can we overcome alienation? Challenge the premise of the question at the outset.

You may need to ask: Is alienation something we always want to overcome? For instance, Shakespeare and

Goethe may have written their timeless works because they embraced their sense of alienation rather than

attempting to escape it. If this was so, then you might want to ask: Are there many different types, and

degrees, of alienation? Depending on the context, are there some types that you want to overcome and other

types that you do not at all want to overcome but rather want to incorporate into yourself? And to answer

effectively such questions, you first need to ask and answer such questions as: What is alienation? What

does it mean to overcome alienation? Why would we ever want to overcome alienation? What are some of

the many different types of alienation? What are the criteria or traits that link each of these types? Is it

possible to be completely alienated? And many more questions besides.

Those who become smitten with the Socratic method of philosophical inquiry thrive on the question. They

never run out of questions, or out of new ways to question. Some of Socrates Cafe’s most avid

philosophizers are, for me, the question personified.